Joao Correia tells TourChats about L’Eroica
Joao Correia answers a question from D’Andrea, a member of our live show audience. Watch the full interview at TourChats.com
Joao Correia answers a question from D’Andrea, a member of our live show audience. Watch the full interview at TourChats.com
by Ted King – Professional Cyclist
They say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation. I don’t know who they are, but I balk at that logic. As someone who entered the sport of cycling in the frigid and snowy Green Mountains of Vermont, cut my teeth throughout New England’s wet and unpredictable springs, and who now races across the globe with no reprieve for a “rain delay” as is common in baseball or car racing, I know a thing or two about riding in less-than-ideal weather. Turns out there is such a thing as bad weather; better yet, there also exists such a thing as being prepared for it.
“Borsa di freddo” translates from Italian literally to bag of cold—or more appropriately, bag for cold. The English parlance among my Anglo-Saxon colleagues is rain bag. But regardless of what it’s called, this sliver of security offers a bit of reassurance going into a potentially cold or wet day.
On the professional level, a bag for each rider sits in every team car behind the race or long day of training camp. At just an arm’s reach from the team mechanic, the bag waits on-call for when the weather turns sour.
When watching rainy races on television—and before the drops are visible on camera—you’ll see a small cadre of riders quickly slip to the back of the peloton to collect appropriate attire for their teammates. Each rider will radio to their team cars the clothing request—a jacket, arm warmers or cycling cap—and the mechanic will dig through each riders’ bag for the clothing. After the subsequent handoff, the rider will pedal into the cold or wet weather coming from all sides to get back to the peloton.
The rain bag is roughly the size of a large shoebox and made of a soft fabric, frequently with two zippered compartments. Some riders keep the bare minimum in their bag, but the sage veteran will effectively keep a spare (or two!) of everything one might need on a long day: shoe covers, leg warmers, knee warmers (maybe even winter tights), an undershirt or two, arm warmers, gloves of all varieties, vests and jackets of different weights, neckgaiters, cycling caps and winter beanies. The second compartment will store an extra set of shoes. Although it’s uncommon, shoes have been known to break midrace and a quick swap will save the awkward and embarrassing single-shoed riding. Pro tip: Always have extra shoes.
The more likely items to be requested—typically arm warmers and a vest—will be closest to the zipped opening. Again, this is the habit among the wise veterans more than the eager rookies who haphazardly stuff their bags with whatever they think of last minute. The packing technique is certainly noted by the team mechanics who have the duty of rummaging around the bag looking for each riders’ request. Pro tip number two: Always be nice to your mechanic.
And pro tip number three? Embrace the changing weather with a borsa di freddo, rain bag, security blanket, err… security bag. Doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you have one at the ready. You may not be able to change the weather, but you can absolutely prepare for it.
Please note your nationality (country flag) and how you would like your name to appear on the Pro Rain Bag in the order notes during the checkout process.
Construction material 100% Nylon
Lower portion of the bag is a separate zippered compartment for your shoes
36cm x 28cm x 12cm
14″ x 11″ x 5″
Made locally in Italy by SciCon
Considered by many to be one of the great riders of his generation, former world champion Thor Hushovd is embarking on his 16th season as a professional cyclist where he has amassed 41 victories including ten stages in the Tour de France and the Green Jersey. Here he recalls a stage in the 2010 Tour de Suisse with then teammate on the Cervelo Test Team Joao Correia.
I woke up early on the 12th of June. It was a cloudy, rainy day, and I went for a little walk around the hotel before breakfast. We had a hard day ahead of us—starting straight into a big mountain—and I was a bit nervous. I’ve never liked stages like this: A big climb early and more than 2000m altitude gain. Plus, I’d just come back from a crash where I suffered a broken collarbone, and my form wasn’t good yet.
So I’m sitting at the hotel with my breakfast and coffee when I see an ashen, nervous face coming into the hall. It was obvious that Mister João Correia was just as anxious about the day’s ride as me.
We started in a lovely little town called Ascona, well up the valley, where it’s placed in the end of Lago di Maggiore. A breakaway went and things looked to be going well for us. But some teams weren’t happy with the break and went hard up the Simplonpass. We suffered a lot—me, João and at least half of the bunch. A few kilometers from the top, I saw João coming back through the peloton like a rock. I passed him, and said straight out: “if you loose my wheel I will smash you”. Of course, he couldn’t reply, considering the state he was in….
