HERNING, Denmark (VN) — Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) took the 2011 Giro d’Italia trophy and leader’s pink jersey in hand on Thursday, one year after the race finished and thousands of miles away from Milan. In an exclusive interview, Scarponi told VeloNews that he would put aside the potential distraction and attack the wide-open Giro.
Organizers RCS Sport awarded the retroactive title to the Italian today in a makeshift ceremony following a press conference for this year’s race.
“Clearly, to have the jersey and the trophy at hand is a great feeling… It’s beautiful,” Scarponi told VeloNews. “However, my true dream is to raise this trophy above my head one day in Milan.”
Scarponi finished a distant second, 6:10 behind Alberto Contador last year in Milan. Over the winter, though, the sport’s high court, CAS banned Contador for a doping offence at the 2010 Tour and stripped him of his subsequent wins, including last year’s Giro.
The ruling on February 6 made today’s gesture possible. This year’s race starts in Herning on Saturday and heads back to Italy on Tuesday. The road book, or Garibaldi, distributed to journalists in the build-up to the tour already had Scarponi marked as the 2011 winner and no asterisk or mention of Contador.
Scarponi mirrored public sentiment outside of Italy, saying, “Contador was the strongest on the road.”
A year ago, Contador squeezed in the race ahead of the Tour de France and after a demanding winter spent dealing with lawyers and doping accusations. He took control of the race in the south, on the leg to Mount Etna, and secured the jersey in the three consecutive mountain days – Grossglockner, Monte Zoncolan and Gardeccia at the end of the second week.
Scarponi rode conservatively and fought off Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) for second place. He won the title thanks to the courts, but said he empathizes with Contador.
“It was a strange story given how it all went. They took his title and gave it to me. In fact, I truly feel bad,” Scarponi added. “We have a good relationship. I hope he’s passing this period well and I bet that he returns even stronger than before. I don’t have any bad feelings for him, I am just sorry how it all happened.”
This year’s race lacks a clear favorite, even if Fränk Schleck was recruited at the last minute by his RadioShack-Nissan team. Scarponi starts as “defending champion” and enjoys top odds, at 3-to-1.
“True, there’s not a true patron, like last year with Contador,” Scarponi said in the press conference. “There’s not one strong team or one strong rider. We are just going to have to wait until the mountains to see which riders and teams will lead the race.”
Afterwards, he explained to VeloNews that the trophy was a bit of a distraction. He had no idea what to do with it and said that for now, it’d just sit in the team’s truck.
“To be honest, I’m happy, but I’m not going to let that distract me,” he said. “I’ve been concentrated up to this point, to arrive to this Giro as a protagonist.”