Puccio searching for his strength in pro debut

Italian U23 Flanders champ has already made starts in two major classics in his neo-pro season

Photo: Picasa

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MAASTRICHT, NETHERLANDS (VN) — Salvatore Puccio is edging his way into the pro ranks in his debut season, already racing Milan-San Remo and Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race. As winner of the under-23 Tour of Flanders last year, he has a promising future.

“I’d like to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, that’s my big dream,” the Italian told VeloNews. “This year, though, I’m hoping just to gain experience.”

Rain sprinkled down on his black Sky kit in Maastricht’s main Markt square ahead of the Amstel Gold Race. The British team asked him to race in the Ardennes classics to support Edvald Boasson Hagen and Thomas Lövkvist.

Sky also called Puccio in at the last minute to support Mark Cavendish in Milan-San Remo, his first classic, last month. “I was called up in the last few days,” Puccio said. “It was an emotional moment, but afterwards, I just got down to work.”

Cavendish relied on his work until he called off the team’s chase after the Mànie climb with 49.5 kilometers to race. Pleased, he patted Puccio on the back to thank him.

“Maybe outside of the race he seems like a huge personality, but in the race he’s a teammate like everyone else. He’s very personable.”

On the other end of Italy, in Sicily, Puccio got his start in cycling. Along the southern coast in Menfi, just east of Agrigento, he and his older brother Antonio made their way through the ranks.

He said, “It was just going out and having fun at first.”

Puccio moved to central Italy’s Umbria region, where he still lives in Assisi, and flourished in the amateur ranks. Last year he had a string of top-10 results, including at the Baby Giro, and an all-important win in the U23 Flanders. Andzs Flaksis, who finished third, now rides for Garmin’s development team and Matteo Trentin, fifth, joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step.

“Italy is renowned for producing talented young riders and in Salvatore we have uncovered a real gem,” said Sky principal, David Brailsford in a press release when he announced the signing. “His grit and determination make him a hugely exciting prospect for the future.”

“It’s a difficult jump, so I’m trying to find my feet in a relaxed way,” said Puccio on Sunday. “The biggest thing is the distance and how they race.”

The Italian rode the Critérium International and the Tour of the Basque Country, but didn’t get a chance to return to Flanders this year. His only cobbled classic was Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he placed 81st after working for Cavendish.

“It’s still a little bit early. The pro Flanders involves covering a big distance and many climbs. It wouldn’t have been easy for me,” he said.

“In the minor categories I defended myself over the small climbs and was fast enough in small group sprints. I still need to discover what I’m good at in this new category.”

Puccio will continue that search Wednesday at La Flèche Wallonne.

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