I did not see him for at least an hour after this. I was sure he was gone from the group, and afraid he’d stopped the race. But in the valley of the other side of the mountain, João passed the bunch with four or five bottles at his back. We went really fast, so I was surprised see him moving up. Always a great teammate, he wanted to give his last to us.
Unfortunately, he cramped halfway up through the peloton and didn’t make it. With his legs off the pedals—stiff as a piece of oak—he come back as fast as I moved up…still with all the bidons on his back. He was unable to touch the pedals, and when I passed him he was screaming out of pain.
I was sure that he would never finish this stage, especially since we had another hard hill before the finish. But wrong I was. After a while—I mean a long while—João walked onto the bus. He was all wrapped up and there was blood everywhere. There had been a crash on the final descent where one guy wrecked into a house and was badly hurt. There was an ambulance waiting at the turn, so when João came a bit too fast into that corner, he went straight into the ambulance stretcher! He told me after that he was sure at that moment he broke his leg. Instead, he stood up and finished the stage. Well done, my friend!
(João also didn´t finish last on the stage. That honor belonged to a rider he’s managing today, Laurens Ten Dam, who was laying in the stretcher João crashed in to, and was DNF on the results.)
The story has been recited enough that it is now well known to many. Before making my comeback to professional cycling, I was out of shape and overweight. One day at a Granfondo in Italy, legendary framebuilder Fausto Pinarello noticed my pedaling technique and asked if I’d ever raced. I said yes and Fausto replied, simply, that I should start riding seriously again.
And that is where the unlikely transformation from office worker to Pro Tour racer began. (See The New York Times article here).
Click the image below to watch the video
Many aspects of the inGamba story are anchored in that pivotal moment. It’s one of the main reasons we use Pinarello bikes at inGamba and yet another way that a personal relationship enhances the experiences of our guests.
The fact that Fausto builds what are considered by many the best bikes in the world makes us feel proud and lucky to be embraced by the Pinarello family as one of their own.
Above is a great video featuring Pinarello and Fausto that recently aired on CNN. Not only does Fausto make some amazing bikes, but in true Italian style, he also manages to make riding a Segway cool.
In 2014 all inGamba guests are guaranteed a Pinarello Dogma on their trip. If you opt to make the pilgrimage to Treviso with us in July for the Granfondo, you’ll also meet this amazing family, tour the factory and get a sneak peek of the 2015 line firsthand.
He was never supposed to win. Especially not on the Tour de France’s most venerated mountain. Sure, he was prized as Mario Cipollini’s sprint lead-out man, but as a climber? Forget it. He weighed more without a bike than most of his competitors did with one, and towered above them all at 1.94 metres tall. He’d had a stellar amateur career, but turned pro late, aged 28. He was an excellent domestique, but not a doyen. No, Mont Ventoux wasn’t meant for him.
And yet, Eros Poli took it anyway. The Giant of Provence was conquered by a giant from Verona with a breakaway so audacious that his rivals ignored it. They thought it was the very definition of folly. It was, in fact, the definition of panache.
It was the kind of romantic win befitting a guy called Eros. Cipo, the greatest sprinter of his generation and Poli’s team leader, had crashed out of the Vuelta and missed the Tour. Mercatone Uno were without a leader for La Grande Boucle, and so the the workers were let off the chain. It was a rare opportunity to impress at the season’s biggest event, and one that Poli took by the scruff of the neck.
Attacking solo some 100km before Ventoux, the Veronese knew that he’d need a huge lead to stay ahead of the pack once the flat stage turned nasty and the road started heading skyward. He did the math. Accepted he’d need at least 24 minutes at the foot of the mountain – a minute for every kilometre climbed with an extra cushion, just in case. And then he went to work.
When the early ramps of the ascent arrived, he was leading by more than 25 minutes. His opponents didn’t know it yet, but they’d already sealed their fates. The peloton’s big guns fired, but Poli was out of range, flying in spite of his bulk and his loneliness out in front. Not even an attack from a young Marco Pantani could bring him back. He crossed the summit four minutes ahead of il Pirata. Forty kilometres to the finish, but now he had gravity and adrenaline and a lifetime of ambition on his side. The stage, and a unique place in the history books, were his.
