It was a day of firsts for Michele Scarponi. He took Astana’s first victory of the season, his first success in their sky blue colours and, surprisingly as he has won the Giro del Trentino in the past, his first stage victory at what is now the Tour of the Alps.
Consequently, the chirpy Italian was in a particularly ebullient mood when he faced the press in Innsbruck.
“It’s about time,” he said of his win. “We’ve been performing well this season but, unfortunately, due to one thing or another we’ve not managed to take a victory, so this one is overdue and it’s good to put an end to our victory drought.”
Of course, that victory might not have come if Scarponi had been riding in support of Astana leader Fabio Aru, as had been planned before the Sardinian crashed during a training camp in Spain last week, forcing him to miss this race and, almost certainly, the 100th Giro d’Italia, which starts on Aru’s home island in little more than a fortnight.
Asked what he thought of the suggestion made by former Astana leader Vincenzo Nibali that Aru should line up at the Giro even if it means adopting a supporting role, Scarponi said he agreed with the sentiment.
“I think Vincenzo offered a good piece of advice and, in the end, that’s what all of us are hoping for because he’s our leader and everybody would like to see him at the Giro.
“I’m sure he would also like to be at the Giro’s start in Sardinia. But the injury is real, it’s serious, it needs to be monitored. Once it has been, he can be advised on when he can start back into training.”
Scarponi refused to be drawn on his own hopes for the Giro, insisting he and his team are focused on the Tour of the Alps for now, and even more so now that he has the race leader’s magenta jersey.
“While we’re all sorry Fabio’s not here, the team has managed to stay focused on this race and its preparation for the Giro, and this win is a reward for that,” said Scarponi.
“Right now, though, I’d like to stay focused on this race and not look ahead too much to the Giro. Nobody likes to surrender a leader’s jersey, so we’re going to try to defend and work for it. I’d like to take the opportunity to enjoy it.”
Watch: Giro d'Italia essential guide
Scarponi acknowledged he had been impressed with his likely rivals for the Tour of the Alps title, notably Geraint Thomas, Thibaut Pinot and Domenico Pozzovivo, but admitted he’d also impressed himself.
“That’s because I’ve just come off a very intense training camp at Sierra Nevada and I’ve not raced much lately. It’s only when you can compare yourself with other riders that you can see where your form is. I got the right result today, but I feel that I’ve still got room for improvement,” said Scarponi.
Having played down the threat of snow on the second stage – “I’ve got the ideal name for the conditions as Scarponi means ‘boots’ in Italian” – the Astana veteran then offered several dedications for his stage win.
“I want to dedicate it to my sons, Giacomo and Tomaso, and to my wife,” he said. “As I’m from the Marche, I’d also like to dedicate this win to my region and to all of the other regions in central Italy that have been hit hard by the recent earthquakes.
“I felt the ground shaking in my home town, Filottrano, so I know what that was like. I really hope my victory can bring a little happiness to those who have been affected.”
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