As the Giro d’Italia makes one of its less frequent incursions into the southernmost reaches of Italy for the next three days, locally born Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R Mondiale) says he will be making the most of it.
With the Giro usually finishing in the country’s north and the regions there consequently always featuring on the route, for the far south of Italy when it comes to hosting a Giro stage, it’s much more hit and miss. Furthermore, although outstanding favourite Vincenzo Nibali is from Sicily, the number of riders from the south there is relatively small in proportion to Italy’s north.
Pozzovivo, though, is another exception to this unwritten rule and one of the south’s top riders of recent years. Seventh in the Giro di Trentino (as he was in 2015), eighth in Oman and seventh in the Tour Down Under, the 33-year-old has had a steady, if winless, start to the year. Although last year’s terrible crash on stage three to Sestri Levante meant he regrettably barely featured in the 2015 Giro d’Italia, fifth overall in 2014, and three further top tens overall, stretching all the way through a mountainous stage win in 2012 to ninth on gc way back in 2008, all confirm Pozzovivo’s longstanding relationship with the race.
In fact, it goes back much further. Pozzovivo's first memory of the Giro dates back from 1987 or so, when the Giro passed through his Basilicata region. “My first memory of the race is actually when I was five years old or so,” Pozzovivo told Cyclingnews, “I was with my father on our farm and we were waiting for the Giro to come past on the big ‘A’ road near the farm. It was the first time I saw it, so it was something very special for me.”
Fast forward 28 years and that’s still very much the case. “Racing in the south is a very special moment and as my home, it’s very important to be here with the Giro. It’s been great to be in the Netherlands with so many fans, but Italy is another story altogether.
“Normally the people are very keen to see the race in the south, they all come out of their houses, they are on the roadside and very enthusiastic about it. It’s not every year that we have it on our roads here, so when it comes they are very happy.”
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As for Pozzovivo’s condition himself, at the stage 4 start of Catanzaro in the southern Calabrian region, AG2R sports director Laurent Biondi commented to Cyclingnews, “he’s going well. The Giro d’Italia is always a real motivating factor for him, but here in the south, even more so where he knows the roads so well. This is his region, part of his family came to see him on the rest day and there will surely be more of his friends and relatives on the route over these coming days.”
Biondi also provided an update concerning AG2R Giro d’Italia co-leader Jean-Christophe Peraud, who crashed out on stage three with head and upper body injuries. “For now, he’s recovering steadily. Our team doctor is constantly in touch with him, and obviously he needs a lot of rest, to recover steadily. He’ll be back soon, he’s a great champion.
“He was very motivated for this race and we had two leaders for this race, and now we’ve got one. It was a big blow for the team, and is a reminder of how useful it is to have two leaders for a race.”
As Biondi pointed out, history, in the least desirable of ways, has repeated itself for AG2R in the 2015 and 2016 Giros. “We already had that terrible experience with Domenico last year [crashing out of the race early] to show us that if you have just one leader, it’s a risk. This time, at least, after another unfortunate crash, we’ve still got Domenico here.” Pozzovivo himself says that fortunately the psychological impact of that 2015 crash is now behind him, saying simply, “I’ve done a lot of races since then and I don’t think about it any more.”
Although the stage nine time trial is looming fast on the horizon, as Biondi points out the first week stages beforehand have a lot of potential to spring surprises - but perhaps not so much to a regionale like Pozzovivo.
“They are very tricky, starting with stage four where it’s very technical at the end and a moment’s disattention can cost you dear. Then there three more stages which are tough enough to wear the riders down, with that second category climb on Thursday and the gravel roads on Saturday’s finale [albeit no longer in the south - Ed.] all making it very tough for the riders. Then, it’s onto that crucial time trial.”
What will the Giro leave behind in the south when it moves out on stage eight to more familiar terrain? Four years ago when Pozzovivo won in a stage in southern Italy at Lago Luceno he has expressed concern about professional cycling’s low profile in the south of Italy, with races and teams disappearing and few opportunities for young riders, and he says, with a touch of regret, that few things have changed.
“It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s similar to a few years ago,” Pozzovivo argues. Hopefully the return of the Giro d’Italia to the south this year will help give cycling the boost there it clearly needs - and perhaps help inspire a future generation for the sport, as it once did with Pozzovivo.