By Shane Stokes
Behind every champion in cycling, there's a clutch of team-mates who put aside their own personal ambitions to help the leader to win. Charly Wegelius is one of those foot soldiers, and has been riding very strongly in the Giro d'Italia thus far.
Charly Wegelius has been a prominent sight on several key stages of the Giro d'Italia, towing the peloton along and giving his all for team leaders Franco Pellizotti, Vincenzo Nibali and Daniele Bennati.
The 30 year-old has been with Liquigas for four seasons and has had some good achievements in that time. Last season he was part of the winning team time trial squad on day one of the Giro and, more importantly, the Finland-born Briton was a valuable part of the line-up that supported Danilo Di Luca in his successful bid to win the race.
Di Luca moved on to LPR Brakes over the winter but Liquigas has continued to ride strongly. Wegelius and the others won stage 1b of the Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale Coppi Bartali this year, and performed strongly in the Giro d'Italia. Bennati has won two stages, Pellizotti has led the race and he and Nibali were lying ninth and tenth overall on the first rest day.
Wegelius' prominence in riding for these leaders shows his strength. He's been hurtling along at the front of the bunch on climbs while other riders – including several well-known and much higher-paid names – have been slipping out the back of the group. When this good condition is commented on, he plays it down; he feels there is a job to do, and he just quietly goes ahead and does it.
"It is part of having the pink jersey and the responsibility that comes with it," he said, speaking of his work at the front when Pellizotti was in the race lead. "I'm not surprised that we got the jersey, but I am surprised that we got it so early. But this is an Italian team and having the pink jersey is good for them. And putting hay in the barn early is important for them, too."
As Wegelius suggests, holding the maglia rosa is a big return for the sponsors and also boosts team morale. However, the team's aim to win the race for the second year running means that it had to voluntarily step back from the limelight. It did so on stage six to Peschici, allowing eleven riders to hit the line over eleven minutes clear and enabling Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step) to take over the race lead.
"It was intentional, because it is hard work to defend the jersey," he said. "We don't have that many riders who can do it because we have Daniele and Pellizotti and Nibali, we have got quite a few top riders. So defending the jersey on long stages like this isn't that easy, especially when so many people want to go in the breakaway."
Pellizotti has had solid runs in recent Giri d'Italia, placing sixteenth, ninth, eleventh, ninth and eighth overall between 2002 and 2007. Now 30 years old, he believes that it is possible to win the race, or at least to finish on the final podium.
Read all about Wegelius.