The Panaria-Margres team is one of the most competitive GS2 squads around, with riders good enough to be protagonists in the 87th Giro d’Italia. The first names one may think of are those of Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio and Giuliano Figueras obviously. Both of them with some reasons to be looking for redemption in this year’s Corsa Rosa.
The Mexican is a well-known climber, whose all-out attacks on the steep slopes of the 2001 and 2002 Giros endeared him many fans across the world. His performances in the past Tour of Italy were not that good instead, as the Mexican couldn’t get higher than third in the Alpe di Pampeago gruelling stage, but in fact was never a real protogonist in the race dominated by Simoni, Garzelli and Popovych. And even his latest results are not too encouraging, with Pérez Cuapio still looking for his first victory since the 2003 Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda, and for his first top 3 finish since the aforementioned Pampeago leg. But the 26-year-old from Tlaxcala, that turned professional with his current team in the year 2000, and whose palmares features seven victories in the pro ranks (starting with a Tour de Langkawi stage in the same season), will be definitely given plenty of opportunities to be back into the limelight in the race that made him famous, and saw him crowned “King of the Mountains” in the 2002 edition. Whether the man will take them or not, is a whole different matter.
Neapolitan Giuliano Figueras is another possibile star of the Corsa Rosa. Someone (like journalists at Gazzetta di Reggio, local newspaper of the town the Panaria team is based at) even consider him a serious GC threat, or a podium contender at least. And it will be interesting to see how far the man can go. He seemingly left the most unpleasant part of the past (marked by the suspension he was awarded by the Italian Cycling Federation for doping-related causes a couple years ago) behind, and got off to an excellent “new start”, with a victory at the 2003 GP Chiasso and a couple top 3 finishes in last year’s Giro stages.
But even more with his excellent 2004 early season campaign, featuring an overall win at Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, a second place finish in one of it stages (Race report) and at the recent Giro dell’Appennino (Race report), where he lost to sensational Damiano Cunego only, and more outstanding results at Giro del Trentino, where he barely missed he podium, Jacob Creek’s Tour Down Under and last week-end’s Giro di Toscana. The man showed all of his talent in his early years on the bike (he even clinched the World Title as Under 23 in the 1996 season, in a sensational 1-2-3-4 for the Italian team at Lugano), and recently proved he still has the talent. He’s not in the same level as the Simonis and Garzellis of the bunch, but should the man continue his winning ways into the Giro, he might take many a good satisfactions on the road in the next three weeks.
Panaria’s managers Bruno “The Uncle” and Roberto Reverberi can rely on more riders than Pérez Cuapio and Figueras for his purposes to burst into spotlight: there’s Paolo Lanfranchi too. The Bergamasco is not exactly a young gun (he will turn 36 in late July), but could make the most out of his experience and the climbing skills he has showed throughout his career, the ”legendary” Briancon stage of the 2000 Giro included. That day he left the likes of Pantani, Simoni, Garzelli, Casagrande and Tonkov behind and soloed to victory in the “queen stage” of the Y2K Corsa Rosa. Or even when he won the overall at the 2001 Tour de Langkawi (his last success so far). Two Top 10 finishes in as many legs of Settimana Lombarda and Portugal’s GP Extremadura was the best he could do so far this year, but the Giro might improve his season tally, or turn him into a fundamental “gregario” for his team leaders.
When the race hit the mountains, also former Selle Italia (and former Formaggi Pinzolo) attack-man Fortunato Baliani could have something to say, he’s no stranger to making some breakaways or getting into them, and few would be surprised at seeing him do it again at the Giro. The 29-year-old from Foligno has won just a Vuelta a Cundinamarca stage in Colombia since he turned pro in 1998, with podium placings at Trofeo dello Scalatore (“Climber’s trophy”) and Tour de Langkawi in the year 2000, but his usually combative attitude might earn him any more good results sooner or later.
One further rider to look out for his fellow Italian Luca Mazzanti. The 30-year-old from Bolonia was fifth at Giro dell’Etna in March, and showed more of his recent form by making the Top 10 at Giro del Trentino, Giro dell’Appennino, and GP Industria & Artigianato-Larciano in the past weeks. And why not showing off his form again at Il Giro? It would help him add something new to a palmares with 4 victories since he turned pro in 1997, the last one being a Settimana Coppi & Bartali stage (Race report) in 2003.
The Giro d’Italia roster of Italy’s “orange” team is completed by two well-known Aussies and as many “newbies”. The men from Oz are Scott Davis and Brett Lancaster. The former is a good sprinter, that could follow in the footsteps of fellow countryman Graeme Brown, often a protagonist in the past two editions of the race, and the latter turned professional in 2003, just to get one win (actually his first -and solo- win) in a Tour de Langkawi stage that year. As for the two other guys, they go under the names of Emanuele Sella and Alejandro Alberto Borrajo.
And their names are not stranger to those that followed Italian (and not just Italian) races in recent weeks: after showing off his talent in the Under 23 and Elite-2 scene in 2003, Sella (Italian word for ”Saddle”) made his name known through his Top 10 finishes and Giro della Provinicia di Lucca and Tour of Trentino, but notably as he came fourth in the Colle del Gallo gruelling uphill ITT at Settimana Lombarda. And even more as he was part (until about a dozen kms, from the the line, then unfortunate Emanuele had his hopes dashed as he fell and lost contact to the other front runners) of the winning break at last Saturday’s Rund um Den Henninger Turm UCI-1.1 sanctioned contest (Race report). Don’t expect the tiny climber from Vicenza to drop the Simonis and Garzellis of the bunch in the Giro, this year at least, but in such a hilly race there must be some room for him to show off his skills again, and in front of a broader audience.
Last but not least, Alejandro Borrajo, at his second year at Panaria, though he barely raced in 2003; the boy from Buenos Ayres did well at Brazil’s Volta ao Estado Sao Paulo, got into a break at Tour de Langkawi, but more significantly got close to a surprise win in a Giro del Trentino sprint, where he came second to the great Jan Svorada only (Race report) this year. The last result definitely helped him get a place in the “orange” roster for the Tour of Italy, and that’s a great accomplishment by itself. Sure Cipo, Petacchi, Quaranta and McEwen were not around that day, and they will be at the Giro, but the fact of being out there, against the above mentioned big guns, is a good start for him.
The Ceramiche Panaria-Margres line-up for the Giro (backnumbers included) is as follows (click on rider names for pics):