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Friday Afternoon Ramble

So much fun, this Giro Centenario, it’s hard to let it go. I always enjoy the merry month of May and the romp around Italy. I did miss the high mountains, though, in this Giro. Where was my Gavia and Stelvio, where was the “Graveyard of Champions”? But it was fun, anyway. So much lovely scenery on and off the roads.

How about some random left-over Italian gossip?

Franco Pellizotti, who finished third in the Giro Centenario, wants to ride a grand tour as sole captain. Apparently, he didn’t much like sharing a team with Ivan Basso. In particular, he said that Basso’s hard riding on the Alpe di Siusi cost Pellizotti the Giro win. Pellizotti got dropped in the final kilometers of the climb. Ooops. Pellizotti seems to think that he’d have been better off without Basso, ignoring the likelihood that someone would certainly have attacked on the Alpe di Siusi, with or without Ivan. And does Pellizotti really think he could have beaten Menchov? You’re dreaming, Franco, you’re dreaming. I mean, I do like the hair, but hair alone a grand tour winner does not make. Word is that Pellizotti will ride the Tour de France, with the ambition to finish high in the general classification. Optimistic, this Italian.

In the meantime, Ivan Basso will head to the Dauphiné Libéré, where he will ride for the general classification. “I would like to win,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. Basso also said that he is happy with his Giro d’Italia, though he admitted that he needs to do more work on his time trialing. He will have the chance to get in some practice at the Dauphiné, which has two individual cronos. The long crono is 40 kilometers. Youch. Basso confided to Gazzetta that he found the high speed of this Giro difficult, and the unusually short stage finishing on the Blockhaus to be a big challenge. He felt best on the Alpe di Siusi and on the road to Faenza, where he launched an early, though ultimately unsuccessful, attack with Stefano Garzelli. After the Dauphiné, Basso will take a break, before preparing for the Vuelta a España.

A mini-tempest in a teacup broke out earlier this week after Riccardo Riccò – remember him? – gave an interview, in which he talked about his suspension and his plans to return to racing. The interview followed the usual narrative of how devastated he was by his positive control, how his friends and family supported him, how terribly sorry he is about his big mistake, and how much he is looking forward to returning to the sport. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In any case, Riccò mentioned that several teams have expressed an interest in hiring him when his suspension runs out. He mentioned Diquigiovanni-Androni, Ceramica Flaminia, and Lampre-Ngc by name. Riccò also claimed that a new team is in the works, perhaps sponsored by Mercatone Uno. Riccò, taking his Pantani obsession to new levels. It’s not enough to have hired Pantani’s former soigneur and adopted il Pirata’s climbing style, but he also wants to ride for the same team. A little creepy, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but I’ll say it anyway.

It turns out that Lampre-Ngc is not interested in Riccò. The team management quickly issued a denial, and claimed that the suspended climber did not meet the team’s ethical standards. Apparently, we are expected to forget the three riders – yes, count them, three riders – who tested positive from the Lampre squad. Now, all three have been fired, and it’s understandable that they might not wish to borrow trouble at chez Lampre. But still. It’s never a good idea to mix stones and glass houses.

On the subject of Lampre, reportedly, management is not happy with Marzio Bruseghin, who vocally supported the riders’ strike in Milano. The team sponsor Mario Galbusera happened to be sitting in the car with team manager Giuseppe Saronni during the stage, and Saronni instructed the team to race. Saronni later said that he had ridden the course 6 or 7 times, and found no problems with it. Bruseghin proved less-than-obedient to the team car’s directives. Rumors immediately erupted to the effect that Bruseghin would leave Lampre before his contract is up at the end of next season. Liquigas-Doimo is apparently his preferred destination. Not so fast, says Saronni, the team does not intend to let Bruseghin leave his contract early. Bruseghin, himself, has since made nice noises and all seems to be patched up. At least, for now.

And what about the Cunego Cunundrum? The 2004 Giro winner had a less-than-stellar Giro and provoked his share of polemica. In particular, Cunego suggested in an interview with Gazzetta after the stage finish on the Alpe di Siusi that the stage results would likely be revised before too much time had passed, implying that the riders at the top of the results sheet were doping. (More on that here.) From the press, meanwhile, came increasing calls for Cunego to give up on the grand tours and become a full-time classics rider. Until now, he has resisted this advice, determined to ride well in both the one day races and the grand tours.

