When the organisers of the Giro d?Italia called the usual favourites and former winners onto the stage to pose for photographs under the map they forgot the one rider who could turn out to be the surprise winner of the pink jersey.

207 winner Danilo Di Luca was there despite being banned, veterans Paolo Savoldelli, Gilberto Simoni and Stefano Garzelli were there and so were Damiano Cunego and world champion Paolo Bettini, even though he might not take part.

The only one missing was Riccardo Ricco. The 24 year-old climber was at the presentation and has been the revelation of the season in Italy thanks to his aggressive riding but for some reason he was snubbed and ignored.

True to character, Ricco made sure he was noticed and photographed by turning up in a pinstripe suit with writing down the sleeves and a pair of huge and hideous white glasses. Nobody had made such a awful fashion statement since Mario Cipollini turned up in a white suit and a full length fur coat a decade ago, but it worked and reminded everyone the Saunier Duval climber is something special.

You have to have courage and self-confidence to dress like that, and Ricco has both, plus the ability to drop almost every other climber in the peloton on the steepest climbs in the Dolomites. This year he won the stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, almost dropped Damiano Cunego in the Tour of Lombardy and has already been dubbed the best pure climber since Marco Pantani.

In 2008 Ricco will be the leader of the Saunier Duval team at the Giro after signing a new £300,000 contract and forcing Simoni out of the team. The 2008 Giro is tough and includes four important time trials but one is a mountain time trial where Ricco could actually gain time and there are more than enough climbs for him to attack and gain time on his rivals.

Listening to what he said after seeing the route, Ricco seems convinced he can pull it off.

?I like the route, it?s got some tough stages and some mountains that are scary. It?ll be a battle because there will be a lot of strong riders who want to win but I aim to be one of the protagonists,? he said.

?I know a lot of people are expecting a lot from me but I?m not worried about the pressure. When you?re the captain of a team like Saunier Duval at the Giro d?Italia you can?t hide.?

?The stage to Pampeago (where Pantani dropped Tonkov to win in 1998) is fascinating and is the one I?d most like to win. I?ve nothing against the older riders, who will still be the favourites for the Giro but I think it?s time to put some faith in the new generation of riders.?

Remember his name and those glasses.

RELATED LINKS
Time trials and tough climbs in the 2008 Giro d’Italia