By Gregor Brown
It is hard to believe that the Saunier Duval rider who rocked Tirreno-Adriatico, struck fear in the finale of Milano-Sanremo, conquered Tre Cime di Lavaredo and nearly won the Giro di Lombardia was only in his second year as a professional, but that was the case for 24 year-old Ricardo Riccò. The Italian from Sassuolo (Modena) made himself known in his debut year in 2006 by taking his debut win against none other than Paolo Bettini in Coppi e Bartali, and for his third season, Riccò is looking to top his stellar 2007 season.
"It's a big challenge, but I like to have certain challenges," said the rider known as 'The Cobra' to Tuttosport as year 2007 ended. In his second year under the direction of Pietro Algeri at Saunier Duval, he scored five victories, and in 2008, even more eyes will be on the uncaged, outspoken rider.
"It is clear that confirmation will not be easy, because in 2007 I went strong, very strong and I confirmed this from Sanremo to the Giro di Lombardia. It will be hard; however, I am able to say to those that like me, those who appreciate me, those who count on me, that I will try with all of my force to repeat certain results."
His name was beamed into homes around the world with the broadcast of the epic, seldom-used climb of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the 15th stage of the Giro d'Italia. Backed by Gilberto Simoni and Leonardo Piepoli, he was able to take one of the race's highlight stages, a climb that has only been conquered by a select few – like Eddy Merckx and Luis Herrera.
"It was an extraordinary moment," he recalled of that day in May. "It was stuff of dreams, but the most impressive Riccò, the strongest, was not the rider on Tre Cime but the one at Tirreno-Adriatico." In the middle of March, he had won two stages by dropping everyone on the climbs – well-known riders. "In those days, I was going really strong – stronger than Tre Cime, Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia."
Riccò hopes for the same type of form this spring, and even more, so that he can conquer the Ardennes Classics and the overall of the Giro d'Italia. (Last season he finished fifth in Flèche Wallonne, 17th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and sixth overall in his home tour.)
"Between April and May, I will think of Flèche Wallonne, of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and then of the Giro d'Italia – to win them," he stated. "To wear the maglia rosa in the last week, and take it all the way until the end. I don't want to boaster, but it is useless to be modest. I would like to win the 2008 Giro d'Italia. I will benefit from the work that I did in the last Giro, benefit from the alliance with a strong and honest rider like Piepoli, that will yet again be by my side.
"It is useless to say where, the last week will be all mountains," he noted of his 2008 Giro plan. "It depends on my form at that moment – mine and my adversaries."
Riccò plans to end his season with the World Championships or Olympics, and would prefer to take part and win the former. "If I had to select it would be Varese. For various reasons: you can wear the rainbow jersey all year, it is an amazing parcours... However, it depends on my programme, and the condition I have... I hope I will be in form to merit the maglia azzurra [a spot on the Italian team - ed.]."