Miguel Indurain would go on to win the fourth of his five yellow jerseys that summer, but the undisputed star of the 81st Tour de France was Poli, thanks to one of cycling’s greatest ever solo attacks. He did more that day than just win a stage that day in Carpentras; he won the hearts of cycling fans the world over. Because even if he was one of the tallest guys in the peloton, his was a victory for the little guy, and proof that, once in a while at least, spirit and guts could triumph over stacked odds and overwhelming adversity.
The following morning, La Gazzetta dello Sport called Poli’s win a national triumph for Italy. The director of the Tour, Jean Marie Leblanc, would later call him a hero. Two decades on, the French still lovingly call him Monsieur Ventoux. We’re just happy to call him a friend.
Miguel Indurain. Miguelon. Big Mig. Eighty kilos and 1.88m of power and class, a rider blessed not only with intelligence but with the patience needed to make the most of it. A reticent champion, who could still carry a look of timidity while savaging the peloton. A symbol of the new democratic Spain, its youth and its potential, its eagerness to be a part of Europe and the wider world. The first – the only, now – man to win five consecutive Tours de France.
As a professional cyclist, Indurain was many things. And there were some things he was not. The Spaniard was never flashy, and what few critics he had confused that with a lack of panache. The thing is, you don’t need to be ostentatious when you’re the complete package. Miguelon could devour mountains and tear up time trials. On the flat, ascending, descending, in a group, on his own; it didn’t matter. He could – and usually did – win every which way. He was rarely flamboyant, but he was never fearful, either.
Greg LeMond’s back-to-back victories in 1989 and ’90 were big news in the English-speaking world, but in Spain all they only mattered in the context of Indurain. Had he not been riding for Pedro Delgado, the ’88 maillot jaune, could he have beaten the American? Had Spain’s beloved Perico – an anachronistic rider that lived to attack, to entertain and surprise and who often lost because of it – got in the way?
They’d get their answer the next year. Promoted to leader, Indurain showed the world just what he was capable of. Stage 13 from Jaca to Val-Louron included an ascent of the Tourmalet. LeMond had escaped at the bottom of the climb, but Indurain soon overcame gravity and his opponent’s enormous talent to real the American in and leave him behind with ferocious aplomb. After the summit, LeMond used his descending skills to close the gap, but when the road tilted skyward again on the Col d’Aspin, Indurain twisted the knife and increased his lead. Then, upon hearing that the dogged Italian Claudio Chiappucci was in pursuit, he waited. Two heads are better than one against the wind, after all. The pair rallied to the finish, where El Diablo took the stage and Miguelon donned the yellow jersey. It would be his for the next four years.
Writing at the time, the French newspaper L’Equipe documented the move with typical style:
“Everything turned around up there, amid the infernal noise of klaxons and helicopters, in that incomporable cacophony of the maddest moments of the Tour de France. Everything was sewn up there, on the last 500 metres of the Tourmalet, on this thread of narrow road, in the midst of the fists and the arms, those thousands of faces deformed by excitement. There were 500 metres and Greg Lemond was hunched savagely on his saddle. He got up. He sat down again. Got up again. He couldn’t pedal any harder. It wasn’t a pretty thing to watch, Lemond, in those moments… “
Watching LeMond, himself a great champion, suffer might not have been pretty, but seeing Indurain take control of the Tour de France was a captivating sight. It set the tone for half a decade. Like a force of nature, like a tidal wave in yellow, he swept up all before him. He won five Tours in a row, at one point wearing the leader’s jersey for an incredible 60 days running. He also won the Giro d’Italia twice – two rare Giro-Tour doubles that would, even had he won nothing else, make him a colossus in the sport. He beat Graeme Obree’s Hour Record. He was time-trial champion at the ’95 Worlds, and added a gold medal to his palmarès in the same discipline at the ’96 Olympics.
