Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali, who yesterday signed a contract extension with Astana until 2016, has been checking out the world championship course in Florence where many believe he has a strong chance of adding the rainbow jersey to the maglia rosa. It has also been confirmed that he will target next year’s Tour de France, which starts in Yorkshire.
September’s race is one of two big targets left in 2013 for the 28-year-old Sicilian, the other being the Vuelta a España, a race he won in 2010. Like Marianne Vos and Richie Porte, who have also undertaken recces of the world championship route, Nibali agrees it’s a tough one.
“The course is very nice and quick,” said the Astana rider. “The climb to Fiesole is important because it’s a long one and will serve as a launch pad for the ride up Via Salviati. There will be a selection if the riders want to make one, with a high rhythm the race will be strung out.”
Nibali was joined by nine other riders on last Friday’s recce, Valerio Agnoli, Fabio Aru, Gian Paolo Caruso, Fabio Felline, Luca Paolini, Filippo Pozzato, Giovanni Visconti, Diego Ulissi, Mauro Santambrogio.
Three days later, Santambrogio was provisionally suspended after it was revealed he had tested positive for EPO during the Giro d’Italia, a race in which the Vini Fantini-Selle Italiia rider won the snow-affected Stage 14, with Nibali second.
Friday's recce was arranged by the riders themselves according to national coach Paolo Bettini, himself a two-time world champion, who gave a detailed analysis of the course, which will see the elite men complete 10 laps of a 16.6km circuit running from Florence up to Fiesole following an 106.6km section from the start in Lucca that includes a couple of potentially tough climbs.
“It’s a demanding parcours, very similar to the Ardennes races,” said Bettini. “As I’ve always said, the world championship is a major classic and this year is smiling on us given our athletes, their condition, and the fact that we’re in Italy.
“From the summit of Via Salviati the route is fast, and whoever manages to gain a few seconds will have an advantage because the circuit is technical and the group will have more difficulty in organising the chase and pulling back the gap.
“The section leading up to the closing circuit isn’t a stroll, the riders in fact will have to tackle the climbs of first Montecarlo and then San Baronto.
“To sum up, we can say that the course is suited to the characteristics of the Colombian riders, such as Betancur” – second on last month’s Giro stage into Florence – “but also Uran, men who aren’t quick but who fight hard to keep the break away.
“There’s a lot of desire on our riders’ part, it was them who called me here. There’s a group wish to be here, to be in Florence, to be at the world championships in Italy,” he added.
Yesterday, Astana confirmed that Nibali had signed an extension to his contract that will keep him with the Kazakh outfit until at least 2016.
General manager Alexandre Vinokourov commented: "We are very pleased to prolong our contract with Vincenzo Nibali today in Astana, and look forward to supporting his clear-eyed start to the Vuelta a Espana in August and a strong run at the World Championships in Firenze at the end of September.
"To have a great champion on Astana Pro Team ahead of Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan's capital will help to broadcast around the globe that our cycling federation has world-class talent to go with its world-class ambitions. Next year we will look to bring Vincenzo to the 2014 Tour de France," he added.
Should he win the maillot jaune in that race, Nibali would become just the sixth man to have won all three Grand Tours, joining Jacques Anquetil, Alberto Contador, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.