Directeur sportif Luca Scinto has set his team the lofty goal of racking up three stage victories at this year’s Giro d’Italia, but Guardini was coy about divulging how many of those wins he himself might contribute in the sprints.
The 22-year-old Italian is perhaps the most eagerly awaited debutant at this year’s Giro after he clocked up no fewer than 11 races in his first season as a professional in 2011. Scinto resisted the clamour for Guardini to be thrown into the deep end at the Giro last year, citing the lack of opportunities for sprinters.
That decision was vindicated by the fact that there were ultimately just three pure bunch finishes at last year’s race, but the more humane 2012 route should offer Guardini and the sprinters plenty of opportunities to shine.
“Certainly the idea is to get to the first week of the Giro d’Italia very strong because there are a lot of stages that could finish in bunch sprints,” said Guardini. “Beyond that, I’m certainly not starting off with the idea of pulling out somewhere along the line, and I’ll keep going as far as I can.”
One certainty about Guardini’s Giro debut is that Mario Cipollini will not be lining up as his lead-out man. The erstwhile Lion King’s purported return to professional cycling has unsurprisingly lost momentum in recent weeks, and Guardini was diplomatic when asked what he had made of Cipollini’s offer, one which his manager Scinto had immediately deemed to be as unwanted as it was unsolicited.
“Mario was a great athlete and a great rider, but this was a decision for the team and the management,” Guardini said. “It would have been a bit contrary to the tendencies of the team. We’re a young squad and it’s only right to leave space for the young riders.”
Guardini already has six wins to his name thus far in 2012, after beating his own record for stage victories at the Tour de Langkawi. Before travelling to Malaysia, however, he had failed to notch up a win at the Tour de San Luis and the Tours of Qatar and Oman. Although the sprint fields he faced there were almost worthy of a grand tour, Guardini admitted that he was disappointed not to pick up a win, and his success at Langkawi came as something of a relief.
“Not being able to win straightaway had blocked me a little bit,” he said. “But then in Malaysia, I found serenity again and now I’m calm, I don’t have pressures of any kind.”
Guardini took a break from racing on his return to Europe, rejoining the peloton at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali in late March. A solid third place finish at the GP Denain was a sign of his growing form, and the Italian will be hoping to continue in that vein in Turkey, where he won two stages last year.
“I rode a lot up until the Tour de Langkawi, so I needed to take a break for a bit and recover a bit of energy,” Guardini said. “We’ve been preparing ourselves for the build-up to the Giro d’Italia with a bit of calm, by taking in some nice races.”