Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru will not race against each other at the Vuelta a España - instead focusing on using their strength in the mountains to punish their rivals.
The two spoke at a press conference while preparing for the race at Sestriere earlier this week. Nibali, a late addition to the roster following a lacklustre Tour de France title defence, seemed to be prepared to play second fiddle to the younger Italian.
“Fabio has prepared for this race well and I think he could be the leader. I’ll have the support of the team too, and if it turns out that way, I could work for him, certainly," Nibali said, as reported by Gazzetta dello Sport.
“There’s respect between us. We’re a group, a real team, and there’s Landa too,” Aru added. “A lot was said at the Giro, but there were no problems between me and him, and we achieved the best we could. The status of leader doesn’t count for much.”
The two riders' pact could be crucial for success in the Vuelta. The race features a packed field and is something of a 'Tour rematch', with Alberto Contador the only major GC contender from this year's Grand Boucle to miss the Vuelta.
Landa could be the wildcard in this avowed team unity. While Nibali and Aru are both contracted to Astana for 2016, Landa has been linked with a move to Team Sky. He could have little to lose from riding for personal glory.
Feuding with Froome
Nibali also commented on his reported 'feud' with Team Sky rider and eventual Tour de France winner Chris Froome. The two clashed on Stage 6 of the Tour, when Nibali mistakenly blamed Froome for bringing him down near the end of the stage. Later in the race, Froome criticised Nibali for seemingly attacking when Froome was affected by a mechanical.
“We haven’t seen each other since the Tour. There are lots of incidents in races, and what happens in the race stays in the race,” Nibali said, adding: “At the time, I preferred not to mention it, but in 2010 Froome was excluded from the Giro for being towed by a car.”
Nibali acknowledged that Froome was an unknown quantity for the Vuelta.
“I don’t know how Froome will be, we’ll have to see how he recovers,” Nibali said. “Apart from at the end, Quintana and Valverde didn’t risk much at the Tour, they rode on the defensive, to defend their third place. I don’t know how they’ll ride.
"[Domenico] Pozzovivo could be the surprise.”