By Gregor Brown in Koksijde
Enrico Gasparotto added another jersey to his collection when he took the overall lead thanks to winning stage one of the Driedaagse De Panne yesterday in Zottegem. The 26 year-old Italian of Barloworld first came known to the majority of the cycling world when he took the maglia tricolore of Italian Champion in 2005. However, "Gaspa" has no time to hang the jerseys on the wall of his new home as he is focused on winning the race's overall and Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen.
"It is another jersey, eh?" the blonde-haired rider confirmed to Cyclingnews with a grin on his face.
Many were ready to write off the youngster soon after he took the Italian championships as he was struck down with mononucleosis that prohibited him from showing his best. However, Gasparotto rocketed back into the public's eye when he took the classification leader's maglia rosa in the 2007 Giro d'Italia; in addition to holding the pink jersey, he held the maglia biancia of best young rider.
"I started in 2005 with the Italian jersey, then the pink jersey and white jersey last year, this year, the Tirreno and De Panne. It's another great jersey for my collection," he continued while signing autographs and posing for photos with young Belgian fans. He recently moved into a new apartment in Varese, far from his parents in Italy's northeast Friuli region. "I leave the jerseys in the chest. I am not at home enough to decorate my new place."
The tricolore left its mark, as a past champion of Italy he is able to have the green, white and red stripes on the sleeves and collar of every team jersey. "Every jersey has its story, I think the Italian champion jersey is the jersey is that changed my life. Of course every jersey is different, but with the Italian one I always carry that on all my team jerseys with the small tricolore band. I am able to remember that every day."
Gasparotto wants to hold onto the white leader's of De Panne until the races end on Thursday afternoon and then use the form that he has for the big one, Ronde van Vlaanderen. Following stage one, the team had some time to celebrate before continuing its drive towards the weekend.
"The whole team did a very good race yesterday; my team-mates helped me so much. For Team Barloworld it is important to win and we celebrate it. However, tomorrow's morning stage [three] is dangerous for the classification, but I hope to arrive in the time trial [stage four] with the leader's jersey."
He holds the lead with five seconds on Luca Paolini (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) and seven on Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas). "I know Quinziato well because we were on the same team, he is dangerous, and also Bernard Eisel [at 25"] and Alessandro Ballan [at 40" - ed.]. If I have only 20 seconds it will be enough because the time trial is not so long only 13 kilometres.
"It is better to try to win this De Panne and then think of the Tour of Flanders," he confirmed. "They say the weather is not good for Sunday; they say there will be rain and maybe snow. I don't know how the race will go for me."
"Gaspa" will have the backing of Australian team-mate Baden Cooke, who is coming on form as evident by the smart moves he made in stage one's finale. "The main objective is to defend the jersey," said Cooke. "I am feeling good despite a bad weekend and it is a good sign for Flanders.
"If we can get a couple of us in the front on Sunday then we are allowed to dream, and anything will be possible."
(For more on Gasparotto read Growing up.)