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By Fabio
Date: 5/25/2002

First, a bad news for the steadily growing bunch of Julio Alberto Pérez Cuapio's female fans: the man's got a girlfriend!!! Yes folks, seems that spending most of the interviews he gave to Italian TV during last year's Giro to confess he was in search of the love of his life paid off, and the Mexican finally found a 23-year-old italian girl, named Mara. No more details were given, but as he said he feels happy with her, I guess all Pérez Cuapio-mad ladies have to give up their hopes!

But if you love the tiny Mexican climber as a rider only, Saturday was definitely a great day. He stormed to victory by dropping everyone in the San Giacomo ascent, and took his second Giro win, after last year's triumph on the legendary Pordoi stage finish. But if last year he had to share his glory day with Gilberto Simoni, today it was exclusively for the man from Tlaxcala (where he was born on July the 30th, 1977), apart from the well-deserved praises to surprising Cadel Evans.

So Pérez first talked to Italian journalists, and told some details about the stage: "I did everything in order to win, and succeeded. I climbed at my own pace in the steepest part of he ascent, and in the end I realized only Evans was on my wheel. I attacked at the right time, at the point where I wanted to, and everything went well. I can't say if it was me dropping all the others, or they simply let me go. I just rode my own pace, found out that I was in the lead, and continued until the end ". Today's stage hero confirmed his well-known attitude to push hard gears, as he did even in the steepest part of today's ascent, featured by gradient going up to more than 10-12%,"I know I could use the 39, but I opted for 53. I had to use it when launched my attack".

An important victory not just for him, but for Panaria-Fiordo squad as well, as the Bruno Reverberi's boys finally had something to get happy about, after the gloomy days they had recently, first with Figueras sanctioned by the FCI, then with riders abandoning, testing positive and even being arrested on doping-related charges (tonight also the results of Faat Zakirov's counter-analysis came, and of course confirmed the previous ones: the rider was positive for Nesp) "I want to dedicate this victory to the Mussini family, the Panaria and Fiordo sponsors, as all of them stood beside us in the bad times we had recently. And they are intentioned to continue this way".

The Mexican also gave a few tidbits concerning the early stages of his career. So we knew that he started as an amateur rider in Mexico in 1996. Then former pro rider Miguel Arroyo, who lives in the same area as Pèrez Cuapio, noticed and "introduced" him to the Italian cycling scene. He came to Italy for the first time in 1997 and started riding for a local team of the Marche region. And now he's a well-known pro, who may even start to think big: "I don't think I have any chance to win the Giro this year, but maybe in a couple of years I could go for the Overall" was the promise he made at the end of the interview.

And talking about this year's possible winners, here's what Francesco Casagrande said before the microphones after the stage: "Today I raced thinking about both the Stage and the Overall. But, you know, when you are the main favorite everybody tends to keep an eye on you. And in a climb like today's, not extremely difficult, it is not so easy to make the difference. Besides that, I'm not even in the best possible condition, as I have been suffering from bronchitis for 3-4 days. I just hope it may be over within a few days, and the sun may get back".

Casagrande didn't a have a particularly good day, especially as he wasn't able to put time to on his main rival, Dario Frigo, who even gained a few seconds on the Tuscan, and tomorrow could gain much more, as he's a better time-triallist than the Fassa-Bortolo leader."There are 4-5 riders currently more or less at the same level; as for tomorrow's stage, I'll try to lose as little time as possible, hopefully 30-40 seconds to Frigo, and later wait for the Dolomite mountain stages to come. The stage finishing up to Folgaria will likely give the race its definitve shape" Casagrande said.

The Tuscan also mentioned the riders he fears the most "first of all Frigo, then Escartin, and Cadel Evans who is a good climber but also an excellent time-triallist, and maybe Hamilton too, but I expected him to go faster than what he actually did today. Pellizotti is another rider who's doing well now, let's wait and see how he will perform in the last week of competition".

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