By Antonio J. Salmerón
Francisco Pérez is on target with his preparation for the Giro d'Italia (May 10 - June 1). The Caisse d'Epargne rider returned home for a short period of rest, after taking in some of the French races, like the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and Paris-Camembert. He was accompanied by Óscar Pereiro in Sarthe, while being on the side of Alejandro Valverde when the latter took out the cheese. After his rest period, he will tackle the Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja on April 25, before heading over to Italy.
"I am feeling well, and that makes me believe that I will be in optimal condition to tackle the Giro with a certain guarantee," said the rider who missed the last Giro. "When [General Manager Eusebio] Unzúe and I planned this season, we agreed it would be better for me to ride the Giro and try my luck ... we said that this will be an objective that we set out right from the beginning. I am preparing for it with great optimism, but with the consciousness that it is a very tough race and the participation is demanding.
"To be in contention for the overall classification carries a great wear and tear, that doesn't serve anything later – in addition you have to completely exhaust yourself in order to be up front, in a way that to me it appears more feasible to try to win a stage," Pérez commented to Cyclingnews.
The Corsa Rosa continues to have a route that includes dizzying mountains, that, in the opinion of Pérez, "doesn't favour a great spectacle, because one has to measure his strengths very much, which blocks the race in a certain way, although the Giro always offers battles without end." There are two consecutive mountain top finishes, at Alpe di Pampeago (stage 14) and the Passo Fedaia (stage 15). These are followed by a mountain time trial of almost 14 kilometres, up to the Plan de Corones, with an average gradient of 7.9 percent and a maximum of up to 24 percent.
Other aspects that preoccupy the Caisse d'Epargne rider are the increase of time trial kilometres. The first stage offers again a team time trial, which this year is 28.5 kilometres. In addition, there are two flat time trials of 36 kilometres (stage 10) and 23.5 kilometres (final stage into Milano), as well as the individual ride up to the Plan de Corones.
The Spaniard showed promise in the short prologue in the 2006 Giro, the last time he participated in the Giro, finishing in sixth place, just 16 seconds behind the winner. "And that happened after I was injured by a follow car, which came out of a curve in a very narrow stretch of road, on a descent, very close to the finish," the Murcian rider recalled.
The fight against the clock in the mountains also comes one day after the Queen stage, with the final on the Passo Fedaia. It is one of the ranges of the mythical Marmolada. "That stage is bestial, too hard; you have to really household with your power, because there will be a lot of battling going on." The climb up the Marmolada has about 13 kilometres of uphill, with an average 0f 7.9 percent and a maximum gradient of 18 percent. Still, there is another uphill battle on stage 19, on the Monte Pora, that promises to be even more decisive of the race's outcome than the final 23.5-kilometre time trial into Milano.