Each year, PavÃ© previews the upcoming road season with a countdown of the top-20 teams in the sport. Today we picked things up with #13â€”hereâ€™s #12.
#12 â€“ Lampre-ISD
Lampre finished 2010 as one of the sportâ€™s most underrated teams. But with the majority of the teamâ€™s wins coming thanks to Alessandro Petacchiâ€”a rider long-suspected of having doped to obtain themâ€”itâ€™s easy to see why.
But letâ€™s do one better than CONI and take Petacchi out of the equationâ€”thereâ€™s still a lot of talent here.Â Even better, much of it is still under the age of 26.Â (The teamâ€™s average age is only 29â€”and thatâ€™s with two 36-year-olds on the squad.)
Of Lampreâ€™s young stars, Francesco Gavazzi, Grega Bole, Simon Spilak, and Diego Ulissi are the four names you should get used to hearing.Â Gavazzi won a stage at Pais Vasco last year as well as the Coppa Agostoni.Â A classics rider in the making, heâ€™s someone who could win Milan-San Remo from a group and Fleche Wallonne on the Mur de Huy.Â He doesnâ€™t seem to enjoy the cobbles, but should he develop in a fashion similar to Philippe Gilbert, the hillier of those races could enter into his repertoire.
Grega Bole really came on last summer, winning a stage at the DauphinÃ© before becoming a critical member of Petacchiâ€™s lead-out in the Tour.Â With several top finishes on his 2010 resume stretching from Paris-Nice all the way to Worlds, the 25-year-old Slovenian is one to watch this spring. As for Spilak, he actually won last yearâ€™s Tour of Romandie after the disqualification of Alejandro Valverde. Itâ€™s a shame reallyâ€”at 24-years of age he might have received more credit for finishing second than he did for assuming the win after Valverdeâ€™s DQ.
Finally we have Ulissi, a 21-year-old who took his first professional win at the GP Industria & Commercio di Prato last September.Â Wisely used sparingly by Lampre last season, Ulissi will get more chances to compete in some of the Wolrds toughest races this season, perhaps getting his crack at a Grand Tour in the Giro.
But thereâ€™s more to Lampre-ISD than just young talentâ€”at least General Manager Giuseppe Saronni hopes there is.Â All eyes will be on Damiano Cunego to see if the Italian can rebound from a disastrous 2010.Â Heâ€™s reportedly given-up his Grand Tour delusions for good now (although all bets are off by July), in favor of a concentrated focus on the Ardennes classics, Worlds (this yearâ€™s not the year though), Lombardia, and Grand Tour stage wins.Â Cunegoâ€™s not quite 30â€”a startling fact considering the length of his career up to now.Â If the Little Prince can rediscover the fitness that won him Amstel and Lombardia in 2008, Saronni will be a happy man.
Overall, Lampre-ISD is a surprisingly deep team that could be one of the best in the sport if its captains perform as expected. And if Petacchi manages to avoid suspension and win some racesâ€”thatâ€™s fine too!
Man of the Hour: Michele Scarponi comes to Lampre after a season in which he finished second in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Lombardy, and fourth in the Giro dâ€™Italia.Â For an Italian squad, results like these are invaluable.Â With an impressive team supporting him and undisputed captaincy throughout the 3-week event, Scarponi should contend for a spot on the Giroâ€™s final podiumâ€”especially on such a difficult parcours.Â Heâ€™s also someone to watch in the Ardennesâ€”Fleche Wallonne is a race for which heâ€™s perfectly suitedâ€”unless he rides for Cunego.
On the Hot Seat: Petacchiâ€™s on the Hot Seat for obvious reasonsâ€”itâ€™s looking more and more as if heâ€™s about to be implicated in the latest round of Italian doping investigations. Â As for Damiano Cunego, he just needs to regain his strideâ€”a win in the Ardennes would be a terrific way to do it.
Up-and-Comer: Bole, Spilak, Ulessiâ€”take your pick!
Best Pick-Up: Grand Tour podium contenders donâ€™t fall from treesâ€”even if they come with a bit of â€œbaggageâ€ (who doesnâ€™t these days?).Â Michele Scarponi is a terrific pick-up for a team in need of a legitimate Grand Tour GC captain.
Biggest Loss: Mauro Da Dalto and Simone Ponzi didnâ€™t light the world on fire, but theyâ€™re exactly the type of domestiques every team needs in order to win important races.Â Dedicated, resilient, and occasionally able to score a result of their own, Lampreâ€™s loss is Liquigasâ€™ gain.
And thatâ€™s it for #12. Â Come back tomorrow for #11 as well as a preview of this weekendâ€™s events.