Italian Riccardo Riccò would be forgiven for looking forward to a career as a bookmaker, especially given his rate of success on this year’s Tour de France.
Riccò, a brash 24-year-old Italian, has won twice here including Sunday’s ninth stage when he sprinted away from his rivals on the climb over the Col d’Aspin to win in Bagneres de Bigorre.
Afterwards, he said he would be helping aging teammate Leonardo Piepoli claim an even more prestigious win, atop the Hautacam – a climb so difficult it cannot be rated by organisers, and last appeared as a finish in 2000.
After a tense and thrilling battle on what was the second and most difficult day of climbing in the Pyrenees, Riccò’s prediction came true as Piepoli came over the finish line next to Spanish teammate Juan Jose Cobo.
At nearly 37 years old and with numerous Grand Tours on his résumé, Piepoli could be considered one of the elder statesmen of the peloton. But after years of toiling for big leaders like former Giro d’Italia champion Gilberto Simoni, and now Riccò, Piepoli showed that it’s never too late to shine on cycling’s biggest stage.
“It’s a reward for an entire career of working for others, and a big dream of mine has been achieved,” said Piepoli, a climber who has the job of dragging Riccò up the mountains in his slipstream while also hoping their pace will drop their rivals.
After several stage wins in the mountains of the Giro and the Tour of Spain, he admitted that finally winning on the Tour was something of a relief.
“It was better for me to win instead of Cobo, because I don’t know if I’ll get another chance of winning a stage on the Tour!”
Cobo joined Piepoli and Luxemburger Frank Schleck in the last five kilometres of the 14.4 km climb to the summit finish here and with only 2.4km remaining the pair pulled away from the CSC-Saxo rider.
Schleck failed to follow and came over the finish line 28 seconds behind the Italian duo. Minutes later, Schleck found he had missed out on the yellow jersey by one second to Cadel Evans, who finished 2:17 behind Piepoli.
In this year’s Giro Piepoli performed heroically for Riccò, before bowing out of the race with injuries from a crash. Riccò went on to finish runner-up to reigning Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, who is absent from this year’s race.
“After the Giro I had a hard time getting back, and was really unhappy at having to abandon,” added Piepoli. “So winning here at Hautacam is beyond belief. Our team showed that they were the strongest today.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008