Young Italian shows his class with clever ride to Tirano
Despite a drawn out polemic on Italian television, Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) remained as cool and collected in the stage winner's press conference as he did in the sprint for the Giro d'Italia stage 17 win against Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri) and Pablo Lastras (Movistar).
Visconti accused him of changing his line in the sprint and of missing turns in the long break, but Ulissi shrugged off the accusations, knowing he had been the smartest rider in the sprint.
"I knew Visconti was the fastest in the sprint but I thought carefully of how to try and beat him and can't deny that I was used every trick in the book," Ulissi said.
"In the finale I concentrated on staying with the best riders and on winning the stage. I knew I had to try and surprise Visconti by going early and that's what I did. I kept my line on the left and kept hoping the finish line would appear as soon as possible. I felt Giovanni touch me and he said I moved towards the barriers but I don't think I did. I've seen a lot worse than that and the judges studied it and decided I'd won.
"It was a very hard stage but my job was to get in the break and that's what I did. I tried to save as much energy as I could because I'm only 21 and it's the third week of the Giro. I rode smart and missed a few turns but there were 15 of us in the break and at least 9 riders did the same thing. On the climbs I really suffered and I was dropped with 15km to go but I knew I had to give it everything to get back on because I knew I had a chance in a possible sprint."
Ulissi is still only 21 but was junior road race world champion in 2006 and 2007. He turned professional last year and showed his class by winning the GP Industria e Commercio di Prato near his home in Tuscany.
He appears destined to be one of the great Italian riders of the future and has already been named as Paolo Bettini's heir for the classics. But he is also interested in seeing if he can become a stage race rider and is ready to accept a life as a domestique if his career falters.
"I've won some big races as an amateur but I've no problem being a domestique if I fail to emerge and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But I'm a dreamer and I like to dream, so who knows what will happen," he said.
"Last year at Prato, I showed that these kind of races and finishes suit me, that I can stay cool and outsmart my rivals. I honestly don't know what kind of rider I am, but in tough stages like this one I'm competitive. I like the classics but I want to see how I develop in the next few years. I've recovered well during the Giro so perhaps I could also try and become a stage racer too."
"I'm still a very young rider. I've done as well as I can in the first year and half as a professional but I have to thank the Lampre team because they helped me to grow and develop."
The Lampre-ISD team is trying to rebuild its image after numerous riders and staff were caught up in the Mantova doping investigation that was centred on a coach and pharmacist who worked closely with the team.
Ulissi secured a place in the team for the Giro after the arrival of new senior directeur sportif Roberto Damiani. He played down the idea that the investigation had affected the team.
"I don't think the investigation has affected me or my teammates. We're professional riders and we stayed focused on the races we were doing, both the spring classics and the Giro d'Italia," he said.
"The arrival of the Damiani pleased me because he's a special person and is teaching us a lot. I've been working with the Centro Mapei this year for my coaching and I think that's a huge advantage because they understand how good you really are, with all the tests and specific training methods. They're good guys and I'm really happy to work with them. I'm sure their work helped me win today."