Guardini looks to get off the mark in Qatar

It’s often a case of all or nothing in sprinting, but few riders take that maxim to quite the same extremes as Andrea Guardini (Astana). Take his Giro d’Italia debut last year: for two and half weeks, the Italian youngster was marked absent from the bunch sprints, but when an opportunity finally presented itself on the pan-flat stage to Vedelago, Guardini duly popped up and claimed the scalp of Mark Cavendish to take victory.

“Let’s say that I tend to do either really well or really badly,” Guardini told Cyclingnews in Doha ahead of the Tour of Qatar. “I usually struggle to get a lot of placings, but to be honest, I’d rather just get one victory and no placings.”

Indeed, Guardini’s grand tour batting average is a healthy 1.000 – one unimpeded sprint, one victory – and it was a similar story at his Tour of Qatar debut two years ago. After missing the split for four consecutive days, he flashed to victory on the final stage. Like the former Juventus and AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi, it seems, Guardini can disappear from view for long periods, but when a half-chance falls his way, he finds a way to take it.

Through the hard slog of dog days in the gruppetto, or the frustration of getting bottled up within sight of the red kite, Guardini keeps his morale up by keeping better times in mind. That Giro stage win, in particular, has helped the 22-year-old to keep his setbacks in perspective.

“That stage will always remain in my head even when I go through difficult moments,” he said. “I can’t forget the day that I managed to beat Cavendish. It’s something that gives me strength.”

It was doubtless something he kept in mind during his Astana debut at the Tour Down Under. Whereas at Farnese Vini, Guardini opened his previous two professional campaigns in the more relaxed atmospheres of the Tour de Langkawi and Tour de San Luis, respectively, it was a shock to the system to start his season in a WorldTour race, and Guardini did not contest a single bunch sprint.

“It’s not easy for us to start the season in January against riders who have trained in the heat for a few months and I knew it would be hard for that very reason,” Guardini admitted. “But that was still good preparation and it was a good experience to do the race. I’m just hoping that I’ll see the fruits of that work in the next races, starting here in Qatar.”

After Qatar, Guardini will return to the Tour de Langkawi, where he has already amassed 11 stage wins in just two seasons. But if his run of Malaysian success initially saw some dismiss him as a flat-track bully, Guardini’s 2013 spring campaign should also see him make his first exploratory expedition towards the Everest of Italian sprinters, Milan-San Remo.

“The first thing is that to make sure I get to start the race, because you have to earn it on a team like Astana which has so many riders who can do well in San Remo,” he said, stressing that his aim on March 17 would simply be to finish the race. “Beyond that, the objective would be to get to know the roads a little bit and get a feel for what it’s like to do 300km in a race.”

Guardini’s decision to leave Luca Scinto’s school – before joining Farnese in 2011, he had raced for Scinto as an amateur – to step up to WorldTour level with Astana should grant him a steadier diet of top-level races later in the season. However, with the Giro d’Italia team set to be built around Vincenzo Nibali’s pink jersey aspirations, Guardini has already been told that he will not be on the start line in Naples.

“I’ve already been ruled out really because this year the team will be built around Nibali and the general classification,” he said. “I have to admit that it’s the right decision for the team, even if, as an Italian, the Giro is obviously the race that you want to ride the most.”

Whether that leaves the door open for a Tour de France debut remains to be seen, and for now, the poacher from Colognola ai Colli is simply focused on sniffing out that first chance of 2013 and seeing if he can take it. “I’ll just look to do well in the early part of the season and see where that leaves me,” Guardini said. “I only started training in mid-November because I finished last season quite late, but I’ve worked hard and now, for my morale, I want some decent results.”

Wins, no doubt, rather than placings.

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