By Tim Maloney, European Editor
With a recent rapprochement with Gianni Savio's Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni team, it looks certain that Venezuelan climbing phenom José Rujano will race in the upcoming Giro d'Italia for the Italian squad. With a firm deal reached, Rujano's contract will now be transferred to the Belgian Quick.Step team on June 1, 2006, but the climber will lead Continental Pro outfit Selle Italia during this year's Giro d'Italia.
Already placing 11th on GC in his second race of the season, the mountainous 2006 Giro dell Trentino, 24-year-old Rujano is already showing the form that put the tiny talent on the 2005 Giro d'Italia podium and earned him the Maglia Verde for best climber. Baby-faced Jojo hails from Santa Cruz del Mora in the Cordillera of western Venezuela, where the Merida region produces 'mucho cafe' - also the hometown of the only Venezuelan to win a Grand Tour stage, Leonardo Sierra, who took Giro stage honours in 1990. But Rujano's baby face belies his mountain man toughness, as the 162cm, 52kg rider set a record for planting 5,500 coffee plants in one day when he was only 12 years old. Having trained hard at altitude in Santa Cruz del Mora with Trentino under his belt, Jojo is all systems go-go for the Giro.
In a recent interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport's Marco Pastonesi, Rujano explained that, "I'm feeling really good and really happy to be back in Italy racing again. I was able to ride with the best riders in my first two races and only slowed down on the wet descents... it's normal as I don't want to take any risks before the Giro." As for his future, Rujano said, "Now everything is set; I'll stay with Selle Italia for the Giro and until 31 May, then I'll pass to Quick.Step for the rest of the season. Cycling is my life, my work, my way to earn...in Venezuela, the bottom has fallen out of the economy. Poor people have become really poor and rich people have become really rich. Those in the middle have become poor too. The Giro d'Italia has given me a lot of glory and not much money. I managed to buy a house for my family with my salary and prize money. It's near their old house but a little higher up, for when the floods come, it's important to be on a high spot. The houses up high stay there, but the ones down low get washed away."
The ambitious young Rujano has higher goals this than just one podium spot in a Grand Tour, declaring that "I want to be at least in the first three at the Giro, and in the first five at the Tour de France." And Rujano is already working on a project to help the young cyclists in Venezuela through his new José Rujano Cycling Foundation, where he's provided bikes and equipment for 10 riders between 17 and 20 years old back home in Santa Cruz del Mora. With his climbing skills, tenacity and character, Rujano has shown already he has the talent to back up his ambitions. And come July, Quick.Step's miniscule mountain man from Merida may be planting more than coffee with his blistering attacks in the mountains