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MILAN, Italy (VN) — After months in limbo, Michele Scarponi has a contract for 2014. He can rest easy at home in central Italy with his new baby twins knowing that he will lead Astana’s Giro d’Italia team and help Vincenzo Nibali try to win the Tour de France.
“When two important teams like Vacansoleil and Euskaltel close it hurts,” Scarponi told VeloNews last month. “It means that many cyclists and many staff members are left on the sidelines. It’s definitely becomes more difficult to find a contract.”
Scarponi has raced for Lampre-Merida since 2011 and won that year’s Giro d’Italia with the squad after Alberto Contador’s disqualification. Following a turbulent year, Lampre’s brass dragged their feet when it came time to renew his contract.
It might have appeared odd, given the 34-year-old was the highest-ranked rider on the market, along with Chris with Horner (16th and 13th, respectively). Many followers pointed to Scarponi’s Operación Puerto doping-related ban and back-dated ban last winter for links to infamous preparatore Michele Ferrari as being the main stumbling block.
“The sponsors are over it. It was cleared up during the year; there are no more problems,” Carlo Saronni, Lampre press officer and son of the General Manager Giuseppe Saronni, said in September. “It does not have an influence on the negotiations.”
Saronni and Scarponi’s agent, Raimondo Scimone told VeloNews that a contract would be signed soon. Scimone said that the parties had been talking since the Giro d’Italia in May, in which Scarponi placed fourth, and that they would likely strike a deal after the world championships or at the beginning of October.
“He’s always up there, in the top of the WorldTour rankings,” said Scimone. “He has points, Lampre or another team will gain from those points.”
Astana gained. By signing Scarponi for the 2014 season, it relieved Nibali of the pressure to defend his Giro d’Italia title. Scarponi will lead the Giro team and teach 23-year-old Fabio Aru, while Nibali will be free to focus on the Tour de France in July.
“Our main goal next year is to build up a team that can come together around the massively complicated and extraordinarily difficult task of riding for Vincenzo Nibali and his shot at a podium, and why not, a win,” General Manager Alexander Vinokourov said in a press release yesterday. “Michele Scarponi has experience and strength that after the Giro we can go with him into the Alps and Pyrenees in July. It is worth an attempt, because the Tour is so important.”
First the Giro, May 9 to June 1. Scarponi appears an outside favorite behind Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Richie Porte (Sky) and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp). Ideally he can show Aru the ropes and help develop Italy’s next big stage racer.
“They say it’s a more humane route next year, but in the end, it’s always difficult. It’s a little less difficult than this year, but this year a few climbs were annulled because of the weather,” Scarponi said. “It won’t be easy, there are true and sacred climbs like Stelvio, Gavia, Zoncolan, Monte Grappa, Monte Campione … Difficult stages. It won’t be an easy Giro.”