One rider who has impressed me in the last few years is Stefano Garzelli. Perhaps the shadow of his doping positive from 2002 shall haunt him forever, but he is a rare breed of riders who can climb, TT, and sprint well. His palmares certainly prove so.
Garzelli began his career as a domestique for Marco Pantani‘s Mercatone Uno team and was a key member of the Giro-Tour double-winning team of 1998. Pantani’s return in 2000 after his doping suspension wasn’t quite as well-prepared as expected: when il Pirata showed up overweight to the Giro d’Italia, the team pointed to Garzelli to be leader, and Pantani gamely worked on behalf of his former domestique. The 2000 Giro d’Italia is Garzelli’s biggest accomplishment so far, a close all-Italian battle against Francesco Casagrande and Gilberto Simoni, won only in the final TT.
Having proven himself a grand tour contender, Giorgio Squinzi of the Mapei super-team recruited Garzelli to be its leader. After a fairly slow 2001, 2002 saw Garzelli work with Paolo Bettini to earn the latter’s second win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, showing some of the best tactical teamwork ever. A strong start in the 2002 Giro d’Italia saw Garzelli win Stages 2 and 5 and earned him the maglia rosa. However, a drug test following Stage 5 showed him positive for probenecid. (While I won’t go into the details of the case, both team owner Giorgio Squinzi and team trainer Aldo Sassi claimed that it was a conspiracy against the teamâ€™s anti-doping stance.) The resulting fracas eventually led to Mapei’s departure from direct team sponsorship.
Many expected Garzelliâ€™s career to end at that point, even as he insisted on his innocence. But the following year he came back with Vini Caldirola to win two more stages in the Giro d’Italia after a strong ride in the Giro del Trentino. Garzelli also showed some promise in the Tour de France, and after moving to Liquigas-Bianchi he continued to ride well in the Giro d’Italia.
Since 2007, Garzelli has raced for Acqua & Sapone, a smaller Italian outfit with little presence in races outside of Italy. The consistent results in the Giro d’Italia continued with perhaps the most surprising being his Stage 16 win in the 2010 Giro when he won the uphill TT up the Plan de Corones ahead of then-world champion Cadel Evans. The win convinced him to continue for another season and this year the Italian won the Giroâ€™s maglia verde as Best Climber.
Overall, Garzelli has won just about every race and Italian could wish to win: including the Giro, the Tour de Suisse, and Tirreno-Adriatico to go with several other stage wins and one-day victories. Is he the best ever? Absolutely not. A bit underrated? Perhaps.
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