Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saronni, Ballan and I

Slim and Alessandro Ballan's Wilier
Rumor has it that it was Aldo Colombo that nurtured the career of the great Giuseppe Saronni. World Champion in 1982, winner of the Giro d'Italia in 1979 and again in '83 read just a few lines of Saronni's extensive palmares.

Giuseppe Saronni was an Italian legend in a time of great rivalry with Francesco Moser, a rivalry that echoed the famous duels of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali in the 1960's. Every great champion needs a mentor, and Aldo was that man for Saronni. This was of little surprise to me as both these great men are, as the Italians would say, 'Molto Gentile'.

To translate, 'Molto Gentile' is to describe these two men as kind, gentle and humble men. Saronni clearly has great respect for Aldo, as each year they travel together following the Giro d'Italia and Lampre, the professional team of which Saronni is Director Sportif. Given this bond between Aldo and Saronni there is little wonder that the Lampre pro team and my squad, Ceramiche Lemer are closely aligned, as Aldo's son Mario is my Director Sportif.

So when Aldo telephones me at home, I know something big is in the pipeline.

The 2008 World Champion Alessandro Ballan is leaving Lampre for what he believes will be bigger fish at Team BMC. BMC are boosting there standing in professional cycling with some high profile signings for 2010. Ballan, Cadel Evans, the current World Champion and Lance Armstrong's former right hand man George Hincapie will head the BMC roster.

It seemed Ballan's departure from Lampre was to be my good fortune.

Ballan and I had something in common. Unfortunately I did not share his talent nor ability, but we did have one thing in common none the less, and that was height. Aldo thought that Ballan's race bike might be suitable for me for the coming season. Suitable, very suitable, I would have thought!

Waiting at the gate outside Lampre headquarters was Aldo and I was ushered in. There it was, Ballan's '09 race bike, painted in the special paint finish that signified his World Championship race victory in Varese, September of 2008. Bellisimo.

A few adjustments were made, and soon I was sitting comfortably astride a very special bike that I would ride in 2010. In a brief moment I had quickly forgotten all the races where I had given more than my sole for the team. At 47 years old, I had turned myself inside out most weeks for the squadra, and now a new race bike for 2010, and not just any race bike. Brilliant.

Here in Italy you can't just collect your new race bike without staying for lunch, what good is a new bike on an empty stomach? So there I am, lunch with Aldo and the legendary Saronni, some days just don't come much better that.

Aldo Colombo, mentor of Giuseppe Saronni...

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