Still, with every passing day, Cunego dropped farther down the classification. A long escape on the road to Monte Petrano offered a glimpse of the Cunego who wins bike races (as opposed to the Cunego who gets dropped early and often), but that effort failed to bring him the success he needed to quiet his critics and save his Giro. In a brief interview on the final day in Roma, he blamed his team management for putting too much pressure on him, saying, “I’m a man, not a machine.”

In a recent interview with L’Équipe, Giuseppe Saronni denied that there was a breach between Cunego and the team. Saronni explained Cunego’s recent grand tour problems as the result of nerves. He characterized his young captain as emotionally fragile. Cunego has carried a heavy burden of expectation, named as he was the next great Italian stage racer when he won the Giro at 22. In Saronni’s view, the consequences of that burden are still weighing Cunego down, especially on the roads of the Giro, where he found success so early and so easily. The answer? The former Giro winner will almost certainly switch to the one-day classics beginning next season. It’s clear that the grand tours aren’t working, said Saronni, and he believes Cunego can handle his nerves better in the one day races. “It’s time to decide,” concluded Lampre-Ngc manager.

All this may be true, but it’s also clear that Saronni is likely doing some fence-building here for Cunego. The former Giro winner’s out-spoken anti-doping comments risk making him persona non grata, which among other things would complicate Cunego’s ambition to win Worlds in Mendrisio this season. (More on that, in a moment). Certainly, suggesting that Cunego’s comments and his lack of performance are the consequence of nerves lets everyone avoid the hard questions. Is he really doping free, as he claims? And is that the reason for his lack of results? And if so, what does that say about the 19 or so riders who placed ahead of him at the Giro? The answer probably lies somewhere between Saronni’s explanation and Cunego’s. His lack of results in the grand tours are some combination of his own fitness and talent and the “ethical” decisions of the riders around him.

In the meantime, Franco Ballerini, the selector for the Italian Worlds team, has named Danilo Di Luca as the captain for the Azurri in Mendrisio. Cunego, who finished second in Varese last year, had set Worlds as one of his main goals for the season, because the hilly course in Mendrisio should suit his characteristics. Paolo Bettini had also named Cunego as his successor for team leadership of the Azurri.

That all looks likely to be brushed aside by the ambitions of Danilo Di Luca. In particular, Di Luca wants invitation to the big races next year. He has threatened to change teams, if the LPR Brakes management can’t acquire the necessary guarantees. Di Luca has named Lampre, Katusha, and Silence-Lotto as possible detinations. Plainly, if he wants a free hand at Worlds, Cunego needs to find a good result soon.

Oh, and in one more twist to the story, Cunego is also out of contract at the end of this year. Would the Lampre management throw Cunego to the wolves and hire Di Luca? At this point, it doesn’t seem likely, as by all accounts, the team sponsor likes Cunego. But liking may not be enough, if the results don’t come.

Ah, Italy. There really is rarely a dull moment in Italian racing. But now, we really must move on to France. The Tour awaits, and the Dauphiné starts on Sunday. I have previewage of the Dauphiné up, natch., and I’ll write daily updates over at Steephill.

And I’ll try not to neglect my poor bloggy so much in the future. It’s good to have goals, dontcha think?

5 Comments
  1. Oh the drama is so fun. You left out the mercurial sprinters in your rundown.

    Regarding Di Luca, when it comes to team politics and the sponsorship “race” he has his Killer tactics going too. Plus, he knows that his clock is ticking – his best years are now.

    Great job over at Steephill, it really enriches my race-obsession.

    5 June 2009
  2. Gavia #

    Di Luca’s clock is certainly ticking – and his best years may already have passed him really. I’d agree that he is in full killer mode when it comes to the team situation. I’m definitely watching to see how that one play out. Katusha seems quite logical, when it comes right down to it. And, this manuevering sheds some light on Petacchi’s loyalty at the Giro. No doubt he’s hoping Di Luca will bring him along for the ride, wherever he may end up. A two-fer dealio.

    I so heart me some drama. Really, it’s the best part of the whole thing!

    Glad you’re enjoying the stories. More on the way, natch, for the Dauphiné and the Tour. There will be coverage of the Tour de Suisse from another writer, too. Yay!

    5 June 2009
  3. MB #

    We like.

    5 June 2009
  4. Fred Marx #

    well it’s about time this site saw the attention it deserves.. ;) I was thinking perhaps it had become “In The Lagging Group”…. Nice write up.

    6 June 2009
    • Gavia #

      Lagging, yes. You know this is what I do best ;-)

      6 June 2009

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