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CyclingQuotes has met the Italian veteran who elaborated on his future plan, the current state of Italian cycling, his win at the Giro after Contador was stripped of victory, Nibali and the Tour de France.


Photo: Sirotti




26.06.2013 @ 08:10 Posted by Jesper Ralbjerg

Lady luck hasn’t exactly been smiling on Michele Scarponi lately. Both during the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de Suisse the Lampre-Merida rider was caught in crashes. While he didn’t sustain any serious fractures or long term injuries as a result of these falls, his chances of walking away from those races with a stage win or a place on the podium classification were severely hampered.


Yet despite these setbacks, Scarponi was in excellent mood as Cyclinguotes met with the Italian veteran during the Swiss stage race, and he willingly discussed the development the sport has gone through during his career, his future plans, and the current state of Italian cycling while also elaborating on his Tour de France dreams.


Speaking of La Grande Boucle, Scarponi has only ridden the Tour de France twice, finishing 32nd in 2004 and 24th in last year’s edition. Part of the explanation has been the priority given by Scarponi, and all other Italian riders, to the Giro d’Italia.


“For an Italian cyclist,” Scarponi explained, “the Giro d’Italia is the dream. Historically that has always been the case and it has caused scores of Italian riders to focus on the grand tour of their native country rather than the Tour. The same thing goes for the French riders, who have tended to treat the Giro as a warm-up race for their own grand tour if they have bothered attending at all. Incidentally, the number of Italian riders who have won the Tour surpasses the number of French riders who have walked away with the honours at the Giro.  “I admit I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of winning Giro d’Italia: I succeeded in reaching this goal [in 2011 following the disqualification of Alberto Contador] and I know it would be exceedingly difficult to win the Giro again. Anyway, I think the Giro suites my skills better than Tour de France. Primarily because, as a rule, the Tour includes more flat time trial kilometres and less uphill finishes in its itinerary compared to the Giro. Having said that, I would love to win a stage at the Tour de France. In 2012 I tried to challenge for the Tour de France and I came close to a stage victory: I think this would be my goal in eventual future participations in La Grande Boucle.”


When asked about his feelings regarding that overall win at the Giro and the fact that Contador was allowed to participate at that Giro when an investigation about him was going on, Scarponi gave a diplomatic answer.


“As I always said, the road’s verdict was that Contador won and so I had top respect for Alberto. I was sad when he got disqualified. My name will be on the winners’ list and I’m proud of it, but I will miss forever the joy of being awarded on the podium.”


Italian cycling in decline?

In terms of Classics wins and the ability to dominate major races, including grand tours, Italian cycling has witnessed a steady decline during Scarponi’s career. Italian riders aren’t able to stamp their authority on any given race any longer. According to Scarponi there are several explanations for the deterioration and a solution lies somewhere in the distant future because of the current stagnation in the Italian economy. Nevertheless, Scarponi remains confident on behalf of Italian cycling because of the inherent cycling know-how and the passion for the sport residing in Italy.


“The main reason for the current below-par status of Italian cycling is that new cycling countries have reached a very good professional level, also thanks to proper programs of development. In this way, the competitors have become many and very strong. While Italian cycling may have enjoyed a lead in know-how regarding nutrition, recovery, training etc. that lead has now evaporated. The competition is fiercer and much more specialised than previously and this makes it a lot more difficult for every nation, not just for Italy. Then there is the question of the economy. Obviously cycling doesn’t exist in a vacuum and thus it is influenced by the society in which it operates. Currently there is a lack of sponsors in Italy which is fundamental for a professional world. The same thing applies to Italian football at present. Italian clubs aren’t able to dominate the Champions League and are finding it exceedingly difficult to compete with the wealthiest and most powerful clubs in Europe. The Italian economy is stagnating and since most Italian cycling teams have Italian sponsors that operate in Italian markets and have a majority of Italian riders that stagnation spills over into the world of Italian cycling. If the Italian economy gets rolling once again that will surely have a positive impact on Italian cycling. Otherwise Italian cycling will be forced to attract foreign sponsors and investors, which might prove difficult in the current political circumstances [Italy was effectively left without a government for two months following the general elections earlier this year]. Besides, we need to continue to focus our attention on the skills and talent of riders and staffs’ members, because in Italy we still have a cycling heritage and cycling knowledge that are second to none!”


