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Astana takes ‘strongest team ever’ to Vuelta with Nibali

MILAN (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali will form part of “the strongest team ever” next month in the Vuelta a España. After a disappointing Tour de France, the 2010 Vuelta winner will race the Spanish grand tour alongside Astana teammates Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa.

Nibali confirmed his presence today via Twitter. In addition to Aru and Landa — second and third overall at the Giro d’Italia — the team will field Diego Rosa, Dario Cataldo, and Paolo Tiralongo in its nine-man roster.

“This is probably the strongest team that I’ve ever had for a grand tour,” team manager Giuseppe Martinelli told VeloNews.

“We had a strong one at the Giro, but not a big champion to finish it off against Alberto Contador. Now, we truly have one of the best teams for the Vuelta.”

American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) confirmed this week that he will race. Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), first and second at the Tour this month, are considering lining up as well when the Vuelta rolls out of Puerto Banús in the country’s deep south on August 22.

“We have two or three big riders, I’m not going to name one as the leader,” Martinelli added. “With all three of them, though, we have a team that can take on and beat Quintana or Froome. I expect they will be there for a re-match after the Tour.”

Of the “Fab Four” grand tour riders, only Alberto Contador is not lining up for the Vuelta. Last year’s winner ended his season after winning the Giro and placing fifth in the Tour de France.

Nibali suffered in the first half of the Tour. Martinelli explained that the time loss in the crosswinds of stage 2 and crash in the finale of stage 6 affected his rider mentally.

“His morale was down. He hit rock-bottom afterwards,” said Martinelli.

“We risked finishing 10th overall, but Nibali rebounded well. He won a stage [La Toussuire] against the likes of Quintana and Froome. He showed that he was in great condition. That was important for him to end the Tour as he did.”

Nibali won the Vuelta in 2010, the Giro in 2013, and the Tour in 2014. He is only one of six cyclists in history who can count all three grand tours in his palmares.

His presence in the turquoise team heading to Spain could cause some tension between him and 25-year-old Aru.

Aru’s aim after the Giro had always been the Vuelta. Nibali kept the idea in the back of his head, but it was not a clear one like it was for his younger Italian teammate.

Martinelli talked with Aru, whom the team has signed through 2017 as its next grand tour king, after Astana decided to take Nibali to the Vuelta as well. Aru said that Nibali’s presence is not a problem and that it will probably help to have another big rider in the team.

“I don’t know if he’s serious or not,” Martinelli said. “If anything, it’s not Nibali in the team that will cause tension, but all the questions from journalists about leadership.”

Landa will be the team’s third option. Unlike Aru and Nibali, though, the Basque rider will leave Astana at the end of the season reportedly to join team Sky.