Piepoli: 'Simoni is the number one favorite'

By Jean-François Quénet in Genova Leonardo Piepoli winning a stage in the Giro, it looks like a...

By Jean-François Quénet in Genova

Leonardo Piepoli winning a stage in the Giro, it looks like a remake of last year's race when he arrived first in La Thuile and Plan de Corones. "It's a little bit different though," he corrected. "Hills are hills, okay, but last year I won a stage at the bottom of a downhill and the other one was a shortened uphill. Both days, it was a bad weather and I prefer the heat like today. Hey, I'm from Puglia in the south of Italy!"

The Saunier Duval climber, who lives in Monaco now where his wife is expecting their first child in September, gave a peculiar answer when asked about Ivan Basso's domination of last year's Giro. 'Without any dominator this year, how do you see the coming mountain stages?' was the question.

Piepoli responded, "This history with Basso has lasted for 12 months already and you only ask me about that now that I'm a stage winner in the Giro. Had you asked in December I would have given you an answer, but not today."

Piepoli also explained that it was his team captain Gilberto Simoni who instructed him to attack. "I keep thanking him," he commented. "Every time he does it, I win."

On the status of his leader, Piepoli believes Simoni is steadily improving as the crucial mountain stages draw near. "I hope Saunier Duval is the team to beat but I hope even more that 'Il Gibo' is the man to beat," he said. "I've seen his face looking better today than on the Montevergine one week ago. I'm convinced he's the number one favorite for this Giro. I place Di Luca and Cunego at a second rank. Then there is Schleck who has come out very strongly but for now Savoldelli seems behind this group."

Piepoli is 36 years old and on a day when 38 year-old Andrea Noè became the new maglia rosa, there's still space for the older riders. "I come from a very strong generation of cyclists," he pointed out. "Look at riders like Davide Rebellin and Jens Voigt who are still there and still winning. It means I've had to race all of my career against very good riders. The generation from 1974 to 1976 seems to have disappeared though but the ones born in 1980 and 1981 form a group of at least ten true champions."

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