On crossing the finish line in the snow on the Col du Galibier at the end of stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia, Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) wheeled to an unsteady halt and leant over his handlebars, coughing incessantly.
A small group of reporters swarmed around him hesitantly, but although Scarponi was conscious of their wayward and flickering existence, he was in no state to offer his immediate thoughts on the day’s action, and his soigneur guided him away to warm himself in a tent near the podium area.
After struggling dramatically in the cold of the Jafferau on Saturday, Scarponi had managed to break even with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the Galibier and finished 6th on the stage, but once again, his efforts had taken their toll.
Some twenty minutes later, after changing and wrapping up against the elements, Scarponi emerged and spoke to reporters about his afternoon. As the Giro enters its second rest day and its third week, he lies 5th overall, 3:53 behind Nibali and a little over a minute off a podium place
“It went quite well and I don’t think there’s a huge difference between the best riders here. I defended myself well and I rode very well so I’m still confident about my Giro and the week to come,” said Scarponi, who served a three-month suspension during the off-season after he confessed to being trained by Dr. Michele Ferrari.
Scarponi was previously banned in 2007 and 2008 for blood doping under the supervision of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
Through the Giro’s opening week in southern Italy, a number of contenders warned that Scarponi was climbing better than anyone else but he conceded time at both Altopiano del Montasio on stage 10 and the Jafferau on stage 14.
On the Galibier on Sunday, however, Scarponi showed signs of recovery, forcing the pace with teammate Przemyslaw Niemiec with 3km to go in a bid to put Nibali in difficulty. The maglia rosa responded in kind to that attack and the pair exchanged glances as they neared the finish. Mind games?
“Nah, we were just climbing side by side,” Scarponi said. “We had just attacked and counter-attacked and we ended up side by side, so I had a look to see how he was. I was curious.”
Sunday’s stage was shortened by four kilometres due to heavy snowfall atop the Galibier. The change to the parcours removed the most demanding section of the climb – where Marco Pantani launched his Tour de France-winning attack in 1998 – but Scarponi did not feel that the alteration had any real effect on the stage.
“Maybe if there were another four kilometres, the battle would just have started a bit further up anyway,” he said. “So it wouldn’t have changed much apart from that it would have been a bit colder at the top.”
Images of a stricken Scarponi warming his hands against his soigneur’s neck at the end of stage 14 were a stark demonstration of the conditions endured by the Giro peloton on Saturday. In spite of the snow that banked the roads and fell faintly from the skies in the closing kilometres on the Galibier, however, Scarponi said that the elements had not posed the same problems on stage 15.
“I suffered a lot yesterday in the cold but I managed to recover well overnight and I was feeling better today,” he said. “It was very cold again today but at least it wasn’t as cold as yesterday and there wasn’t any snow at the bottom of the Galibier.”