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Tales from the Peloton, August 17, 2004
Gentlemen prefer bikes: Fred Mengoni
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
One interested spectator at Saturday's men's Olympic road race was Fred Mengoni, and Mengoni was cheering for the Italian team and also for the Americans, especially his friend George Hincapie, who came up in Mengoni's amateur squad in New York. An incredibly avid cycling fan, Mengoni is always present at all the big races; World's, Olympics and the classics as well as the races he himself sponsors in Italy and America. And even at 80 plus years old, Mengoni is out there almost every morning on his bike, riding his usual 30km with the speed and vitality of a man easily 20 years his junior. The Italian-American real estate investor from New York is a big-time cycling fan and supporter and has been instrumental in the growth of pro cycling in America.
Mengoni's story is the fascinating success story of a man who came to New York on a tourist visa and half a century later is a multi-millionaire through his hard work and shrewd real estate investments.
"I saw that movie with Marilyn Monroe, 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', and I decided to go to New York (in March 1957) to visit some friends," Mengoni told Cyclingnews recently. "I saw Manhattan and all those skyscrapers and realized that's where I wanted to be."
Mengoni grew up in Osimo, Italy, just south of Ancona, where musical instrument making, especially accordions, is concentrated and where Mengoni was trained as a musical instrument maker.
"I liked it and decided to stay; I got work as a (musical instrument) repairman and then got a resident visa with the help of a priest I knew."
New York in the late fifties was fertile ground for the imagination of Mengoni, who saw the opportunity to invest some of his hard earned money in the stock market. "But I lost most of when the stock market went bust and so I decided to invest the rest of my savings, $8,000, in real estate."
Mengoni's first venture was buying a brownstone in the east 1980's to live in and to use as an office/warehouse to store the accordions and guitars he was importing from his home base in Italy. With the help of a friend and a FHA mortgage, Mengoni bought the building, but as real estate values were appreciating fast, he managed to sell it and realize a good profit, which he quickly re-invested in a deconsecrated church, which he converted into apartments and made "a fortune."
Although Mengoni had raced bicycles as a young man in Italy, and even won some regional races in the Marche region, he didn't see much of a future in his cycling career and hung his bicycle on a peg for almost twenty years.
"I decided to start riding in Central Park," related Mengoni. "I needed to find a way to relax from all the work in my real estate business and so I started riding again."
Arising at 5:30am, Mengoni would head to Central Park for an early morning spin where he rediscovered his love for cycling. After a few years of observing the racing scene, Mengoni decided to start his own top level racing club, called, naturally, G.S. Mengoni. The initial edition of G.S. Mengoni lasted from 1981 to 1988, with riders like Steve Bauer, Doug Shapiro, Leonard "Harvey" Nitz, Matt Eaton and many other top U.S. riders wearing the elegant white & blue Mengoni colours.
Back in the day, G.S. Mengoni went head to head with the 7-Eleven pro cycling team and often got the best of them! Perhaps the high point of G.S. Mengoni's first incarnation was Steve Bauer's silver medal in road cycling at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in a photo-finish with Alexi Grewal.
Fred Mengoni has a long and fast friendship with Greg LeMond, who he first met when LeMond was 16 and saw his talent immediately. Fred tried to get Greg to ride for G.S. Mengoni but LeMond turned pro when he was 19 for Renault-Gitane. In the mid-1980's, as his team prospered, Mengoni saw the need to bring US Professional cycling up a few levels, and provided the financial resources to purchase the UCI affiliation for US professional cycling and co-found USPRO in 1985. This was the first real governing body for professional cycling in the United States and laid a strong foundation for American professional cycling of today. Mengoni was the USPRO president for several years until it was purchased by the USCF to create "USA Cycling".
Fred's next version of G.S. Mengoni mentored New York riders like George Hincapie, who rode for G.S. Mengoni and participated in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games, from 1991 to 1993, when Hincapie turned pro for Motorola Team with his Olympic teammate Lance Armstrong. Another New Yorker, Mike McCarthy, rode for G.S. Mengoni in 1992, when he won the U.S. Pro Criterium Championships and the World Professional Pursuit Championships. Other notable riders who have ridden for G.S. Mengoni in the last decade are Kevin Monahan, Juan and Oscar Pineda and Adam Hodges Myerson.
Mengoni told Cyclingnews that "I still love cycling; it's the best sport in the world and it helps me stay young."
An eternal optimist, Mengoni was on hand in Paris with his good friends Auro Bulbarelli and Davide Cassani of RAI-TV to watch Lance Armstrong win his sixth consecutive Tour.
"That was a great moment to see Lance win his sixth and I was really proud of George," beamed Mengoni. "He's the only guy who was with Lance through all six tours!"
Next up for Fred is the 2004 Mengoni Grand Prix, which will be held on Saturday, September 25 in New York City's Central Park with racing for men's pro-1-2, women's pro-1-2-3 and men's 3 and as always, Mengoni will be on hand to award the prizes.