By Gregor Brown in Zottegem, Belgium
Italian Luca Paolini wants to leave his mark on the Driedaagse De Panne as a sign to those who have sidelined his Team Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo this year. The Italian Professional Continental team was not granted starts in Milano-Sanremo, Giro d'Italia and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. However, the rider from Milano, winner of 2007's opening stage in De Panne, sees the three-day race as a perfect spot to rid his "bad feelings".
Paolini failed to repeat his 2007 opening-stage success this year, finishing second to Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) on the opening stage. The Italians attacked with 20 kilometres remaining, but Paolini couldn't overcome the might of Gasparotto at the finish in Zottegem. "I think I did a good attack on the pavé," he said. "I initiated the attack and then we were in two [with Gasparotto]. I had very stiff legs, and so I think it is good to get second today."
The Italian still has three more stages to leave a mark. The rider wants to prove the decision by various race organisers that have overlooked the squad this year a mistake. "We are not able to race [the Tour of] Flanders; this has left me with a really bad feeling," he said. "The year is going like this, so we are looking to do well here."
Palmiro Masciarelli's team had it share of troubles in 2007 with Michele Scarponi, Franck Vandenbroucke and Giuseppe Muraglia, while Paolini, who was riding for Team Liquigas in 2007, was associated with Operazione Athena. It is believe that the combination of these riders' issues have led to organisers opting to select less controversial teams for their races.
"I think the legs are going well," Paolini confirmed. "I just came from Coppi e Bartali in Italy and so I think here I can do well. This cold and bad weather is good for me; it is enough to have the head and determination in races like this.
After De Panne ends on Thursday, Paolini's next races will be Gent-Wevelgem (April 9), Scheldeprijs (April 16) and the Giro del Trentino (April 22 - 25). In between Belgian races he returns home to Italy where he trains with team-mate Dario Andriotto.
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