Barring illness or injury, Settimana Lombarda winner Michele Scarponi will likely go into next month's Giro d'Italia with lofty ambitions after displaying fantastic early season form in Italian stage races.
The 30-year-old from Filottrano, Italy, finished a narrow second overall in Tirreno-Adriatico last month, beaten on the final day by countryman and 2000 Giro d'Italia winner Stefano Garzelli by virtue of time bonuses and stage placings.
With Gianni Savio's Androni Giocattoli-Diquigiovanni team again in the hunt for Giro d'Italia stage wins and a solid overall showing, Scarponi's form couldn't have come at a better time. He claimed his second Settimana Lombarda title, having previously won it in 2004 and finishing runner up in 2002.
He took the leader's jersey in the opening time trial up Colle Gallo and retained it throughout the week, fending off the challenge from a motivated Riccardo Riccò to beat his countryman - fresh from a 20-month suspension - by 22 seconds.
"Fortunately after all the rain, there was the sun today, especially for the descents that are otherwise very risky," said Scarponi in an interview with Tuttobiciweb after the final stage. "In the finale I knew there was a strong possibility that the group would arrive together and saw that I had a comfortable margin in the standings so I didn't have to kill myself to stay ahead.
"I got comfortable in the group and waited for the finish line. In the end I tried to help [teammate] Jackson Rodriguez, along with the whole team, which did a great job for me in all stages, but Riccò was the most brilliant and he won the stage," he added.
Having won the sixth and 18th stages of last year's Giro d'Italia, Scarponi will undoubtedly begin this year's event with big hopes of performing well, aiming for more stage victories and a high overall placing.
"The condition? It's good; you cannot win a race such as the Settimana Lombarda unless you are in good shape," continued Scarponi. "Actually, I didn't even know I was that good, then when I got the [leader's] jersey in the mountain time trial on the Colle Gallo I tried to keep it up to Bergamo and I did," he explained.
"The finishes have not been very hard and it has been relatively less complicated to lead the race until finish. Now we'll go to for a 10-day retreat in Pradollano at high altitude - at 2300 metres in the Serra Nevada, to prepare for the Giro d'Italia."
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