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"[I left Lampre] because Astana is one of the best teams in the world. I really wanted a change and to be a part of a world full of great athletes with a strong leader like Nibali whom I will help to the best of my ability at the Tour...

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09.12.2013 @ 16:25 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michele Scarponi has decided to leave his role as captain of the Lampre-Merida team to take on the job of riding in support of Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour de France as part of the Astana team. The veteran says that the prospects of being part of cycling's major teams was the reason for his decision to leave his current team.

 

With a Giro win on his palmares, Michele Scarponi is one of the most decorated cyclists of his generation but during his lengthy career, the Italian has only once been part of one of the sport's major teams. For most of his career, he has been riding as the captain of teams that cannot be described as being real powerhouses in the cycling world.

 

Scarponi started his career on the Acqua & Sapone team in 2002 and in the early part of his career, he was one of only very few climbers on a squad that was entirely devoted to super sprinter Marip Cipollini. He got his chance to ride in the colours of one of the biggest teams in 2005 when he signed a contract with Liberty Seguros but one year later, he saw his career unravel when he was embroiled in the Operacion Puerto case.

 

Scarponi admitted to having been a client of doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and served a two-year ban before returning with the Androni team. He gradually rebuilt his reputation in his time at the smaller Italian team and got his chance at the highest level when he signed with Lampre for the 2011 season.

 

Since then Scarponi has been the grand tour leader of the Italian team but next year he will take a step down in the hierarchy. Having signed a contract with Astana, he will split his 2014 season into two parts: he will ride for himself in the Giro d'Italia and work for Vincenzo Nibali in the Tour de France.

 

While Lampre-Merida has always been part of the top echelon of the sport, it is not one of cycling's best teams. As opposed to this, Astana - especially with its many new signings - is one of cycling's dominant forces and it was Scarponi's desire to be part of such a setup that prompted his change.

 

"[I left Lampre] because Astana is one of the best teams in the world," he told Ciclismo Internacional. "I really wanted a change and to be a part of a world full of great athletes with a strong leader like Nibali whom I will help to the best of my ability at the Tour de France."

 

The Giro d'Italia has been Scarponi's main focus since he returned from his suspension. He won two stages in 2009, was 4th in 2010 after winning another stage and won the 2011 edition (when Alberto Contador was disqualified). He has finished 4th in the two most recent editions, confirming his ability to shine in his home race.

 

Next year he will ride the race in a leadership role while also serving as a mentor for Fabio Aru. The youngster impressed in his first professional season and will get the chance to see how far he can get in a three-week race.

 

"I think the Giro will have a high level and as usual it will be a difficult race," he said. "My goal is to fight with the best and finish in the top 5 but I'd love to make the podium.

 

"Fabio Aru will be with me in the Giro," he added. "Fabio is a strong young rider and he proved it in the previous edition of the race. After many years as a professional, I think that I can pass some of my experience in grand tours to him as they will be his objectives in the future."

 

In recent years, several riders have failed to do both the Giro and the Tour at a high level but Scarponi is adamant that he will be able to do both.

 

"I think I can do a good Giro d'Italia and then be very strong in the Tour where I will support Vincenzo," he said.

 

Scarponi will kick off his season alongside Nibali in the Tour de San Luis.

 

"I will start in Argentina, in San Luis, and it will be my debut in that race," he said. "I know nothing about the race but I have wanted to be there for three years. In 2014 I will finally take part."

 

Despite his consistency and high level, Scarponi hasn't won a race since his overall triumph in the Giro d'Italia.

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