Indurain was a rider blessed with tack-sharp acumen and an abundance of race craft, full of time trialling prowess and climbing style, an almost inexhaustible talent, hidden behind a crooked smile and a shy demeanour, even under the brightest and hottest of spotlights. It will be a long time before we see his like again.
As part of our partnership with Pinarello and Hotel La Perla, inGamba is offering an exclusive opportunity to ride with Miguel Indurain this summer, surrounded by the splendour of the Dolomites.
The package Includes:
You can find out more about this unforgettable experience here.
Our very own Eros Poli is working hard at the Giro d’Italia right now, but he took time to collaborate with inCycle TV to create a series of previews for the most demanding stages of this year’s Corsa Rosa.
There will be exciting previews of stages 19 and 20 to come, when Eros analyse two difficult days of climbing on some of the most iconic ascents in the Alps, but first up is stage 16 from Pinzolo to Aprica.
A high mountain stage with five KOM climbs, the peloton will cover a total of 174km and 4,500m of vertical. The route starts uphill in Pinzolo and tackles the Campo Carlo Magno climb – which also features on stage 15 – before a fast descent into Dimaro.
From there, the road goes up again to the famous Passo del Tonale. The stage then drops down into Ponte di Legno and Edolo, then takes in the first climb towards Aprica, through the village of Santicolo – where the gradient peaks at 15% in the first stretch. After rolling past Corteno Golgi, the route heads for the first passage on the finish line. The following descent is initially wide and fast, and turns narrower and more technical all the way up to Stazzona.
The road then levels out briefly while running through Tirano – the only flat sector of the stage – then it tackles the Mortirolo climb along the traditional Mazzo di Valtellina slope, with an average 12.2% gradient along the six kilometres of the central sector, and highs of 18%. This is followed by a technical descent to Monno and then to Edolo, where the route will retrace the 14km to Aprica.
Mortirolo is this year’s “Montagna Pantani”, celebrating the great success of 4 June 1994, when the great Marco Pantani clinched a masterful solo win – his second consecutive stage win that year – to announce his talent to the world and secure a place on the Giro’s podium behind Evgeni Berzin and ahead of Miguel Indurain.
Our very own Eros Poli has been back in action for inCycle TV, previewing what should be one of the most decisive days at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
With the help of the inGamba mechanical team, Poli headed to the Valle d’Aosta region in Italy’s extreme northwest to reveal the key points on this gruelling stage from Gravellona Toce to Cervinia.
It’s the first time that the Corsa Rosa has come to Gravellona Toce, but the finish in Cervinia will be very familiar to fans of Italian cycling. It first featured in 1960, when a little known Addo Kazianka beat the likes of Charly Gaul and Jacques Anquetil to take the biggest win of his career. Most recently, Movistar’s Andrey Amador won with a gutsy sprint to the line in 2012.
Undoubtedly the climb’s most famous moment happened in 1997, however, when Saeco’s Ivan Gotti used the climb to wrestle the maglia rosa from Pavel Tonkov. The Russian was the favourite that year, having also won in 1996, but he was put to the sword on the ascent to Cervinia by Gotti who overcame a 67 second deficit to give the local Tifosi something to cheer about.
This year, the 19th day of the Giro should again be decisive. It’s 236km in total, with around 4,800 m of climbing, most of which is tackled in the last 100km on three huge, back-to-back climbs. The St. Barthélemy ascent (20 km at a 5.6% gradient) comes first, followed by St. Pantaléon (a harsher climb: 16.5 km at a 7.2% gradient) and as the grand finale, the 19km-long climb to Cervinia, which has an average 5% gradient but ramps up to 12% in places.
Here’s what Eros has to say about it.
In the last of Eros Poli’s Giro d’Italia previews for inCycle TV, everyone’s favourite breakaway star tackles the 196km from Saint Vincent to the Alpine village of Sestriere, which hosted many of the events at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
Stage 20 of the 98th Giro is the final mountain stage of the race, and while Alberto Contador looks too pretty in pink to be troubled by any attacks, it could still provide some fireworks as the rest of the pack jostle for position and try to salvage some pride from this season’s first grand tour.
