|Panaria-Navigare have been a fixture at the Giro d’Italia in recent years, and even into the ProTour era, with wild cards hard to come by, it is not difficult to see why they have been invited back again. The squad has constantly performed above expectation at the Giro d’Italia, shaming a host of bigger, higher-funded and better-ranked squads in bringing their relatively-unheralded riders to the fore with stage wins. They certainly have a record that should be envied by many ProTour squads. Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio animated two Giros in 2001 and 2002 with his animated riding in the mountains, while Emmanuele Sella took a brave win in Cesena as a neo-pro in 2004. Luca Mazzanti also capitalised on the finishing-straight antics of Bettini and Cooke which saw them demoted to "win" a stage by default last year, while before him, Brett Lancaster was the first maglia rosa after winning the shortest prologue in Grand Tour history.
Despite missing key sprinter Paride Grillo to bronchitis, this year’s team still has high potential for stage victories as well the overall, as neo-pro Maximiliano Richeze takes over the mantle of lead fast man. Though the Giro could prove a step too far for the Argentinean neo-pro, some good results in the bunch sprints could launch his career. Having won his very first professional race, the first stage of the Tour de Langkawi, Richieze has continued to show his power with second places in Murcia and Trentino bunch sprints.
Emanuele Sella– Courtesy Panaria Navigare.
However, the focus is undoubtedly on climbing in this team, ahead of a Giro which contains some of the toughest climbs in years. Ever since his breakthrough two years ago, where he took a stage deep in Pantani country on the way to twelfth overall, the diminutive Emanuele Sella has been earmarked as a promising climber. After tenth last year and still only 25 years old, he will be gunning for another top ten finish, though the time-trials (individual and team) are likely to see him lose in excess of five minutes. Fifth overall at the Giro del Trentino and fifth in the Giro dell’Appennino shows that he is up there with the best of them, though he will need to hold this sort of form for the sadistic challenges that come in the last week.
Former Fassa Bortolo rider Luca Mazzanti is another man who has performed superbly in recent races, as runner up in both the Giro del Trentino (where he won a stage) and the Giro dell’Appenino. Constantly a feature of the Italian classic one-day races, he is a competent climber who also possesses a good sprint. If he uses these attributes wisely, another stage win is distinctly possible, either from a small bunch sprint or from a breakaway. Mazzanti is also one of a host of riders in this squad who, by all rights, should be sitting comfortably with a ProTour squad contract in their back pockets. Nonetheless, ProTour cycling’s loss has certainly been Panaria’s gain in the last three years, as Mazzanti has arguably been their most consistent performer.
Perez Cuapio wins the Giro’s thirteenth stage in 2001
On the other hand, it has been four years since little Julio Alberto Perez Cuapio lit up the Giro with two attacking mountain stage wins. Despite winning the Giro del Trentino last year, he has not returned to the kind of explosive form seen in the past. Nonetheless, “Lucky” has remained a favourite with the tifosi, and it would be nice to see the little Mexican dance on the pedals on this year’s particularly-nasty climbs, at the head of affairs once again. His countryman Moises Aldape, who specialises in the hills, will also be riding his first Giro, slotting into the roster in Grillo’s place.
Yet another potential Giro revelation is Colombian climber Miguel Angel Rubiano. Sixth overall in the prestigious Elite-2 Giro della Valle d’Aosta last year, he has already enjoyed top ten finishes in the GP Industria & Artigianato and the Giro dell’Appenino, races which feature several tough ascents, in his first season as a pro. Though it would be unfair to expect a Rujano-esque performance, the twenty-two year old is a hot prospect for the future and will be looking to finish inside the top forty in his first Grand Tour.
Fortunato Baliani and Rubiano’s compatriot Luis Laverde Jimenez are also solid climbers: Laverde was fifteenth overall two years ago but has shown few signs of a similar performance since then. It is likely that both will only be on the fringes of things in the mountains, though a top thirty placing for either, to strengthen Panaria’s team classification placing, is possible. Baliani enjoyed a good 2005, with five second places, including at the GP Schwarzwald and Tour of Slovenia, as well as third in the Trofeo Matteotti.
Panaria have opted for powerful Ukrainian tester Sergiy Matveyev, as the only notable time-trialist on board. He’s already won against the clock this season, in Langkawi, and has also performed well in Tirreno-Adriatico among other races. Matveyev has not raced the Giro since 2002, with Brett Lancaster previously preferred, so he will be looking to show himself in the time-trials as well as in attack or two. Moreover, he will also help to limit Panaria’s losses in the team time-trial, a discipline in which they are expected to finish well down the order in.
Panaria-Navigare for the 2006 Giro
41 Emanuele Sella (Ita)
42 Luca Mazzanti (Ita)
43 Moises Aldape (Mex)
44 Fortunato Baliani (Ita)
45 Miguel Angel Rubiano (Col)
46 Sergiy Matveyev (Ukr)
47 Julio Alberto Perez (Mex)
48 Maximiliano Richeze (Arg)
49 Luis Laverde Jimenez (Col)