One of the riders carrying the burdens of future expectation of Italian cycling triumphs is Scarponi’s young teammate at the Lampre-Merida squad, Diego Ulissi. In Scarponi’s judgement, Ulissi will be a force to be reckoned with for the Ardennes Classics and one-week stage races in the course of the next two to three seasons. Taking a longer view, Scarponi feels that Ulissi may be a rider for the top ten in the grand tour general classifications.


“Diego demonstrated that his qualities could allow him to give make an assault for a Classic in the next years and to short stages races. His talent is huge and in the future, as he gains confidence and continues to develop as a rider, it will help him to finish in the top ten of a grand tour, I believe.”


Currently Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) appears to be Italy’s best bet for a grand tour conqueror. Last month he won the Giro d’Italia in style and looks set to challenge for the Tour de France in 2014. Asked to judge the potential of his compatriot and rival, Scarponi is optimistic in his assessment.


“My relationship with Nibali is very good and I paid compliments to him for his improvement and his great achievement in the Giro d’Italia where he took a well-deserved win. I think he’s the best Italian rider for a race such as the Tour de France. Whether he can win La Grande Boucle or not depends on a series of factors, many of which are beyond his control. The number of flat kilometres in the time trial compared to the number and character of the summit finishes will play a crucial role. Last year he finished on the podium but was defeated by the Sky duo [Wiggins and Froome] on the flat time trials. Then there’s the Sky team and their depth in strength. If they can maintain their current level, they will be extremely difficult to defeat. At the Giro this year Wiggins fell ill which, of course, helped ease Nibali’s way to victory.”


It's important not to go too far

At this year’s Giro Scarponi, paradoxically, lost time in the mountains while riding above expectations in the time trials. 


“I think the cold influenced my performances in the mountains,” the Italian veteran explained. “The mountain stages this year were different from previous years, mainly because of the horrendous weather conditions. One stage was cancelled altogether while other climbs were either deleted or cut short. Thus, most mountain stages included only one or two climbs before the final summit: they’re not my favourite parcours. For what concerns time trials, Merida bikes are amazing and they helped me a lot to become more confident with time trials. It’s an interesting prospect for the future.”


At the Giro d’Italia this year, some stages were drastically curtailed if not cancelled because of the bad weather conditions that have plagued race organisers throughout Europe for most of the 2013 season so far. Not all organisers, however, have taking steps to cancel stages or curtailing races, preferring instead to see their races through even on very steep climbs, leading to accusations of excessiveness and going too far. Following a stage at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, race organiser Michele Acquarone even publicly asked the riders’ forgiveness for including a climb with ramps of up to 30 % in slippery conditions.


“As always, a proper mix of new and tradition is the best thing,” Scarponi said. “Sometimes, it’s very interesting for the cyclists too to race on unusual courses, but of course it’s necessary not to go too far. At the Giro they included a descent on the Monte Crostis a couple of years ago where the safety of the riders was jeopardised. Clearly that was a step too far and after the riders protested common sense prevailed and that particular descent was eliminated from the stage.”


Scarponi will not be riding the Tour de France this year, opting to take a break before deciding on his race itinerary for the second half of the season with the Vuelta a España, the world championships on Italian soil and the Giro di Lombardia all being possible targets.


“Right now I’m focused on the Italian championship and then I’ll rest for a period, during which I’ll evaluate with the team staff and with Michele Bartoli, the team consultant for agonistic programs, which could be the best schedule for the second part of the season. But, naturally, for an Italian rider it is difficult to resist the allure of an undulating world road championship parcours on Italian soil.


As for his goals for the coming seasons, Scarponi was deliberately non-committal in his reply though he did hint that a Classic win would suit him just fine.


“I really like my job and I’d really like to go on cycling for many years. My goals will depend on my potential. However, a win at one of the Classics still eludes me and I would love to set that record straight. I believe the Ardennes Classics would suit my characteristics as a rider better than the Cobblestones Classics. But it’s something I will decide upon with my team.”



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