The day’s biggest difficulty – and perhaps opportunity – will come on the Colle delle Finestre, this year’s Cima Coppi, the highest peak in the Giro d’Italia. It’s the third time that the Giro will ascend the 2,178m pass after it first appeared in 2005, and it’s 9.2% average gradient is in stark contrast to the stage’s flat first 150 km, which runs through the upper Po Valley.
The Colle delle Finestre climb features a steady gradient from start to finish – there is a short stretch at Meana di Susa with a max 14% slope – but what really marks this climb out as special is the fact that the second half of it is unpaved.
After that, it’s a technical descent and another 9.2km climb to Sestriere, which averages at just over 5% but peaks around 9%. The Giro has finished here on six occasions – including 1993, when Miguel Indurain won the time trial. The Spaniard went on to win the overall classification in Milan on his way to his historic Giro-Tour double [To find out more about Indurain’s summer event with inGamba, click here]. Contador will hope that he can repeat his countryman’s formidable feat.
There will still be 185 of the 3,486km total to complete on Sunday’s final stage, but this is the last real opportunity for genuine excitement. And thankfully for the peloton, the weather has improved since inGamba’s own Tour de France stage winner made the ascent.
Davide Cassani might be the most famous Italian cyclist you’ve never heard of. In his homeland, he was well-loved as a gregario to some of the best riders of the 1980s and 90s, and as a stalwart of Alfredo Martini’s great Italian national teams at the Worlds. A native of Faenza in the province of Ravenna, in his pomp he could be seen alongside the likes of Claudio Chiappucci, Roberto Visentini and Stephen Roche at Carrera Jeans and Moreno Argentin at Ariostea.
He was never a prolific winner, but he enjoyed some success at several one-day races such as the Giro dell’Emilia and Milano-Torino, as well as stage wins at the Giro D’Italia and podiums at La Flèche Wallonne, the Amstel Gold Race and the Giro di Lombardia.
After 14 seasons in the pro peloton he retired in 1996 – a decision forced on him by a car accident while he contracted to Saeco – he became a successful commentator for RAI, Italy’s national broadcaster, and it’s more than likely there, that many of Italy’s young generation came to know him as an insightful and eloquent interpreter of the bicycle race. More than a few viewers will have been sad to see him go when in January 2014, he replaced Paolo Bettini as the manager of the Italian national cycling team, continuing a love affair with the Nazionale that has been a hallmark of his career.
But we’ll come to that later. When asked to recount his career, Cassani starts almost 30 years before, in 1985.
“I remember one stage in the south,” says the youthful looking 54-year-old over a cup of tea in Corvara, northern Italy. “The heat was asphyxiating. At a certain point, I knew I couldn’t do any more. My room mate, Daniele Cavoli, saw that I couldn’t go on, he was in bad shape too, so he retired as well. When we got back to our hotel, the room was already empty. Bruno Reverberi [the Termolan-Galli team manager] was furious. He said: ‘You retired, so the mechanic will bring you to the station. Get the first train you can. Goodbye.’ With my luggage and my bike I got on a train at nine that evening and didn’t get home to Faenza until the next afternoon. And that was the end of my first Tour de France.”
You get the feeling that it isn’t the first time he’s been asked to recall his time as a professional. And maybe there’s a pinch of media training in the smooth delivery, but there’s no denying the veracity of the beaming smile whenever he comes to another happy memory. Cassani is a man who’s dedicated his life to a sport he loves, spent his entire adult life surrounded by it, and still keeps in enviable shape so as to better enjoy it. You can’t but admire that.
“I always trained hard. I was careful eating, and I was going strong when I was called for my first Worlds [the previous year, 1984, Cassani had been first reserve] in Italy, at Giavera del Montello. That was a great satisfaction. I was put sharing a room with Francesco Moser. I was born in 1961, he in ’51, so it was another generation, and it was maybe awe-inspiring, too.
“Anyway, I had this problem. Giuseppe, my father, was a truck driver, he died two years ago. The only accident he ever had in his life was with me in the truck. In the summer, I used to like to go with him because I liked being out at night, sleeping in the truck. After the accident, however, I started to have nightmares. I’d scream in the middle of the night. So I was thinking, God, what happens if I start screaming with this guy!
