Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) said he will be targeting overall victory at the Vuelta a Espana after carefully preparing for the final Grand Tour of the season at altitude in Livigno.
With Damiano Cunego tired after riding the Tour de France, Scarponi will be the Lampre-ISD team leader in Spain. Alessandro Petacchi will target the sprints, but most of the riders in pink and blue will be there to help Scarponi.
Scarponi finished second at the Giro d'Italia behind Alberto Contador but ahead of Vincenzo Nibali, who won the 2010 Vuelta. He finished 13th and 11th back in 2003 and 2005, but is convinced he can fight for victory on this year's mountainous route.
"I'm going to Spain to try and win my first ever Grand Tour. I've been working carefully, and I'll have the same determination and aggression I had in the Giro, in the hope of having a great Vuelta," he told Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday.
Scarponi is currently training at altitude in Livigno after riding the Tour of Poland. He failed to show in the race but revealed that was all part of his master plan for the Vuelta.
"I didn't finish the Tour of Poland but that was the plan," he said. "I needed the race to get back rediscover the rhythm of racing. On the hardest stage, I was at the front until three kilometres to go but then I sat up, as I'd planned. Now I'm back at altitude in Livigno and I'll stay here until the 15th of August. We've got one day at home and then we leave for the Vuelta."
Vuelta rivals and the targeting UCI ranking
Scarponi admits he has not seen any of the key mountain stages of the Vuelta but his race strategy reflects his happy-go-lucky mentality.
"I've studied the maps in detail and at least on paper, the Vuelta seems to have fewer mixed stages," he noted. "They're either easy or difficult. I've never been up the Angliru. And if it's as hard as they say, that's probably a good thing!"
"Fortunately the stages aren't too long and the racing is also different. There's more of a natural selection in Spain, that allows the climbers to emerge. And people don't take as many risks, which is always a good thing."
Scarponi knows he will face some serious competition for overall victory, from expected rivals such as Vicenzo Nibali and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC), and the riders who crashed out of the Tour de France and are hoping to make up it at the Vuelta.
"There are a lot of overall contenders," he suggested. I'd put Nibali and Menchov at the top of the list because they've got an advantage with the 47km time trial (around Salamanca on stage 10). Then I'd put me, Joaquin Rodriguez, Igor Anton, Bradley Wiggins and Jurgen Van den Broeck."
Scarponi has an excellent 2011, wining the Giro del Trentino and finishing third overall at Tirreno-Adriatico and second at the Volta a Catalunya. Thanks to the success in the WorldTour races, he is now fourth in the UCI ranking.
"I know all the riders look at the ranking," he said. "I also know I'm the only Italian in the top 10 of the ranking. That means I've done well and been consistent."
"I've got to be careful about the likes of Rodriguez and (Samuel) Sanchez who could move past me but it looks like (Cadel) Evans and (Alberto) Contador aren't going to race much during the rest of the season, so I hope to finish on the podium. I'd be going for first place but (Philippe) Gilbert seems to win every time…"