New Italian hero for Japanese fans

Ricco' talks about his victory at Japan Cup

By Miwako Sasaki

Italian Riccardo Ricco' (Saunier Duval-Prodir) become the sixth Italian winner of 15th Japan Cup last weekend, following Claudio Chiappuchi ('93, '94, '95), Sergio Barbero ('99, '02, '03), Massimo Codol ('00), Gilberto Simoni ('01) and Damiano Cunego ('05). Indeed, Italians dominated the race 10 times, so the Japan Cup is often called the 'Italian Cup' instead.

Ricco', a 23 year-old climber, was able to beat his compatriot, the experienced sprinter Ruggero Marzoli (Lampre-Fondital) in the finish. "I believed I could win today," said the young Italian on the podium, in front of many Japanese spectators. "But on the final laps, Lampre and Discovery had two riders against me, I was alone. And then, when Szmyd started his work for Ruggero, I didn't think I could win because Ruggero is very fast. But I still did, so I'm very happy. It's very beautiful race and there are many spectators. And I'm also happy to compete against big riders like Ruggero Marzoli, Vladimir Gusev and Stijn Devolder." Ricco' is in his first year as a professional and already won a stage of Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale in March, in his home town, Sassuolo in Bergamo, beating Paolo Bettini. On the other hand, Marzoli had a unfortunate season this year, with seven second placing, including eighth stage of the Vuelta a España which was won by Alexandre Vinokourov. Next year, Marzoli will join the new Italian-Russian team Tinkoff, where Russian Dimitri Konyshev will become team manager.

At the press conference, the Bergamasco Ricco' looked back on his second victory as a professional. "Some Japanese rider made the breakaway first, so we European riders discussed and decided to controlling the peloton. And then, with four laps to go, Discovery accelerated on the mountain, but I felt very good in the climb; I was very good condition," Ricco' explained. Indeed, he was third in GP Beghelli and fifth in Giro dell'Emilia recently.

"And then, my teammate Javier Megias attacked from the peloton, and his work forced Lampre and Discovery to chase him. At the final mountain of the final lap, Devolder of Discovery attacked and five riders remained in the front, two Lampre and two Discovery and me, I was alone there," he continued. It was very difficult situation for the young Italian, but it turned out to be his speciality. "At the final 500 metres, me and Szmyd attacked but got caught by the others in the small descent. After that, we restrained one another, and arrived at the finish line..." where he was a fastest man. "I'm not really sprinter, I'm climber. But when we arrive in a small group just like today, I don't hesitate, I can win. I'm a similar type of rider than Damiano Cunego."

Before the Japan Cup, Ricco' wasn't popular in Japan. But after the race, he become a hero for Japanese fans. "The circuit of the Japan Cup was very hard, but it was a wonderful spectacle," he added, knowing that the race is in financial trouble and financed by spectators for the first time this year. "I hope that the Japan Cup can continue."

At the end of the press conference, Ricco' talked about his future. "I hope that the next season will be better again. I believe I can win a great classic, an important one. And I also want to help Gilberto Simoni with winning Giro d'Italia."

Team Saunier Duval team celebrated briefly at a coffee house, before flying back to Europe. It was there that Ricco' told Cyclingnews about his dream, which classic he wanted to win in the next season. "Amstel Gold Race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Flèche Wallonne!" The new Italian champion in Japan has great ambition.

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