“Now I don’t do it so much, but in those years it was quite frequent. The nightmare was that the ceiling was falling down, it was a bit of claustrophobia, and I’d start shouting, “help me mamma, help me”. Fortunately, nothing happened with Moser! But, at the Worlds in 1993 I shared a room with another Trentino, Maurizio Fondriest, and the nightmares came. But this time, the nightmare wasn’t that the ceiling was falling on me, but on him. So I pushed him from the bed. Perhaps that Worlds didn’t go so well because of me – but at least I saved his life!”
Listening to him talk, you begin to appreciate his role in what was a golden age for Italian cycling. He wasn’t the star, but every leading man needs a strong supporting cast and at the time, Cassani was as reliable as they came. It was exactly the kind of experience and education that makes him perfectly suited to commentating – and to managing today’s crop of Azzurri. He’s seen it all, understands racing like few others, but hasn’t been distracted by the trappings of fame or huge success. He knows his role, and is happy to leave centre stage to others.
“In 1986, I changed squads to Carrera. That was a great team because we had Roche, Visentini, Bontempi, Leali, Ghirotto, Perini, a young Chiappucci, Maechler who won Milano-Sanremo, Zimmermann. I spent two years with that team. We won the Giro with Visentini in ’86 and we had a particularly good year – also a little difficult, if you remember the famous stage [and the battle between Visentini and Roche] – in ’87. Visentini had the maglia rosa, and Roche, who second in the classification, followed Ennio Salvador when he attacked on a descent on the stage to Sappada. It looked like Roche had attacked to take the maglia, so the order arrived to push to bring them back. Visentini was really nervous. We started to pick up the pace, but once Roche realised that his own team was working to pull him in, he started to push even harder too. You can imagine what the journalists thought.
“The only one who didn’t pull was the Belgian Eddy Schepers, who was Roche’s room mate. Now you can understand what a nice team we had [laughs]. We managed to catch Roche on the final climb, but then Visentini had a crisis and Roche was able to take six seconds and the maglia rosa. I was sharing with Visentini and when we were back at the hotel he was furious … but I just looked forward.”
The Sappada Affair still divides opinion. In Italy, the popular interpretation is that Stephen Roche screwed fan-favourite Roberto Visentini out of a maglia rosa. Elsewhere, it’s seen as a double-crossing opportunist getting served his just desserts by an isolated teammate who felt his whole squad had turned against him.
Carrera went into the race without a designated leader – support was officially promised to the strongest rider in the race – but the direttore sportivo Davide Boifava had other ideas. Roche was told to ride for Visentini in Italy and later in the summer the Italian would repay the favour at the Tour de France. It was a promise that even Boifava must have found hard to believe. At that stage the pair were locked in a long-term bitter dispute and rumour was that Visentini had already booked his summer holiday – for July. Visentini was the defending champion and felt that he deserved Roche’s support. The Irishman felt differently, so he went rogue and the rest is history.
It’s often painted as black and white – Roche or Visentini – but the truth of it all is probably a few shades of grey. Sports fans love a rivalry and nothing drives a plot like some friction, and in the excitement of a story like that it’s easy to forget that in between the protagonists there’s usually a few innocent bystanders getting helplessly knocked around.
“For us gregari it was important to win the Giro – a little for the honour, but also for the pocket [laughs] – and there we were, from having first and second to risking losing it all. [In the end] Roche won the Giro, and then we went to the Tour. It departed from Berlin, the wall was still there, and it was a very hard Tour, also a very long one. Three and a half weeks that were truly difficult. But it turned out to be a beautiful victory, arriving in Paris with a teammate in yellow, doing the passerella, the catwalk, on the Champs-Élysées. It was a great satisfaction. Seeing the Eiffel Tower brings to mind all of the suffering from the previous three and a half weeks.
“In 1987, I also won my first race, in Conegliano [a town in Veneto that hosted the Gran Premio Sanson]. That was after nearly six years as a pro. I was 26.
“From 1988 on I rode for Moreno Argentin at Gewiss, and at that stage I became a fixture of Alfredo Martini’s national team. We were really strong that year; there was Saronni at his last Worlds, Bontempi, Bugno, Argentin and there was this kid, Fondriest, who was only 23.”
