Second Edition News for July 18, 1997

Eros Poli: "I feel more French than Italian"

(Interview in L'Equipe, July 17 1997, by Thierry Marchand, tr. by Roger Thomas)

After having led out Cipollini in sprints for five years, the Italian of the GAN team has adopted France since the beginning of this season. And it was with a profound joy that he witnessed his team mate Cedric Vasseur's adventure in the yellow jersey.

The day before yesterday Eros Poli went in person to inform Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc that the peloton would observe a truce during the first 45km of the Luchon-Andorra stage and would gather together at the memorial dedicated to Fabio Casartelli. Yesterday, at the end of the same stage, Poli even figured in a breakaway. The charismatic leader of the peloton, this epicurean, who prides himself on always having a bottle of Sauternes in his fridge, is also the very image of distinction, modesty and graciousness ["gentillesse" a bit of a hard one to translate into English]. Classy, that's for sure. With the physique of a volleyball player (1.94m [6' 4"]; 85kg [187lb], a sport that he's had a go at, Poli is out of tune with the milieu of the giants -- the giants of the road, that is. But since his solo ride to victory in one stage of the Tour de France, at Carpentras in 1994, he's become one of the darlings {"chouchous"] of the French public. And not just because of his forename, which is nicely redolent of love and Italian song.

Marchand: Eros, how did you and the GAN team get to hear of Cedric Vasseur's loss of the yellow jersey?

Poli: That came about in a curious manner. The day before yesterday towards the end of the stage we were among many others in the "grupetto" far behind the lead riders. There was Fred Moncassin, the two Australians (Vogels and O'Grady) and me. When we learnt that Cedric had attacked with 10km to go we looked at each other. We couldn't believe it. We said to each other "It can't be true, not only is he hanging in with the best riders, but he's attacked Ullrich, a Tour favourite. He's going to hang onto the yellow jersey, it's incredible." That paid out a super fishing line to help us climb up the final col [I'm floundering about here -- "Ca nous a file une superpeche pour grimper le dernier col" it may be a totally wrong translation!!!]. I think that he still wanted to demonstrate that he was still in there.

Marchand: Did this success efface all the frustration that has come from the collection of places of honour [ie near misses and no wins] that the GAN team has collected since the beginning of the season?

Poli: You know, when things go badly you can't do anything about it. Last year, GAN won a large number of races. This year we've tried to do the same thing, but it hasn't worked. We've always been protagonists, dominated races ... Paris--Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders... and we haven't won. But the ambiance is still good. And then came Cedric's yellow jersey -- that was a superb prize for all the efforts put in up to now. That effaced the bad luck that has overwhelmed us.

Marchand: ... and has begun to weigh you down?

Poli: At the beginning the team had two leaders: Chris (Boardman) and Fred (Moncassin). The former won some prologues and time trials (Equipe editor's note: seven), but Fred, him... Yet we've tried everything to lead him out in sprints, in the style of Cipollini, with three team-mates riding flat-out for the last two-three kilometres up to the 200 metre mark. O'Grady, Vogels, me... But Moncassin has never been used to having a team that leads him into the sprint up to the last 200 metres. He prefers to grapple his way up to the other sprinters, to spring on them at the line, like a cat.

Marchand: Tell us a little about yourself. How do you explain your popularity in France?

Poli: I don't know. There's a Latin expression that no man is a prophet in his own country. But it's true that just now I feel more French than Italian. First of all, I'm in a French team, which appreciates the work and the experience that I bring to it. And me, I feel like a member of a family. Besides, I'm speaking more French than Italian and I'm more popular in France than in Italy. I believe this popularity was born with my victory at Carpentras in the stage that went up Mont Ventoux, three years ago. That year they got to see a lot of me. My solo escapes in the Tour amounted to 340km. First of all 169km in the Futuroscope stage; the following week 171 km and victory at Carpentras. Everything began to change. I got letters at home. People wanted to touch me, to take my photo. Since then I haven't won anything, but something [of all this] has persisted.

Marchand: This popularity -- you've maintained it, even embellished it?

Poli: Sure. In 1994, while I was leading the competition for combativity, I used to get flowers every morning and I gave them out to women who were there, in public. In later years, I passed them on, each time, to the Velo Club. My approachability, my sympathetic attitude, has probably been a winning card in my popularity. I hope it's not built solely on my forename and my physique.

Marchand: Your physique, 1.94 m and 85kg. It's not exactly typical of a racing cyclist?

Poli: That's true. Perhaps I should have carried on as a volleyball player. It's sometimes hard to shift such a weight, especially in the mountains.

