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91st Giro d'Italia - Liquigas Team Preview
By Bart Hazen
Date: 5/8/2008
91st Giro d'Italia - Liquigas Team Preview

Giro d'Italia 2008 - Liquigas Team Preview
Liquigas returns to defend their crown with co-captains Vincenzo 'the Shark' Nibali and Franco Pellizotti - Daniele Bennati with the 'fast legs' for the team hunting the sprint jersey.

2008 - TTT Coppi Bartali Liquigas running a tight formation.
Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti

Liquigas won the Giro D’Italia last year with Danilo di Luca; they return to the Corsa Rosa minus Di Luca who signed with LPR. The green machine had to reorganize after the departure of their former leader and choose a new captain, a big fish if you will, a man with an appetite to win... and so they have in the form of a man who goes by the nick name " the Shark".

 The leader of Liquigas is Giro del Trentino winner Vincenzo Nibali, the 23 years rider from Messina, Sicily and lives in Toscana, perhaps his Sicilian origin has something to do with his nickname; that or his voracious appetite for victory. Co-leader will be curl coifed female fan favorite Franco Pellizotti. The sprinter of the team will be Daniele Bennati. Bennati who started his season late this year due to a injury has found his form in time winning  the final stage in the Tour de Romandie on an uphill sprint. The others on the team will be supporting these three riders who will be on the hunt for stage wins and a favorable showing on the general classification for the sponsor.

Team Liquigas
Giro d'Italia Squad
• Daniele Bennati
• Kjell Carlström
• Dario Cataldo
• Vladimir Miholjevic
• Vincenzo Nibali
• Andrea Noe
• Franco Pelizotti
• Alessandro Vanotti
• Charles Wegelius

Vincenzo Nibali Overall winner 2008 Giro del Trentino with his trophy. Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti

Vincenzo Nibali
Vincenzo Nibali is as we mentioned, the team-captain of Liquigas. The 23 year old is a strong climber, has a good time-trial and hasn’t a bad sprint either after a tough stage. Nibali has good palmares as a 4th year pro with wins in Plouay, the GP Industria, Giro di Toscana, the TTT in the Giro, two stages in the Tour of Slovenia and has ridden strongly in 2008 with wins at TTT in the Settimana Internazionale and a stage and the final ranking in the Giro del Trentino. Further he has lots of short rankings in the tougher one-day races and stage races as well like the Eneco Tour and the Tour de Pologne.

Daniele Bennati and Franco Pellizotti at first team training ride in January.
Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti

Daniele Bennati
Daniele Bennati doesn’t need any introduction as one of the fastest guys in the bunch. The former Lampre sprinter started his 2008 season in April with the Giro del Trentino after recovering from a knee injury. But Daniele has shown his return to the fast legs group has been achieved; and just in time for the Giro with his win on the final stage in the Tour de Romandie.

Bennati will be a serious contender in the flat stages to sprinters like McEwen, Cavendish and Förster and will be hard to beat in the uphill finishes. Bennati won in his career already three stages in the Vuelta D’Espana and two in the Tour de France and lots of other races. It’s now waiting on Bennati to open his Giro account in his first ever Giro participation. But we are sure that will not take that long!

2007 G.P. Industria & Artigianato Larciano: Vittoria - Liquigas' Nibali e Pellizotti! Photo © Fotoreporter Sirotti

Franco Pellizotti
Franco Pellizotti is a strong climber and finished 8th (2006) and 9th (2003) in the Giro D’Italia. Pellizotti who won a few one-day races and also stages to name a few,  the Tirreno, Vuelta a Pais Vasco, Tour de Pologne and a stage and final ranking in the Settimana Coppi & Bartali is really targeting a good ranking in the Giro D’Italia. So far in 2008 he was 21st in the Tirreno, 15th in Milano-SanRemo, 3rd in the Giro D’Oro and 2nd in a stage of the Giro del Trentino. Not the best results so far; but with the Giro as his target we could see him hitting his form in the first week.

These three leaders will be accompanied by the talented support riders: Kjell Carlstrom, Dario Cataldo, Vladimir Miholjevic, Andrea Noe, Alessandro Vanotti and Charles Wegelius.

