Italian cycling in rude health insist winning pair

Nancy: The demise of Italian cycling has been greatly exaggerated according to winning pair Vincenzo Nibali and Matteo Trentin.

Nibali, 29, kept hold of the Tour de France yellow jersey after Trentin, 24, won Friday`s 234.5km stage from Epernay to Nancy.

Italian cycling has come under fire in local press but the performances of those two have given it much to smile about in France.

Trentin out-sprinted stage-favourite Peter Sagan by just a single inch on Friday to add to Nibali`s stage win in Sheffield on Sunday.

And with The Sicilian holding the race lead since then, Italy has if anything outdone Germany and their four stage wins from Marcel Kittel, with three, and Andre Greipel in this Tour.

Nibali pointed to recent Italian successes, such as his Astana teammate Fabio Aru`s third place at May`s Tour of Italy, as evidence that the brickbats are misplaced.

"There`s been a lot of criticism, even recently because we didn`t shine in the Classics but then in these (Tour) stages, different riders like Trentin have done well.

"Then when you look at what Aru did, there are young riders doing well.

"The future is good and there`s too much criticism. You have to look after the young who need to mature."

Trentin concurred and said there were good young riders coming through.

"As a professional I`ve not ridden in an Italian team so I can`t really speak about Italian cycling but what I can say is we have a lot of good guys, young guys waiting around the corner, and let`s just say Italian cycling is not dead."

Italy may not have produced a Tour winner since the tainted but brilliant Marco Pantani`s success in 1998 but they had been used to winning sprints until recently.

Mario Cippolini and then Alessandro Petacchi were both at one stage or another considered the best sprinters in the world, winning six and 12 Tour stages respectively.

They`ve long since been surpassed by the likes of Mark Cavendish, Kittel and Greipel.

Italians held the world road-race title for three straight years from 2006 to 2008, with Paolo Bettini winning twice and Alessandro Ballan also triumphing. But not even a podium place since then.

Even in the Giro d`Italia, which Italians won 11 times in a row from 1997 to 2007, they`ve only won it three times out of the last seven, and even then Michele Scarponi`s 2011 victory only came after Alberto Contador was stripped of his original success for doping.

There have also been numerous doping scandals blighting Italian cycling with Ballan, Petacchi, former Giro winners Danilo Di Luca, Paolo Savoldelli and Ivan Basso, as well as Classics specialist Davide Rebellin all being implicated to varying degrees.

But Nibali said it was time to consign such matters to the past and rebuild cycling`s reputation in one of the sport`s hubs, but where its reputation has taken a severe blow.

"For sure what`s happened over the last few years in Italy has left us in this position (of ambivalence). Not a lot of importance is given to cycling but we must put it behind us," he said.

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