Astana’s direction at the Tour de France is far from clear. Boss Alexander Vinokourov abandoned defending champion Vincenzo Nibali in favour of Dane Jakob Fuglsang overnight, but Fuglsang remains uncertain himself as to who is racing for the classification.
Nibali slipped 4-25 minutes back when the Tour climbed its first big mountain, La Pierre-Saint-Martin, on Tuesday. The following stage, he went further in reverse.
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Fuglsang, who rode well yesterday, fell 10 minutes behind when the Tour visited Cauterets-Vallée de Saint-Savin on stage 11.
“I think that was a quick reaction [by Vinokourov],” Fuglsang said. “They saw how I was going yesterday and thought, ‘OK, let’s take another decision.’ I spent energy trying to help [Nibali] in the first nine stages, it’s not so easy trying for the top five all of a sudden.”
Vinokourov was not short on criticism after the La Pierre-Saint-Martin stage. He called the day “a disaster” and said: “Vincenzo needs a good mechanic because something is broken in his head.”
His words came after a season where Nibali seems to have gone flat. The Italian, winner of all three grand tours, has yet to score one stage race victory in 2015. The only win to his credit is the Italian championships.
On Wednesday, Nibali explained to the waiting press on the finish line that he did not know the cause of his problem.
“And I still don’t know what’s going on,” he told Cycling Weekly when he arrived to Astana’s bus on Thursday. “Vino’s words? I’m not interested in them.”
Fuglsang painted a grim picture of life on the road given the current Astana situation.
“Of course it’s rough,” he said of Nibali taking a beating by his boss in the press.
“Yesterday, of course, there wasn’t a party at the dinner table. There’s probably also not going to be today.”
Vinokourov apparently talks to his team “now and then” but Fuglsang added after a pause, “Not last night!”
The atmosphere appeared much more light-hearted last year, when Nibali was on his way to winning the Tour. This year, the feeling around the Kazakh team is understandably much more subdued.
Putting aside Nibali’s ride, Astana came to the Tour with baggage. The team had five of its riders test positive for doping, two from its top team, and nearly lost its racing licence.
Its hope was that Nibali would rise to the top in the Tour, perhaps helping followers forget the D word, but no one seems to know what went wrong and who is in charge.
“I have no clue,” Fuglsang said about Nibali’s fitness. “He also doesn’t know himself.”
Watch highlights from stage 11 of the Tour de France