Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why Italia produces World Champions

Felix racing
My fascination with this subject began many years ago.

At 11 years of age, I would thumb through copies of International Cycle Sport, the glossy English magazine that had more attraction than a Playboy magazine in those days.

The centre fold would inevitably be of the current Italian superstar resplendent in his Rainbow jersey as Champion of the World.

In 1982 after crashing and then pulling out of the amateur road race at the World Championships in Goodwood, England, I watched Beppe Sarroni storm up the final climb that was my demise, to become World Champion and pull on the converted Rainbow jersey that he would wear all year. What’s worse, he made it look so easy and for the following season, he rode through the peloton looking like he was wearing Armani.

The Cricket, Paolo Bettini, back to back wins, back to back wins, can you imagine how difficult that must be. Sure Armstrong won 7 tours in a row, but he had a month of racing to get it right before crossing the finish line in Paris, Paulo had just 7 odd hours to perfect his trade and he has managed it twice.

Now I’m 45 and Felix is 11. He’s not so keen on Bettini, thinks that Tornado Tom Boonen looked better in the Rainbow jersey, but he now has his chance in the Italian sun.

His new Celeste Bianchi, and white Sidi shoes have pride of place in his bedroom, his racing licence is authentic, issued by the Italian Federation and the Cremasco Squadra have his training schedule mapped out.

Felix racing
Tuesday evening, we rode down to the industrial zone for his debut training session, arriving a little after starting time.

The perfect evening, 34 degrees, and not a breath of wind, the only noise was the buzz of a motor scooter coming down the road towards us, and sitting comfortably in its draft were 15 odd budding Bettini’s aged 9 to 13, all lapping it out behind the scooter, round and round the block. Unfortunately the scooter was too fast for the other 15, who were aged from 5 years up, and they sat behind an older rider, round and round the industrial estate each pedal revolution inching them closer to the rainbow jersey and the centre pages of International Cycle Sport.

The commitment to the development of young riders in Italy should be closely watched by many developing cycling nations. New Zealand’s national team often get a big slice of the sporting funds, come grants time, but what is being done to foster young talent.

Crema population 35,000 has a major youth development programme, and each weekend there is a race on with up to 100 starters in all grades in the greater region. The lyrca is all brand new and ablaze with sponsors names, as the club supplies the total package including helmet and shoes.

Should you want it, the bike is also available free of charge. My sponsor, back in the International Cycle Sport days were poor Antonio and Helen, and every punctured tubular bought tears to their eyes I’m sure, not mention the smashed wheels and frames.

I got Felix settled in behind the scooter and a lap later he had that grin so big that he should have been standing in the top step of the podium, arms held high wearing the Rainbow jersey.

After 15 years of marriage, Nicky thought her days of hearing about, dropping him, attacking him, big ring this, Bora wheels that, were coming to an end, but now Felix rides through the door Tuesday and Thursday nights with a new vocabulary derived from the language of a generation of future World Champions.

Its little wonder Paolo managed the double.


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