Marchand: How did you get to be a cyclist?

Poli: Because of the first oil-price shock in 1973. The crisis hit Italy head-on. In fact it was forbidden to use your car except on work days, on Saturdays and Sundays. There were only two ways to get about -- on a bike or on rollerskates. I chose the bike. My dad bought one for himself and one for me. One Sunday I was out on a little ride when I met one of my old mates who was part of a youth team. He asked if I was interested in joining it. I said yes, et voila..

Marchand: Did you think of making it your career?

Poli: No, not even when I was an amateur. When I won a gold medal in the 100km team time trial at the Los Angeles Olympics I invested my money in two bars, in Vicenza. It's my wife who manages that business. We are open only during the expos, the fashion parades. That business is going well. I say all this only to say that I didn't think of turning pro. The more so as my father set up a bar when I was 18. He said to me: "At 21, the age of majority, you must look after yourself." At that time I was studying engineering at a professional school, I already had a place at the regioanl power station. That motivated me for cycling. But I didn't think of making it my career.

Marchand: You are known as a great rouleur, the man of the amateur 100km time trial; the one who when he turned pro led out Cipollini's sprints.

Poli (interupting) Yes, my height favours this. In the time trials, I won two medals -- one Olympic, one worlds. But rapidly I became the guy who led out his team-mates in sprints. As an amateur there was Bardelloni, Giovani Strasser (Massimo's brother), and above all, in my last amateur year, Fabio Baldato. We turned pro together, for Del Tongo, the year when the team leader, Chioccioli, won the Giro.

Marchand: Why did you wait till you were 28 to turn pro?

Poli: Because at Los Angeles I made a deal wit the Italian federation that I would stay amateur up to the Seoul Olympics. I was still an amateur but my status was very much like that of a pro. What's more I travelled a lot and I was very happy. At that time I had no true desire to sacrifice myself to the constraints of professionalism. In fact I think I made the right choice at the right time -- to be a leader out of sprints for Cipo.

Marchand: Isn't it frustrating to sacrifice your body and your spirit for a sprinter?

Poli: Not at all, because I didn't know how to do anything else. Look at my height -- I can't attack. Or if I do, I have to be alone, because with my 85kg I'm beaten in advance in the sprint. No it's a pleasure to take on this sort of work, even if sometimes I dream of going over a col in the lead, to be the first-placed rider who the spectators are applauding. What strength that gives you!

Marchand: You had that sensation when you went over the summit of Ventoux in the Carpentras stage?

Poli: Yes, that was the realisation of a dream. It was me, in the lead, all alone, the guy who people were applauding, like an actor on the stage. I was centre-stage, face to face with the public. Fantastic. That's why when I crossed the finish line I made a gesture of thanks (he mimes a bow). Me, the insignificant bike rider, the team rider of whom there are a hundred in the peloton. I had the chance to win a mythical stage with the Ventoux in the programme. And it's droll, because I felt the same sensation when Cedric won his stage at La Chatre last week When I learnt that he'd won I was tearful with emotion, on the bike. After me, who had who had realised the last long victorious escape in a flat stage (171km)[Ventoux flat!--Roger], it was him, my team-mate...

Marchand: What relations do you keep up with Cipollini?

Poli: we are on good terms.

Marchand: Do you have a high opinion of him?

Poli: No

Marchand: Why?

Poli: I admire him and I respect him. For the races he's won and also for the force of his character. But he's not an example to follow in life. He has completely opposite characteristics to mine. And I prefer mine.

(Eros Poli was born on August 6, 1963, at Isola della Scala in the province of Verona but has lived since he was a small boy in Zevio, a village renowned for its strawberries and apples. In 1984 at 21 he was part of the team, which included 1990 Vuelta a Espana winner Marco Giovanetti, that won the 100km team time trial at Los Angeles. Three years later he took another gold in the same discipline at the World Championships in Villach, with a team that included Fortunato, Scirea and Vanzella. In 1990, in the MG amateur team, he was charged with leading out sprints for Fabio Baldato and turned pro with Del Tongo in 1991, aged 28, beginning five years service as lead-out man for Mario Cipollini whom he followed the next year to MG Bianchi where he stayed two seasons. It was in this phase of his career that he took the first of his two pro victories, a stage of the Mazda Alpine Tour in Australia. Poli -- still with Cipollini -- next signed for Mercatone Uno-Saeco (later Saeco), taking the Carpentras stage of the 1994 Tour de France. In 1997 he joined the GAN team, narrowly missing a win in the first stage -- Nimes--Nimes -- of the Etoile de Besseges.)