News for June 5, 1997

Gotti, The Glory of a Midge

The new pink jersey in the Giro, who arrived near his home area yesterday, has always known a growth problem -- to the extent that since the beginning of his cycling career he's never been able to find a leader's jersey in his size.

It was the day before yesterday [June 1] up high in Cervinia, 2,100 metres above sea level, where Ivan Gotti had taken the stage the evening before -- his second pro victory -- and taken the lead in the Giro d'Italia.

It was eight o'clock in the morning and glancing out of the window Gotti took fright. It had snowed during the night and the sky didn't promise anything good for the rest of the day. Looking desolate, Gotti turned to team-mate Massimo Donati. "I can't wear the pink jersey today. The only one they've given me, a size S, has short sleeves and anyway it's much too big."

Gotti wasn't mistaken. On his first day of glory in Italy -- for he'd already worn the yellow jersey in the Tour de France in 1995 -- he spent the whole day muffled in a Goretex jacket to protect himself from the cold and the rain. His 60kg (he's 1.73m tall) has always posed problems for him. When he started, at his first club, the US Paladina, he was obliged to put all his weight on one pedal, then on the other, to get up hills. For this reason and because he never gave in, his mates baptised him "the pendulum".

The pink jersey, who arrived near his home yesterday [June 2] remarks with a smile that things haven't changed that much in the mountains. "I prefer to climb in the saddle, but I always lack power and don't have choice [but to stand up]." There were plenty of hills around his village, San Pellegrino Terme, the home ground of Felice Gimondi, the last Italian winner of the Tour de France, in 1965. And very quickly the San Pellegrino whipper-snapper had made a reputation for himself.

"It was a good thing that there was Sunday racing there," says Gotti. "Because nobody wanted to believe that I was a racing cyclist. When I wanted to sign up for my first licence, the officials said to me: 'Little one, you're too thin. Come back next year.' The same thing happened to me when I went in for Sunday races. When I was a junior they told me dozens of times: 'No, the little ones' race isn't here'."

Gotti was never vexed by this, never discouraged. He continued to win races despite his height, his weight and the oversized leader's jerseys they kept putting on him on the podiums. He remembers that at the Tour of the Valley of Aosta, the most important climbers' race in Italy, one day they gave me a leader's jersey so big that I was "obliged to make knots in the sides to make it fit properly so that wind didn't blow it up big on the descents". And his only let-down in the Tour de France, when he wore the yellow jersey two days in 1995, was to "float in a jersey given me by the organizers that was at least two sizes bigger than mine." Since he's been in pink, the heart of the Giro has beaten much faster, the tifosi [fans] pack the sides of the road and the audience for Mediaset the Berlusconi TV station covering the race has gome up by ten percentage points these last three days.

If Gotti manages to hang in, and it looks as if he will judging by the extremely mountainous terrain of the Thursday, Friday and Saturday stages in the Dolomites there will be delirium in Milan. Yesterday morning the man from Bergamo was a little doubtful about the 40km individual time trial {June 4]. "I did a good time trial at Lac de Vassiviere in the 1995 Tour but since then I haven't worked in any specific way on my time-trialling. I haven't lost much in that but I've gained in my strength in the mountains. What Gotti fears most is bad weather:. "I'm too thin, I never get through cold weather well. If it's raining or snowing Tonkov will be hard to beat. But if the weather stays dry, on the Mortirolo, I won't be afraid of anyone."

That's an opinion largely shared by two of Gotti's former directeur sportifs who know him by heart. Gianluigi Stanga, nowadays looking after the destiny of Luc Leblanc [at Polti] says: "I was always afraid of breaking him and of making him work at full power. Then I left him to develop on his own. Today, at 28 years, his motor is new. It will be very hard to take the jersey from him. Emmanuele Bombini, who was Gotti's directeur sportif at Gewiss for two years adds: "Everyone's aware of Gotti's force in the mountains. But few of the guys know that he is also one of the most determined and obstinate of riders."

Relations between Gotti and Bombini -- who has staked all on Berzin -- remain cordial. "Before signing for Saeco, Gotti called me and announced his future salary," says Bombini. "If you give me the same amount, I'll stay with you,' he said. Truly my budget didn't permit me to pay that much. That's life..."

And that's how, for 800 million lire (French francs 250,000 a month [roughly US$50,000]) offered to a midge, Saeco, a coffee machine maker, is on the way to realising the best bit of publicity of its life. (translated by Roger Thomas -- with apologies to L'Equipe)

Jalabert on the Tour

Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, from Team ONCE, doubts of his possibilities to win the Tour de Franc someday. In declarations on Wednesday, publishes L'Equipe, the World's number one says that he's convinced that he can't do a good Tour. "To win is something that I have a hard time imagining right now". When asked how he sees himself this coming month of July in Paris, Jalabert answers: "if I make the top ten overall, I would have done a good Tour, among the top five, a super Tour, if I climb the podium, it would be extra and winning the overall would be awesome, because it would be unexpected". He puts into perspective by saying that abandoning at the Tour'96 hasn't traumatized him and insists that the Tour is a race that he doesn't do well. "I have ridden it six times and have only finished three".

In his participation, Jalabert has won two stages (in 1992, in Brussels and in 1995 in Mende), two Green Jerseys, those same years and he finished fourth overall in 1995. He does admit that the Tour is a double objective for him, because it is "the most important stage race in the international calendar" and because he's French he says that "it isn't written anywhere that Jalabert is a rider for the Tour". "I train really hard to achieve it, but I'm ignorant of if I have the class and the talent necessary to overcome the difficulties which characterize this race, although I have progressed in the mountains in the last two years", he affirms. "There are other riders better equipped than me and they are who the forecasters should bet on".

He has been exclusively training since April 26 after disputing the Dutch Classic, Amstel Gold Race. The Frenchman has resumed racing at la Vuelta a los Valles Mineros. During those five weeks of competitive pause, Jalabert has softened his training in relation to 1996, a year when he confesses that he trained "too hard, with longer and tougher rides". This season, during this parenthesis he has ridden 3,500 km, with rides of between six to seven hours, which he has complemented with muscle exercises. He assures that "in 1995 he rode his best Tour", year where he applied a similar training program as this year. With less than a month to go for the start of the Tour, on July the 5th at Rouen (northern France), Jalabert says that he is satisfied with his actual form in terms of his program and he feels at ease. "Everything is going well".

Di Grande stays with Mapei-GB

Giuseppe Di Grande has signed on Monday and has renewed his contract with Mapei-GB. Di Grande had received offers from a few teams, but he will stay with Giorgio Squinzi's team for at least two more seasons.

Baffi back in training

Around the vicinity of his house, Adriano Baffi passed by, training and said hello to the Giro caravan. The Italian sprinter who rides for Us Postal is waiting an invitation for the Tour de France for his team. With Baffi also was Gian Matteo Fagnini, the sprinter who was disqualified in Arezzo.

Belgian's big hope

Kristof Trouve - big promise in Belgium - signed to Vlaanderen 2000 for one year plus an option for one year. Trouve is now with the Josan-team of Dirk de Wolf and at the moment number 3 in the BMW-ranking for promises and elite without contract. He won the Zesbergenprijs/Prix Six Mountains and Seraing-Aachen-Seraing this season.