Kjell Carlstrom
Kjell Carlstrom rode his first three years as a pro for Amore & Vita before joining Liquigas in 2005. Carlstrom can climb very well and will be essential to the teams assault on the early slopes and hopes of Pellizotti and Nibali. Kjell won a stage in this year’s Paris-Nice ahead of French climber Clement Lhotellerie. Carlstrom makes his Giro debut; having already participated in the Tour de France a few times and once at the Vuelta D’Espana.

Dario Cataldo
23 year old Dario Cataldo is a second year pro and a former winner of the Baby Giro (2006). His first year as a professional was excellent with notable wins in the TTT of the Settimana Coppi & Bartali, 3rd in the Henninger Turm, 10th in the Coppa Agostoni and 4th in the Giro del Veneto, two stage wins in the Tour de L’Avenir and other races. In 2008 Cataldo hasn't had any results but completed tough races like Vuelta a Pais Vasco, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Cataldo will make his Grand Tour debut and will especially be there to learn and compete in the Best Young Rider category.

Andrea Noe
Andrea Noe is the most experienced rider of the team with his 39 years of age and had a storied pro career as an aggressive rider. Noe turned pro in 1993 with the famous Mapei team and rode there until 2002 (except for 1997-1998 when he rode for Asics). In 2003 and 2004 he rode for Alessio and since 2005 for Liquigas.

His nick name is the “old warrior” and he has the record of oldest wearer of a leaders jersey in a Grand Tour after he took off the pink jersey in the Giro 2007 after the10th stage from Marco Pinotti. He had the pink jersey for two days. Noe has ridden 10 grand tours at both the Giro D’Italia and the Tour de France his best result was twice 4th (2000 & 2003) and once 6th (2001) in the Giro. In 1998 he even won a stage in the Giro just as last year when he won the TTT with Liquigas. Noe will be in the Giro to support Nibali and Pellizotti in the mountains and maybe able to show some good results for himself as well with another stage win. In 2008 Andrea has one win with the TTT with Liquigas in the Settimana Coppi & Bartali and was 10th overall in that race.

Last but not least, we will introduce the three main helpers of the team for all disciplines (flat, mountain etc.) Vladimir Miholjevic, Alessandro Vanotti and Charles Wegelius.

Giro Provincia di Grosseto 2008: Liquigas protects race leader Pozzato on the front. Photo © Karen Lambrecht

Vladimir Miholjevic
Miholjevic is a multiple road champion of Croatia and rode his first years as a pro for KRKA in Slovenia. In 2002 he joined Alessio which became Liquigas in 2005. Last year he was also one of the riders who supported Di Luca for the final win. This 34 year old veteran in his 11th pro season has ridden 6 grand tours and is a wily competitor, watch for him to weigh in the attacks and giving his all for team.

Alessandro Vanotti
Vanotti is a 27 year old rider from the region of Bergamo. 2008 will be his 2nd year for Liquigas. Last year he won two stages in the Settimana Lombarda and was also part of the winning team around Di Luca. This year he was also part of the team who won the TTT in the Settimana Coppi & Bartali.

Charly Wegelius
Finally Charly Wegelius.Wegelius was born in Finland but is now a British citizen. He turned pro in 2000 with the famous Mapei team. 2008 will be his fourth year for Liquigas. Wegelius is a climber and will provide invaluable support in the mountains for Nibali and Pellizotti. A more complete profile can be found in the preview of British rider for the Giro.

Wegelius was just as Miholjevic, Vanotti, Noe, Nibali and Pellizotti one of the riders who was part of the winning team in 2007 as well. Only Cataldo, Carlström and Bennati are replacing Gasparotto, Di Luca and Spezialetti. Thus far this season he was also part of the team that won the TTT in the Settimana Coppi & Bartali.

It would be easy to write off Liquigas sans Di Luca; but don't be so fast to lose confidence in the team that ushered Di Luca to his victory in 2007. The team though on the young side has veterans who could bring out the best of these talented riders and make a mark in the race and stage wins. Liquigas will definitely be one of the teams to watch for in the opening Team Time-Trial in Palermo on Saturday looking to get their captains in position for the maglia rosa.

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