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Prior to the start of Liège, riders paid tribute...

No ninth Giro rider as Astana pay tribute to Scarponi

The Astana cycling team will pay tribute to former team leader Michele Scarponi by not replacing the Italian at the Giro d'Italia.

Milan (AFP) – The Astana cycling team will pay tribute to former team leader Michele Scarponi by not replacing the Italian on the three-week race, which begins next week in Sardinia.

Scarponi, who was set to lead Astana’s bid for the coveted pink jersey over the May 5-28 event, was tragically killed in a training ride accident last week.

Although Astana have the right to field nine riders at the first Grand Tour of the season, the Kazakh team run by disgraced former champion Alexandre Vinokourov have opted not to replace him.

They will now only field eight riders and also carry Scarponi’s bike on the gallery of their team car as they drive through Italy.

“To honour the memory of our Italian rider Michele Scarponi, who tragically died last week while training, Astana Proteam renounces the opportunity to substitute the designated captain and will ride the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia with eight riders instead of nine,” said a team statement.

The 37-year-old Scarponi had been elevated to team leader status last months after Astana’s pink jersey challenger Fabio Aru was forced to withdraw through injury, and signalled his readiness by claiming his first win in four years with a stage win at the Tour of the Alps.

Vinokourov said: “What happened to Michele is a real tragedy … it is a huge blow for the whole team.

“Michele should have been our leader for the Giro and for this reason we decided not to substitute Michele in the line-up for the race, leaving his race number free.

“Every day in this Giro d’Italia as well as in all other races Michele will be with us and day by day we will ride trying to honor his memory, fighting and smiling as he taught us all to do.”

A fund to help Scarponi’s wife and twin children has also been set up, and anounced by Astana on the team’s website.

The Kazakh outfit confirmed their eight-man team as follows: Pello Bilbao, Zhandos Bizhigitov, Dario Cataldo, Jesper Hansen, Tanel Kangert, Luis Leon Sanchez, Paolo Tiralongo and Andrey Zeits.