Riccardo Riccò is a name slipping off many pundits lips when talking about cycling, and specifically this Saturday's Milano-Sanremo. At the age of 23 he has already conquered some big races; winning his first race as a pro in front of Paolo Bettini and this year, starting off with a bang, with two stages in the Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as a stint in the leader's jersey.
The rider from Sassuolo (Modena) does not lack confidence, and he will go into La Classicissima, his first, as one of Saunier Duval-Prodir's leaders (the other being Francisco José Ventoso, who can be counted on for the sprint).
"Everything in life you can do," was his response when questioned if he could win by Luigi Perna of La Gazzetta dello Sport. "With the condition I have now, nothing is impossible. ... I have nothing to lose."
Riccò has reason to believe after winning twice in Tirreno, and both times in front of high-calibre riders, like World Champion and 2003 Sanremo winner, Bettini. Given his style he will have to try to win by basing his attack on the final two obstacles, the Cipressa and Poggio. There he will face danger from all corners; riders like Bettini, Mirko Celestino (Milram), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Luca Paolini (Liquigas) will be firing their guns over these race-defining climbs.
"At Tirreno they were all strong, and I battled them in those two stages [three and four - ed.], it was not a question of luck," he continued. "I was better. I saw on the climbs I was going well. And the Poggio, after 300 kilometres, is a climb that is dangerous."
It would be dream for Riccò to win in Sanremo, in fact is the dream of every Italian cyclist; they grow up watching their heroes battle on the Liguria Coast after having departed from Milan seven hours beforehand, and they have seen the death-defying descents on the ribbon-like roads leading to the Via Roma. "It is the race that everyone would like to win and it really excites me. I started watching it on TV when I started racing in 1996; I remember well the escape of Gabriele Colombo, the victory of Andrei Tchmil and the sprints of Erik Zabel." He added of his hero, "But above all the attacks of Marco Pantani on the Cipressa, they gave me shivers."
He confirmed that he will have to attack before the finish to try to win. "I will attack and hope that behind the sprinters are caught off guard and watch one another. I need to go all out on the downhill. I am not [Paolo] Savoldelli but I can do damage on the decent."
When listening to Riccò it is clear to hear the tone of a winner. "I always start a race to win. I respect everyone but I am not afraid of anyone. Above all I say what I think; I don't hide out behind a wall. ... There are some riders who say things to journalists and then they hide out in the group. We call them 'vegetables.' Luckily there are also those who do what they say; we are small, one is my teammate, Gilberto Simoni."
He points towards the same rider who he beat to win his first pro race as a favourite for Saturday. "The man to follow is Bettini. He can attack on the Poggio. [2006 winner] Filippo Pozzato, I don't know. He has said he wants to do his battle in the sprint."