LANNEMEZAN, France (CT) – Although Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France and still has a year left on his current contract, there are indications that he could be on his way out of the Astana team after a lack of form in this year’s Tour.
According to AS, several sources have told it that the team manager Alexandre Vinokourov is ‘furious’ with the lack of performance of Nibali and has told the Italian that he needs to find a new team for 2016.
“The balance of the first week and the first two days in the Pyrenees can only be defined as a catastrophe,” he is reported as saying.
Alexandr Vinokurov has denied the rumours however:
“There has never been a question that Vincenzo Nibali will leave the team at the end of the season. Vincenzo is doing very well in the team.” Vinokurov has told the press.
“Of course I am not happy when we don’t win, as is the case with all team General Managers, But I merely think that Vincenzo is not riding at his best level in this Tour.
“Nibali has a potential that is much better than his current place in General Classification.
“We are going to do medical tests to determine the reason for his performance, and we also wish to see him race in the Vuelta a España this season to achieve a Grand Tour victory.
“There is no problem between him and the Team, and we have full confidence in him, contrary to what is being reported in the press.”
Nibali has taken one win in 2015, the Italian national championships, although he had a similarly quiet buildup to last year’s Tour. Vinokourov reportedly sent a letter last season demanding results from Nibali, who subsequently took four stages plus the overall victory in the Tour.
Nibali is thought to have a salary of approximately four million Euros per year. AS states that the strong Giro performance of Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa – second and third overall – has convinced Vinokourov that it can win a Grand Tour without Nibali, although Landa is understood to be leaving the team.
Nibali’s best performance in the Tour this year came on stage three to Huy, when he placed seventh.
The fact that he has a valid contract until the end of 2016 may make things difficult for Astana, though; legally it cannot expel him from the team, although a breakdown in relations may encourage Nibali and his agent to try to reach an agreement about his departure.
However if it is indeed accurate that he has been told to leave because of a poor Tour, it reinforces a previous suggestion that there is a demand for ‘results or else’ at the team.
Former Astana rider Fredrik Kessiakoff told CyclingTips in June that he was threatened when he was not performing. He crashed heavily in the 2014 Strade Bianche and said that doctors agreed he needed time to rest in order to get over the effects of the fall.
However he said that the team insisted that he race, leading to him getting progressively more run down.
“I had the doctors telling me not to race but that then being overturned by the sports directors because they needed people to race and they really didn’t trust me for some reason,” he said. “But when I came to the races the doctors again could confirm that I shouldn’t be there.
“But despite all this going on, still the management continued sending me letters telling me I needed to start performing. They were not asking questions, they were not saying, ‘Frederik, what is going to take for you to start performing?’
“They were just telling me, ‘you will start performing or you will not get your salary.’”
Given that the Astana WorldTour and Continental teams had five positive tests last season, a demand for results is a dangerous situation.
Vinokourov himself tried repeatedly to win the Tour, having a best placing of third in 2003. He tested positive for a blood transfusion during the 2007 edition and served a two year ban.