PARIS - Vincenzo Nibali insists his Astana team's doping problems will not prevent him defending his Tour de France title next year.
In the past month three Astana doping cases have come to light, with Kazakh brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy testing positive for the banned blood booster EPO and trainee Ilya Davidenok, another Kazakh, returning an adverse analytical finding for anabolic steroids.
Already once before, in 2008, a reigning champion was prevented from defending his title because his Astana team was barred from the Tour over a number of doping scandals.
Then it was Alberto Contador who was prevented from taking the start line, even though he only joined Astana after winning the 2007 Tour.
Contador would also lose the 2010 Tour, won in Astana colours, after testing positive for clenbuterol.
Yet Nibali says he has no fears of the same thing happening to him, despite cycling's governing body, the UCI, revealing they are reviewing the Kazakh team's licence.
"I don't think there are big problems for Astana's licence," said the 29-year-old Sicilian.
"The incidents that happened concern the Iglinskiy family, it's a separate thing.
"As a team we can't respond to what two brothers got up to. As for the last one (Davidenok), he's not one of ours, he's part of the Continental team and is not managed by us (the professional team) but by someone else.
"Certainly things happened a few years ago but the team has changed and it's also my responsibility to give more clarity (by racing clean) on my part.
"But there is great serenity in the team in terms of my way of racing and my sporting seriousness in these years."
Course favours Nibali
Turning his attention to the route for next year's Tour, Nibali said he felt it would give him an advantage.
There is only one, short, 14km individual time-trial as well as a 28km team time-trial, reducing the amount of time he could lose against superior riders against the clock, such as Chris Froome, the 2013 champion, and twice former winner Contador.
"I've always liked the time-trials but it's true that it can be difficult against the great time-triallers who can always produce something extra," said Nibali.
"But in the last Tour I think I defended myself really well (against the clock)." It has been widely acknowledged that next year's course, despite the potential for problems in the first week due to high winds in the Netherlands, Normandy and Brittany, or the cobbled sections on stage four, that it will be won and lost in the mountains.
Froome complained that the course was not balanced enough, although Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot - second and third respectively this year - were quite happy to see that.
"Next year's Tour is going to be about the mountains. There's very little emphasis on time-trialling which means the race will be decided up in the high mountains," complained Froome, who was hoping for longer time-trials to gain time on his rivals, on his personal website.
Peraud, who is an excellent time-trialler and a former French champion in the discipline, said: "The best climber will impose himself on this Tour, if he gets through the first week well, with the wind and cobbles." Pinot, who admits time-trialling is not his strength, said the course should make for intriguing racing.
"We've seen that time-trials can provoke big time gaps so fewer time-trials means more suspense, and that's better for the spectacle." With eight potential sprint finish stages, the fast men seem as happy as the purist climbers.
German Marcel Kittel, who has won the first and last stages - the latter on the Champs Elysees - the last two years, said he was looking forward to the first week.
"For me personally, as a sprinter, I like the first week, even if there are cobblestones," he said.
"But it will be really hard after the first week!" The short 110km penultimate stage with three huge mountains and a finish up the Alpe d'Huez is of particular concern for sprinters wary of making the time limit.
"This year was definitely very, very hard and next year it's going to be a bit similar with short stages just before the Champs Elysees, so it's very dangerous (for someone) to be out of the race just before the end," Kittel added.