Italian looks to take first maglia rosa in Naples
With Mount Vesuvius shimmering through the haze across the bay, there could scarcely be a more fitting arena for the opening bunch sprint of the Giro d'Italia than the seafront finale at Via Caracciolo on Saturday.
Bunch finishes are at a premium in the Giro's modern era and with just four or five stages to the fast men's liking this year, stage one might be not so much a mass sprint as an eruption. Indeed, the aftershocks of one of last year's seismic early sprint exchanges are still being felt in the peloton.
On stage three in Horsens 12 months ago, Mark Cavendish crashed in the finishing straight after Roberto Ferrari switched lines dramatically in front of him. An angry Cavendish called for Ferrari to be thrown off the race and his humour scarcely improved when the Italian upset the applecart to beat him in Montecatini Terme the following week.
Now at Lampre-Merida after switching from Androni-Venezuela during the off-season, Ferrari is one of the men looking to deny Cavendish the honour of taking the first maglia rosa of the Giro in Naples on Saturday.
"What happened, happened," Ferrari told Cyclingnews, on the eve of the race, admitting that in spite of his overtures, he has not succeeded in building any bridges with Cavendish since.
"We talked but we didn't clear things up," Ferrari said. "We don't have a relationship at all, but I admire him as a rider and basta."
Given the paucity of opportunities for the pure sprinters in this year's Giro, Ferrari can envisage nothing other than a bunch finish on Saturday. "It's going to be a very fast stage because it's flat and it's also so short," he said.
"And then because there are so few chances for sprinters, it's going to be even harder again for a break to stay away. We sprinters have only got four or five chances and we've got to make every one count.
"It's going to be hard though. Obviously the main rival is going to be Cavendish but Orica-GreenEdge and Argos-Shimano will be trying to keep things together as well, so I hope I can do something."
Ferrari's Lampre stablemate Alessandro Petacchi surprised all and sundry by announcing his retirement the week before the Giro and then looking to make a rapid return in the colours of Cavendish's Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad. Ferrari had been given the nod for Lampre's Giro team ahead of the veteran, who had been slated to ride the Tour de France.
"It was a surprise to me and for the whole team too, I think. I'm sorry he's gone because we've lost a point of reference for the team and I just hope he's taken the right decision," Ferrari said diplomatically.
Cavendish's efforts to sign Petacchi as a lead-out man – and Petacchi revealed that he already made informal enquiries last season – are a clear sign that all is not flowing as smoothly in the Omega Pharma-QuickStep sprint train as the Manxman would like, even if his haul of seven wins so far this season has offset its significance.
"It's certainly harder for him to do sprints without a team and I think this is a weak point for him," Ferrari said. "So we'll try and take advantage of that too."
By contrast, Ferrari is left to his own devices in the sprints and outside of his five or so sprint opportunities, the Brescia native must spend his days sheltering team leader Michele Scarponi from the wind and piloting him through the peloton.
"I have to manage the sprints by myself but that's only right because we've got a team here to try and put Scarponi on the podium," Ferrari said. "I'm not concerned because I'm able to manage by myself in a sprint."
In the frenetic finale on Saturday, therefore, as the peloton careers along Via Partenope and then swings into the finishing straight at Via Caracciolo, Ferrari will flit from lead-out train to lead-out, searching for the wheel that might pull him to his first win of the season.
It's a solitary existence compared to the collective efforts in place for Cavendish, John Degenkolb, Matt Goss et al, but Ferrari shrugged his shoulders at the thought. "Ah, I get by," he said.