There are few riders who, at the age of just 24 have the innate ambition of Italian Riccardo Ricco ? and the results to go along with it.
Having re-signed with Saunier Duval as sole leader and in just his third season as a pro, Ricco says this year it?s win the Giro ? or bust. And then after that? Maybe the Olympics and the Worlds.
CW: Define yourself to us as a rider.
RR: I?m a climber.
And as a person?
RR: I?m fairly laid back, much less aggressive than when I?m on the bike. Generous too. But if I find somebody?s playing me false, then they no longer exist.
So what could you possibly want to do better?
RR: Well I think I?m not scared of being controversial. That causes me problems. But that?s my character. When I?ve got to say something, I say it. Race-wise, I?ve got to improve my time trialling. I?m working on it.
Who would you say you were most similar to?
RR: Marco Pantani?s my idol. I?m a little bit like him. Although there was only ever one Marco Pantani and my palmarès doesn?t really show anything yet.
What does this year mean for you?
RR: Last year, 2007, was when I really broke through in cycling [winning two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico and a mountain stage of the Giro, as well as taking sixth overall]. This year has to be the year where I prove it wasn?t a fluke. My objectives are to do as well as possible in the Ardennes Classics, then go all out in the Tour of Italy to win it.
Is losing Gilberto Simoni from Saunier Duval a problem for you, or good news because there?s no longer any doubt about who is leader?
RR: Gilberto and I have stayed as friends even though he?s quit. I don?t know why he left, it was a bit odd for me. But it?s allowed me to become team leader: I want to do as well as possible, but I?m under huge pressure, too.
So the team?s expectations ? and the tifosi?s ? have rocketed after such a good 2007 and with Gilberto gone. But is the route of the Giro, which has four time trials, one you can do well in?
RR: On the one hand it?s got a much tougher final week than usual, which is good. On the other, there?s all that time trialling, which is bad. But they?re not too long and most of them are hilly. So it balances out, or is even a teeny bit favourable for me.
Last year you started the year with a bang, winning stages of Tirreno-Adriatico. What about this time round?
RR: I?m going to be more tactical. Start the year easy, then slowly build up to April and May. There?ll be no going crazy this time round.
Trying to win the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège ? and then the Giro at 24… are you really serious?
RR: I told you already: I?m ambitious. I only race to win, never to come second, third or last. That may be the result that I end up getting. But when I start a race, it?s to finish first.
But to win the Giro, rather than ?just? win mountain stages, you?ve got to race differently, haven?t you?
RR: Last year I didn?t do much calculating when I was racing. This year, it?s a different story. I?ve become more philosophical. So I?ll ease back in the first two weeks of the Giro to try and give it 100 per cent at the mountains.
As for the Worlds in Italy ? is there any point in any other Italian cyclist who isn?t Paolo Bettini being ambitious?
RR: Don?t forget I was second last year at the Tour of Lombardy. And I want to try and win the Worlds this year. We?ll see what happens after the Giro, but I?ll talk it over with [Italian team manager Franco] Ballerini to see how he wants me to get in good shape for the Worlds. So I?ll do the Vuelta, probably the first two weeks. If I can win on the Angliru before I quit, then so much the better.
So when are you going to do the Tour?
RR: Not this year. Maybe in 2009. The Tour is a huge challenge, one I?d like to try to do. But not yet. It?s less hard than the Giro in terms of climbs, but it?s hotter as well in July. Everybody prepares 100 per cent for the Tour. I?ll try one year, just like Gilberto Simoni did, to see what happens.
Imagine you?re in January 2009; what is the one race you?d have liked to have won.
RR: That?s easy. If I win the Giro, I?d be happy to lose every other race this year. I?d sign on the dotted line for that.
And what are your long-term objectives?
RR: I?m still young, I?ve got a lot of time to work out my objectives. But I want to be cycling?s number one.
This interview originally appeared in Cycling Weekly April 3, 2008
HOW IS RICCO DOING IN THIS YEAR’S GIRO?
Find out with our extensive coverage of the 2008 Giro d’Italia:
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Stage six: Italians clean up
Stage five: Millar denied by snapped chain
Stage four: Cavendish wins
Stage three: Bennati romps home
Stage two: Ricco wins Giro d’Italia second stage
Stage one TTT: Slipstream wins Giro team time trial
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS
Aggressive Cummings comes away empty handed [stage six]
Millar speaks out after missing out in Giro [stage five]
Reaction to Cavendish’s Giro stage win
Cav hits back at Pozzato’s snipe
Cavendish: This is my biggest win [stage four]
Millar celebrates Slipstream Giro d’Italia success
Bettini looking for final Giro glory
Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro
Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive
Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: PHOTOS
Giro d’Italia 2008: Photo gallery. New photos added daily
GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES
Tuesday Comment (May 13): Why Cavendish is a bona fide world-class star
Giro Britannia: how the Brits are doing in Italy
Giro d’Italia 2008 preview
Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?
Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming
Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule