Savio: Rujano could be Giro dark horse

Selle Italia team manager Gianni Savio believes his team leader, Venezuelan José Rujano, could be th

Selle Italia team manager Gianni Savio believes his team leader, Venezuelan José Rujano, could be th
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With just three days to go until the 2006 Giro d'Italia kicks off in Seraing, Belgium, Selle Italia team manager Gianni Savio claims to be "cautiously optimistic" that Jos Rujano can repeat the heroics which took him to third place in last year's corsa rosa.

Speaking to procycling en route to Seraing, Savio said the Venezuelan climber "is in decent condition and just lacks race fitness". Savio also admitted, however, that relations between Rujano and the team with whom he spent the first three months of 2006 locked in a contractual dispute are "good but not idyllic".

"Rujano's form is good, and you'd be mistaken if you thought that he hadn't trained in those three months [when he was refusing to ride for Selle Italia )," Savio said. "The only thing he lacks is the race fitness that he would have got from racing during that period."

Savio added that when Rujano returned to Italy from Venezuela to compete in the Giro d'Oro and Giro del Trentino in early April, "he was already lean and at his racing weight".

"He doesn't lack stamina in the sense that he has done a lot of endurance work," Savio explained. "It's just that he hasn't trained his endurance at a high intensity - the type you need in races. We hope and he hopes that he'll acquire that as the race progresses. I'll be honest and say that I think Rujano could be the dark horse of the Giro. He's the big unknown quantity. He could do a great Giro and finish on the podium again, because he's a great talent. By the same token he could pay for his disjointed preparation. What I do know is that he is confident and motivated..

"What Jose has to do is show us that he deserves to be our team leader," Savio continued. "If he rides like he did in Trentino, then we'll back him. But we also have other riders who I put a lot of faith in, like Wladimir Belli and Jos Serpa. It might not necessarily be Jos Rujano who puts us in the spotlight."

The Giro will be Rujano's last race before he leaves Selle Italia for ProTour outfit Quick Step in what has already proved a highly contentious deal. Until the rider ended his self-imposed exile last month, it had seemed highly improbable that he would ride the Giro at all. That, indeed, seemed to be the intention of Giuseppe Acquadro, Rujano's Italian agent. Acquadro claimed that Savio was underpaying Rujano and said in February that his client would "never ride for Selle Italia again".

Savio claims now that he doesn't want to dwell on the controversy but admitted that its repercussions might still be felt at the Giro. "I am on good terms with Rujano, but it's obvious the relationship can't be perfect," he commented. "Relations with his team-mates can't be idyllic, either, because he's only been riding with most of them for two weeks. I personally have never come into conflict with Rujano. His agent is the only factor that can ruin things between us at the Giro. He is still on the scene now, and he's the only threat to our relationship..

"Jos still thinks that I have stopped him moving to a bigger team," Savio said finally. "He can't see that I plucked him out of an isolated pueblo in South America and gave him the chance to make a name for himself. If I hadn't discovered him, perhaps now he'd be riding for a team like Miche or Tenax or Naturino. none of which is doing the Giro d'Italia."

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