Stefano Garzelli praised the grit of winner Bart De Clercq during stage seven of the Giro d'Italia, but criticised the failure of other teams to help his Acqua & Sapone team chase down the day's earlier break on the run-in to the finishing climb at Montevergine.
"I'm happy that a rider with a bit of courage won, it's something that might have been missing from a few teams," Garzelli said pointedly to reporters atop the mountain. "It almost seems sometimes that people aren't interested in winning stages at this Giro."
However, the veteran Italian, who won the Giro in 2000, acknowledged that the race's extremely tough final week meant that none of the contenders for the maglia rosa in Milan were prepared to show their hand this early in the race.
"It's justifiable in the case of the overall contenders because they'll want to save their energy ahead of a very difficult final week," Garzelli said. "It's normal, but it's something I've noticed in the opening stages, that everybody is leaving it to the big teams. Perhaps they are worried about two very tough weeks to come."
Third on at Montevergine in 2001 and 5th in 2007, Garzelli clearly fancied his chances on the shallow climb overlooking the town of Mercogliano and he duly set his team to work at the front of the bunch. He would ultimately have to settle for 4th place on the stage.
"It can't always go well, but the important thing was to try and to believe," he said. "It's a stage that I liked; I've always done well in it in the past. Given that it was such a short stage it was dangerous to let the break go."
Nonetheless, Garzelli declared himself pleased with his own performance, and his team's pace-setting at the base of the final climb, but he again bemoaned what he perceived to be the reticence of other squads to do their share.
"As a small team at Acqua & Sapone, we have to fight from the start to the end," he said. "It's a pity that the other teams didn't work, but I'm happy with the team's work and with my own position."
Thirty-eight-years-old in July, Garzelli proved that he still has plenty to offer with a strong finishing sprint that saw him take fourth place as the chasers almost caught De Clercq on the line. He also managed to come home ahead of the Giro's two primary favourites, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard).
"They're two great champions and it's always great to beat them, but I'm always trying to look ahead and not behind," Garzelli said.