The “Kid” ended up taking one of the most dramatic wins the Worlds has seen. Fondriest was highly-regarded as a rider, but only in his second year as a pro. He worked his way into a break and then shadowed Belgian champion Claude Criquielion – who had already won a rainbow jersey, La Flèche Wallonne and the Ronde Van Vlaanderen – for the final kilometres of high drama as the Canadian sprinter Steve Bauer reeled them in before sensationally crashing Criquielion and losing out to a late, Machiavellian pounce from Fondriest.
“A lap and a half from the finish, Claude Criquielion attacked and I went with him. There were four of us. I was a gregario, and thinking to myself, ‘now? What can I do here?’ Fortunately, another 10 riders joined the group, including Fondriest and also a lot of French riders like Laurent Fignon. Criquielion went again, and I was just behind him but obviously I didn’t have the strength in my legs to go with him, but Maurizio Fondriest did so they went off in two.
“Then, with four kilometres to go a Canadian attacked: Steve Bauer. At that point, I couldn’t do any more and I thought that even if he got away, we’d retake him in the final kilometre, that he couldn’t be dangerous. But Bauer was able to catch the two up front and at the end, what happened? Bauer sprinted, closed Criquielion off and made him crash and Fondriest came from behind and won the World Championship. I arrived seventh.
“In 1990, I changed to Ariostea with Giancarlo Ferretti. They were four important years – I did a lot of important events, always at the Worlds, I won some races. The most beautiful was probably the ’90 Giro dell’Emilia [his home race]. That day I was motivated because my son Stefano turned one and for the first time he came to see me race. He doesn’t remember, of course, but I have the photo. I won it again in ’91 and in ’95 – my last victory.
“That year, the Worlds were in Colombia. The team departed the same day as the Giro dell’Emilia. I had a good relationship with Alfredo Martini, so a few days before I called him and said: ‘Listen, Alfredo, it’s the Giro dell’Emilia the same day we leave for Colombia. I’ll make you a proposal: My teammates, Rolf Sørensen and the other foreigners, leave for the Worlds the day after. What do you say about letting me do the Giro dell’Emilia, win the Giro dell’Emilia and then I’ll come to Colombia? [laughs] I also knew that because the others from the Nazionale were leaving that day, there wouldn’t be so many to beat!”
To be the Commissario tecnico of the Italian national team is – unsurprisingly to anyone who knows their cycling history – no small thing. Since Alfredo Binda took the reins in 1950, there have been just 11 CT in total and there probably would have been fewer had Franco Ballerini’s life not been cut tragically short by a motor racing accident in 2010.
Paolo Bettini was lured away from the post at the end of 2013 by F1 star Fernando Alonso’s ill-fated attempt to start his own World Tour team, and while the two-time World Champion is now out of work, his loss has been Cassani’s gain.
“For me, the Italian jersey has always represented something special. For me, they were always the most beautiful races, the most important, emotional. When they gave me the maglia azzurra, I’d look at myself in the mirror and think ‘Wow, you’re great!’ because I’m not a champion, I was never a champion.
“I always wanted to be Commissario tecnico. And I became the CT on a strange day. Like I said, my father was a truck driver and his name on the CB radio was ‘Davide Azzurro’, because also for him the worlds had a special flavour. And my grandfather was a big fan of Giuseppe Minardi. He was always lively, a great person. When he died, my grandmother gave me 1,000 Lire because she said that money from the deceased brings you good fortune. I put it in my wallet, and I still have that 1000 Lire here 40 years later. I’ve always believed it brought me good luck.
“Then, on the 29 December 2013, I was at home organising some things and I while I was looking for something, I found my dad’s old wallet. It was in crocodile, it had been a gift from my mum and inside she’d written 4.1.54, because he was born on 4 January. Inside, I found 500 Lire, a silver coin. I put it in my pocket thinking that it would bring me good luck and a half hour later the president of the Federazione Ciclistica Italiana called me to ask if I’d like to become the Commissario tecnico. I told him I’d think about it and that we’d speak in the coming days, but the next week Alfredo Martini died [delaying the announcement]. So, I became the Commissario tecnico officially on 4 January, 2014, my father’s birthday.”
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This article originally appeared in Peloton Magazine and features here courtesy of the author, Colin O’Brien.