April 22 will long be remembered in the professional peloton as the day when the gregarious rider Michele Scarponi died after being hit by a distracted driver while out training. On Thursday, the fourth anniversary of the Italian's death, his former Astana teammate Pello Bilbao (now with Bahrain Victorious) dedicated his victory on stage 4 at Tour of the Alps to Scarponi.
"I want to dedicate this victory to Scarpa, to Michele, so I gave it everything," Bilbao said after out-sprinting Astana-Premier Tech's Aleksandr Vlasov and race leader Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) after catching them on the fast, technical descent into Valle del Chiese.
Bilbao could not follow the attacks near the top of the category 2 Boniprati ascent with 5km to go, but he swooped down the sinuous descent, using his superior speed through the tight corners to catch the two leaders before leading out the sprint to victory.
"These descents are not to do every day. It's not possible to take these risks every day, but today was a special day," Bilbao said. "I wanted to have this victory - I knew it was a perfect finish for me. Also, losing some seconds in the top, I was convinced that I could go back in the front group."
Scarponi's last race before his death was in the 2017 Tour of the Alps, where he won the opening stage. A jovial presence in the peloton and on social media, Scarponi delighted fans with videos of a neighbour's macaw Frankje flying alongside him while he rode. His final photo posted to Twitter was with his children wearing the Tour of the Alps leaders' jerseys he'd earned.
Scarponi was set to lead Astana at the 2017 Giro d'Italia but only a few kilometres from his home in Filottrano on the morning of April 22, 2017 on a training ride, driver Giuseppe Giacconi failed to yield at an intersection and hit Scarponi, who died instantly.
Giacconi reportedly told police that he was blinded by the sun and didn't see the rider, but later admitted that he was watching a video on his smartphone. The vehicular homicide investigation was closed in 2018 when Giacconi died of cancer.
It's the second time Bilbao has made a tribute to Scarponi at the Tour of the Alps. In 2018, Bilbao duplicated his former teammate's opening stage win and dedicated the victory to Scarponi, saying at the time, "Throughout the whole year, he’s always on our mind. For me, it’s an honour to be here in this maglia in Italy, his country. Of course, this victory is for him and his family. He’s been an important inspiration for our team and that’s why it is the most special victory."
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