The presence of Michele Scarponi in the Lampre-ISD line-up for Liège-Bastogne-Liège didn’t garner too much attention but the Italian is present in the Ardennes with the aim of testing his legs ahead of the Giro d’Italia. In two weeks’ time, Scarponi will start the 2012 edition of the Italian Grand Tour on May 5 in the Danish town of Herning as the defending champion, after Alberto Contador’s 2011 results following his positive test at the 2010 Tour de France were stricken from the record.
In Liège, Scarponi will try to help his in-form teammate Damiano Cunego to the win, and the latter showcased his condition during the week by winning a stage at the Giro del Trentino.
“I’m not in my best form yet but of course I’ll do the best I can,” Scarponi said. “Damiano showed that his legs are really good. On Sunday, he’ll be our team leader and I’ll think he’ll do a great job.”
Scarponi has participated in La Doyenne three times during his career, often coming close to the win. Back in 2003, Scarponi rode for the Domina Vacanze – Elitron team and he finished fourth during his debut, right behind illustrious names like winner Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo and Michael Boogerd. The following year, Scarponi finished seventh in the large group that sprinted for fifth place. Davide Rebellin won the race that day thus completing his triple domination in the Ardennes week.
In 2007, however, his Acqua & Sapone - Caffè Mokambo team wasn’t allowed to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a little later, Scarponi admitted to the Italian Olympic Committee that he was “Zapatero” and “Il Presidente” in the files of blood doping doctor Fuentes.
As a result, Scarponi was suspended from May 2007 until August 2008 due to his implication in the Operación Puerto case. The Italian returned to Liège for the first time in 2009 when he rode for the Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni - Androni Giocattoli team. Once again Scarponi had a good race and he eventually finished at the back of the massive group that sprinted for third place behind from solo winner Andy Schleck. The following two years Scarponi opted to ride the Giro del Trentino instead of the Ardennes classics but this time around he’s back.
“I’ve come to Liège for a reason, otherwise I might as well stay at home. The race has a parcours that I like and that suits me. I’ve done it three times already and I’ve always done well,” Scarponi told Cyclingnews.
Despite top 10 results in two tough stage races, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Scarponi wasn’t feeling confident about his form just yet. He didn’t want to say that he would be the team leader in the Giro d’Italia. “I don’t know. I’ve come to Liège to find out.”