Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) approaches the 2014 Tour de France with more maturity. According to his trainer, his year away from the Tour and changes made have served the Sicilian ‘Shark’ well.

“Maturity,” Nibali’s long-time trainer, Paolo Slongo told Cycling Weekly. “He married and he changed teams. He has more responsibilities at team Astana. In team Cannondale, the staff looked after everything for him, what he needed and didn’t need to do. Taking on responsibility in Astana helped him mature.”

Nibali won the 2010 Vuelta a España and gradually improved in the Tour de France with Italy’s famous green team. He placed third in 2012 behind Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Nibali switched into team Astana’s blue at the start of this season after seven years with Liquigas-Cannondale. The 29-year-old decided to take aim at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España and skipped the Tour. It paid off, with the winner’s pink jersey in Italy and second place in Spain.

Nibali also had to think on his own along the way. He was unable to rely on Slongo or Cannondale’s top brass, Roberto Amadio and Stefano Zanatta but excelled regardless. He wrestled the lead away from Froome in Tirreno-Adriatico, took on Wiggins to win the Giro del Trentino and of course, came out of a snow-ravaged Giro looking rosy.

“The Giro’s completed a circle for Nibali,” national coach, Paolo Bettini told newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport at the time. “He kept improving in the last three years, kept his feet on the ground, but also matured as a man and how he manages a team.”

Astana’s experienced team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli guided Nibali through 2013. For next season, he also secured Slongo’s services. The Italian from Treviso will work as a trainer/sports director, specifically following Nibali’s Tour group.

“Martinelli asked me at the end of last year and kept after me this year,” Slongo said. “What convinced me was Nibali’s Tour project. I had Peter Sagan in the ranks at Cannondale but with Nibali it’s different because I’ll be working on trying to win Grand Tours.”

Slongo’s job is to help take Nibali to the podium’s top step in Paris. Next July’s route, light on time trials and heavy on climbs, should suit him well. It may even produce a two-way jersey tussle between Nibali and Froome.

Nibali officially starts working towards that yellow jersey this week at a team gathering in Tuscany. The tentative path has Sicilian in Calpe for a December training camp and in Tenerife for high-altitude miles. Slongo will follow his progress and make tweaks to have the more mature Nibali on target first for the Ardennes Classics in April and then the Tour.

Related links

Vincenzo Nibali: Rider profile

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