It says a lot about Astana’s team unity and communication when at the very same press conference that Vincenzo Nibali stated his race program wasn’t yet decided, Alexandre Vinokourov stated it had.
Vincenzo Nibali, despite enduring a season that would have fallen below his high expectations, is still at the peak of his career, and yet it seems he has had no say in the decision to send him to the Giro d’Italia as team leader, and then for him to support his younger teammate Fabio Aru at the Tour de France in July.
To put this into perspective, Nibali is a proven champion. He has won three Grand Tours, two editions of Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro di Lombardia, among other prestigious races.
Fabio Aru is hardly a young pretender, but he is still a long way behind his older compatriot when it comes to winning races. However the press conference it was Aru that seemed to be on a par with Vinokourov, he was clear: he was leading the team at the Tour de France.
This is hardly surprising really. The relationship between Nibali and the Astana management has frequently been rocky, and Vinokourov does have a habit of criticising riders, particularly Nibali, when he feels they have been under-performing.
It begs the question: why does Vincenzo Nibali stay?
Well Giuseppe Martinelli, the Italian directeur sportif, probably has something to do with it. Not to mention Paolo Tiralongo, Diego Rosa and Michele Scarponi among others, all Italians who have made their home at Astana. He no doubt feels an affinity with his compatriot teammates.
Here’s the thing though, the winner of the 2014 Tour de France was publicly undermined at his own team’s press conference by his team manager. He has been usurped by Fabio Aru, despite being more than capable of winning the yellow jersey once again next year, if things go his way.
Nibali deserves to be in a team where he is the undisputed leader. He deserves to walk into a press conference knowing that he and the team manager are on the same page. If he wants to lead the team at the Tour, he should be able to do so. It should not be down to team politics.
There are plenty of other reasons for him to leave Astana too. There’s the reputation of Vinokourov, which was less than stellar without his tendency to criticise those riding for him.
Then there’s the commotion last year around their license. They’re a team that the UCI, and the fans in general, don’t trust, and there will forever be speculation over Nibali’s dominant Tour de France win because he was riding in Astana colours at the time.
Though he may not want to leave because of affinity with his teammates, or the worry that he may not get the same support elsewhere, he should make the leap. A man who has won all three Grand Tours deserves the opportunity to pick which one he targets the next year.