By Gregor Brown
Stefano Garzelli believes that the Giro d'Italia will have a higher status than the Tour de France next year thanks to its participants. The Italian whose Acqua & Sapone squad was not invited to this year's event, won his home tour in 2000 and hopes to be back next year to add to the spectacle.
Lance Armstrong "will give an extra value to the Giro. With Armstrong, [Ivan] Basso, [Denis] Menchov, [Damiano] Cunego and [Carlos] Sastre the race has become more important than the Tour. It will be harder than the Tour too. It seems that all the strong riders are wanting to do this Giro and it is a great result for the race's image," Garzelli said to Cyclingnews.
Garzelli, 35, won the 2000 edition thanks to epic battles over Prato Nevoso and Col d'Izoard. He has collected five more stage wins since then and looks forward to a battle against Armstrong.
"The last time I raced with Armstrong was at his last Tour, 2005. ... The years are also passing for me. I won the Giro in 2000, nine years ago. For me it is important to be there, to ride a strong Giro and to be a protagonist. To win against young riders who have come through like Cunego and Basso will be difficult, but if I am able to race then I will give my best. Maybe [it can be] like two years ago  with two stage wins – it was a great result. To win a stage at the Giro d'Italia is very important."
Garzelli won five races this year – two stages at the Vuelta Ciclista Asturias, two at the Giro del Trentino and the GP de Wallonne – and finished second ten times. He considered retiring early when organisers did not select his team for the Giro d'Italia. Italy's technical director Franco Ballerini delivered a second blow when he overlooked Garzelli for the World Championships team, a race run in Garzelli's hometown of Varese.
"It was great season, but unfortunately I was not at the races I wanted to be. ... I had a second overall behind [Alejandro] Valverde and ahead of [Alberto] Contador at [Vuelta Ciclista a] Murcia. And, at Coppi e Bartali, when Evans won and I finished second. I had great results against prestigious riders."
He re-signed for two years with Team Acqua & Sapone in July, and Garzelli and his team have confidence for selection in the 2009 Giro based on their results throughout this season.
"We hope to be there. We think we earned it; this year we won the European ProTour classification and this is important, but if we don't do the Giro the sponsor does not know if it will continue.
"I certainly think that 2010 will be my last year. When I was 30, I said I would quit when I was 35; Now, I will go another two more years – you can never say never. The years pass and it is always more difficult, but as long as there are still results it seems right to continue."
Garzelli, who is currently in his wife's hometown in Valencia, Spain, started training again following a short pause and a vacation in Mexico. He began with work in the gym and on the bicycle, and in the next weeks will begin training in earnest for the 2009 season.
Race organisers RCS Sport will announce the full parcours December 13. The event, which will celebrate its 100th year, might conclude with a time trial in Rome.
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