TORTOLÌ, Italy (VN) — Astana races through Sardinia but the turquoise team feels the absence of Italian Michele Scarponi, who died two weeks ago while training for the Giro d’Italia.
At the table, in the bus and on the roads, Astana misses one of the most charismatic cyclists of the peloton. So big was his presence in the team, it decided to leave his spot vacant when beginning the three-week tour through Italy.
“It’s hard,” sports director Alexandre Shefer told VeloNews. “Last night at the table, I looked around and I missed him. You sense his absence. There’s not that cheerfulness like before. Michele would joke and laugh at the bus, something is dead, you can tell.
“Now at the table, it’s silent. Everyone was using their smartphones last night and went back to the rooms right after eating. Before, Michele would be there laughing and carrying the conversation. Just light-going and easy.”
[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Alexandre Shefer”]”Now at the table, it’s silent … Before, Michele would be there laughing and carrying the conversation”[/pullquote]
Shefer sat in the Astana team car with the window rolled down. General manager Alexandre Vinokourov was to his right. After Fabio Aru crashed on his knee and cancelled his Giro plans, they selected Scarponi to lead Astana. Scarponi showed ready with the win in the Tour of the Alps three weeks ago, his first in three and a half years.
After the Alps on Friday night, he returned home to spend one last day before pushing off for a training camp in Sicily and the Giro d’Italia. Saturday morning he left home for training and died five minutes later, at 8:05, when a truck failed to yield. His wife Anna arrived immediately, cried over her husband’s body, his four-year-old twin boys remained at home without pappa.
“His wife Anna is strong, she’s surprised me even at the funeral, above all with her babies,” Shefer added. “When she was with us, she was emotional and cried, but with the babies, she was looking after them and playing, like nothing happened. She showed to be a strong woman.”
Overnight, Anna Scarponi posted photographs of her husband and this morning, their twin boys riding through the woods.
Even before Shefer attended the funeral, Astana decided it would be best to leave the spot vacant in their nine-man team and begin the race with only eight. Any more tributes would be too much, Shefer looked over to his riders on start line for stage two and said that they have already suffered too much. Spaniard Luis León Sánchez and Italian Paolo Tiralongo above all as they were closest to Scarponi.
“It’s a surreal Giro for us,” Tiralongo said yesterday. “Our morale is at rock-bottom.”
“It’s hard to lose someone, but this was the biggest guy in the team and with a big presence, you miss him,” added Shefer. “You miss anyone, but his presence is truly felt. It wouldn’t be right to put someone else in his place just to make nine,” he continued.
“It’s hard on everyone, but I think it’s hardest on Sánchez, he was closest with him after racing together with him for so long, always trading messages and joking together.
“I saw the boys were bad off, it’s not easy, but we are on a good road to recovery. They have desire to do something for Michele.”
In memory, the Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport named the Mortirolo climb after Scarponi. He won his final Giro stage in 2010 in Aprica after escaping with Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali on the climb.