Riccardo Riccò put his name put his name at the top in 2006 as a neo-pro, when he took his first professional win in the fifth and final day of the Settimana Ciclistica di Coppi e Bartali, ahead of Olympic Champion Paolo Bettini. Now he is building on last year's successes, having already won a stage in Argentina, he twice rocketed solo to stage wins in stage three and stage four of Tirreno-Adriatico. In the process, Riccò left behind seasoned riders like Alexander Vinokourov, Andreas Klöden, Filippo Pozzato and Stefano Garzelli.
It is Riccò, the 23 year-old from Formigine, along with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Giovanni Visconti (Quickstep-Innergetic), who form a triple threat for Italy's future in cycling. "Vincenzo is more for the Grand Tours, Giovanni for the Classics. We are friends but rivals. I am more complete, like Cunego or Valverde," Riccò told La Gazzetta dello Sport after his win in Macerata.
The Saunier Duval-Prodir rider, under the direction of Pietro Algeri, proved his cunning skills with a powerful attack in the finale, a 2600m stretch to the finish, averaging 7.2% gradient, with a maximum of 12%. He joined Michele Scarponi (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo) but quickly left him and finished ahead of Vinokourov, an acknowledged and accomplished rider, by two seconds.
He believes that these types of attacks are amongst his best traits. "I followed my instinct. I watched, everyone was on the rivet and I attacked. This sort of dry attack is my best characteristic." He does not rule out the overall classification; he will suffer on the time trial stage but the following day, up to San Giacomo, he can show his prowess. "I will have to defend my self in the time trial," continued Riccò, who, after stage three, is in second, 21 seconds behind Alexandr Arekeev (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo). "But seeing how I am going on the climbs, I think I can do it."
Daniele Tortoli was also impressed. He was the DS of Grassi-Pantani, the amateur squad that Riccò was a part of, and also guided the likes of Mario Cipollini and Michele Bartoli. "I turned on the TV... I had never seen something like that in a stage race," quipped Tortoli.
Riccò, 2001 Junior National Cyclo-cross champion, will continue his preparations for the Giro d'Italia, where, along with helping teammate Gilberto Simoni win the overall, he aims to win the newly-reintroduced young rider's jersey, the Maglia Bianca. It would be in the same race where his idol ruled some years past. "Marco Pantani," said Riccò. "The autograph that he dedicated to me is one of the dearest items I have."