Thursday, May 02, 2013

Mestre's long road reaches Naples

He's come a long way in 12 months, Ricardo Mestre.

At this time last year, the 29-year-old was just about to embark on the Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid in the colours of his local team, Carmim-Prio, hoping to build form for his main season goals to come later in the year, the GP Torres Vedras and the Volta a Portugal.

Fast forward a year, and he's a couple of days away from starting his first Grand Tour with a WorldTour team.

As for many of his fellow foreign recruits at Euskaltel Euskadi, it's been quite the journey. Not that he minds - he's been waiting for an opportunity to race at the highest level for years.

The softly-spoken Mestre had been building a steady reputation for himself in his home country for the better part of a decade before Igor González de Galdeano came calling in the winter. Mind you, though, the longest race he'd ever done was the ten-stage Volta a Portugal and the equally long Tour de l'Avenir back in 2006.

Now, 21 days of racing arguably the most spectacular race on the planet awaits. He's bound to be nervous.

"Right now I'm not really nervous, but, yeah, the closer we get to the start of the race the more I'll feel it", Ricardo Jorge Correia Mestre tells Basque Cycling News. "But I think I'm in good shape. I've been training well and I aim to be at my very best".

The native of Faro, the southernmost city in Portugal, touched down in Italy a few days ago having done 22 days of racing so far in 2013. While the top results might not have come at the frequency he was accustomed to while racing in his homeland, he's quietly content with how he's performed in the iconic orange jersey thus far.

"I'm pleased with how I've done", he says. "I'm progressing little by little. In the Volta a Catalunya I was hoping to be a bit better (he finished 96th overall), but the rest of the season has been positive for me.

"My main goal in Italy will be to stay as close as possible to Samuel Sánchez", he says of his team leader who's aiming for a stage win and an overall podium placing. "How the race is developing and how my legs are feeling will decide what I can do besides that".

Curiously, the 2011 victor of the Volta a Portugal wasn't in the original line-up for the 'Corsa rosa' released by the team a fortnight ago.

At the start of this week, though, Ricardo García, who'd featured in the announced roster, was dropped, his place taken by Mestre. The team offered no explanation for the sudden turn of events, and the man himself appears to be in the blue as well.

"I don't know why that happened", he says. "The team heads had always told me I was in the ten-man long-team for the Giro d'Italia, and that I had to train well and prepare well. After the conclusion of the Vuelta a Castilla y León I was told I would be on the team if everything turned out well."

And turn out well it did for the Portuguese. On Saturday he'll be lining up in Naples for the 96th edition of the Italian three-week race, riding side by side with the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali, Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal, Mark Cavendish and Samuel Sánchez.

Who would have thought that a year ago?

Photo: Iñaki Azanza

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