Michele Scarponi spent the off-season serving a suspension for admitting his links to Dr. Michele Ferrari and spent the early weeks of the season waiting anxiously for Lampre-Merida to welcome him back into the fold. They eventually did so, but only after downsizing Scarponi's contract with the caveat that any further revelations from the Padova investigation would end their rapport.
Yet even so, Scarponi lines up in Naples as Lampre's leader at the Giro d'Italia with an entire team devoted to supporting him. There were mixed messages, too, about Scarponi's form from his final outings before the Giro, and this was in keeping with the tenor of a campaign that has seen some sharp spikes in his performance levels. After struggling through the Giro del Trentino, Scarponi was reanimated by Liège-Bastogne-Liège two days later where he finished 5th.
"I came to Trentino straight after period of training at altitude, so that meant that I struggled a bit in the mountains there, but by Liège the following Sunday I was already going better," Scarponi said. "I did a good race there and I got the answers I wanted, so I think I'm coming in to the Giro in good shape."
Following his fluctuations through the spring, however, Scarponi aims to be a model of consistency during the Giro. While the Saltara time trial and the troika of Dolomite stages in the finale dominate all analysis of the Giro's route, Scarponi pointed out that the dearth of outright sprint stages means that the overall contenders must be vigilant throughout.
"The key to it all is consistency in my case – neither too many highs nor too many lows," Scarponi said. "You've got to remember that we've got a team time trial very early on and on top of that we are into the hills as soon as Monday, with climbs, technical descents and difficult finishes.
"There are very few stages can be written off as not having any impact on the overall picture. My aim is to fly under the radar for as long as possible, and just try and snatch seconds here, there and everywhere. Then, when the high mountains and big time trial eventually come, I hope I'm in the ideal position to either defend my position or go on the attack."
As ever, the Giro winner will have to pack his climbing legs, but Scarponi admitted that he could already be written out of contention before the mountains if he fails to limit his losses adequately on home roads in the Marche next Saturday. At 55 kilometres, Scarponi is fully aware that keeping Wiggins in sight on the road from Gabicce Mare to Saltara will prove a tall order.
"The winner will have to be able to climb and I think the three toughest days are right at the end with the mountain time trial and the stages to Val Martello and Tre Cime di Lavaredo but at the same time, I think that the most significant time gaps will come in the Gabicce Mare time trial," Scarponi said. "So to do a good Giro, you're going to have to go well there."
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