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National theme bike for Tour's lone Japanese rider
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) was voted most combative
Italian set to choose between Lampre-Merida, Astana, Cannondale and Europcar
Michele Scarponi is expected decide his future after completing his season this weekend, with Lampre-Merida, Cannondale, Astana and Europcar all interested in signing the rider, according to his agent Raimondo Scimone.
Scarponi is one of the last big-name riders still to sign a contract for 2014. He finished fourth overall in the Giro d'Italia and was 15th in the Vuelta a Espana. His three-year deal with Lampre-Merida ends this year and the Italian team has been locked in negotiations with the rider for several months. The team has signed new world champion Rui Costa as team leader for the Tour de France but lacks a leader for the Giro d'Italia after yet another poor season by Damiano Cunego. Also joining Lampre-Merida in 2014 are sprinter Sacha Modolo and Rafael Valls, while time trialist Adriano Malori will move to Movistar.
Scarponi will ride the Coppa Sabatini in Tuscany on Thursday and then the Giro dell' Emilia on Saturday. He recently won the GP degli Etruschi race before the world championships and rode well for Italy in Florence, helping set up Vincenzo Nibali's last lap attack.
"Michele is targeting the final Italian races of he season and then I hope he makes a careful decision on his future," Scimone told Cyclingnews.
"It's an important decision. It's perhaps more of a natural choice to stay at Lampre-Merida but all the offers are interesting but carry different roles and responsibilities. He'd be the team leader for the Giro d'Italia in almost every team but if he joined Cannondale he'd be joint team leader with Ivan Basso. At Astana he'd probably lead the team at the Giro and then help Vincenzo Nibali. But they've been rivals for many years and so it'd be an interesting change in Michele's career."
Scarponi was 34 in September and has been a professional since 2002. He was implicated in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal and served an 18-month ban after confessing to being one of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes clients. He was banned for three months last winter after it emerged he carried out a test with Dr. Michele Ferrari in 2011.
Lampre-Merida, Astana and Europcar are all members of the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC) anti-doping association. Memebership of the MPCC does not allow teams to hire riders for two years after a doping ban. However Scarponi's second ban was for working with a banned doctor, not for doping, so he can continue as a Grand Tour team leader in 2014 with any of the MPCC member teams.