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Vincenzo Nibali may race 2016 Tour de France after all

LA PUNTA, Argentina (VN) — Former Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali is focused on the Giro d’Italia and the Rio Olympics, but that doesn’t mean he’s ruling out a return to the Tour de France in July.

Astana named Fabio Aru as the team leader for the 2016 Tour, but Nibali told a small gathering of reporters at the Tour de San Luis that he might get in on the action as well.

“Riding the Tour in support of Fabio [Aru] is a possibility. We’ll see,” Nibali said. “I could do important work for him.”

The 2016 season will be a critical one for Nibali. His contract with Astana expires at the end of the year, which will make him one of cycling’s most sought-after riders this transfer season. After a tough 2015 that saw him miss out on the Tour podium and ejected from the Vuelta, Nibali could benefit from a strong showing this year as he looks to pick up a new contract for 2017 and beyond.

Still, victories in all three grand tours, as well as a monument win in Il Lombardia last October, appear to be achievements enough to have several teams interested in his services for next year. For now, Nibali is trying to focus on the races ahead, but he did shed some light on his current contract situation.

“My manager is involved in the contract talks. I’m thinking only on training and racing,” Nibali said. “But some teams have asked if I might sign with them next year. Also, Astana made me an important offer. Right now, we are in January, so there is plenty of time to decide.”

The Giro d’Italia, which Nibali won in 2013, is the first big target on his upcoming calendar. In the absence of recent winners like Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador, Nibali is looking to Quintana’s teammate Alejandro Valverde, Contador’s teammate Rafal Majka, Cannondale’s Rigoberto Urán, and Sky’s Mikel Landa — who Nibali praised as one of the riders of the future of Spain — as his main rivals.

Even without Contador or Quintana in attendance this May, it will be no simple task for Nibali to take a second-career Giro win, especially given his lack of GC results in 2015. But when asked if he felt that his off-season had prepared him to contend once again for a grand tour victory, Nibali give a firm, albeit brief, response: “Sì.”