By Tim Maloney, European editor
The media presentation of Team Mapei-Quick Step in Milano showed the determination and commitment of Mapei boss Giorgio Squinzi to field the best team in cycling. "Besides important objectives like victories in Milano-San Remo and Giro d'Italia, I would like to see our team regain their place on the top of the (UCI) world rankings," stated Squinzi in Mapei's ultramodern world HQ in Milano. But Squinzi also went on to say that "If I have to chose between the Giro and the #1 ranking, I don't have any doubt that I'd chose the Giro".
With new UCI rules in force this year determining team size, Mapei-Quick Step has split into two formations, TT1 "Top Team" with 25 riders and the TT3 "Gruppo Giovani" (Espoirs Team). Mapei's Top squad has major heavy hitters and should certainly give the current UCI #1 squad Fassa Bortolo a run for their money this season. For single day races, Mapei can count on two-time World Champion Oscar Freire; the speedy Spaniard sprinted to the title last October in Lisbon and is very motivated to show his rainbow colours less than two months from now in the finale of Milano San Remo.
"I hope to have a shot at the win", said Freire. "I'm hoping that the German (Zabel) is a little more human this year. And I hope to do well in Flanders and Liege (Bastogne-Liege)".
Certainly if his back troubles are few, World Champ Oscar Freire will produce this season. The Spanish rider from Torrelavega just oozes class; he can sprint and climb and is the most exciting one-day rider to emerge in years.
Bettini is also ready to make his mark in '02; with his long-time classics master Michele Bartoli in the twilight of his career, the power-packed puncher from La California should not be intimidated by anyone and may be is a potential overall World Cup champion this season.
"Everything is really going well now", said Bettini. "Squinzi and Sassi (head team manager) have shown their faith in me and I hope to repay this by a win in one of the Classics this year".
After a major win in L-B-L in 2000, the diminutive Pisano, nicknamed 'Il Grillo', (the Cricket) should be a prime contender this spring in almost any classic. Bettini will also point to a strong Giro, especially in the first week lay the groundwork for a win by his teammate Stefano Garzelli.
Garzelli, winner of the 2000 Giro, is looking to make up for an inconsistent 2001 season, especially his big flop in the Giro. Just back from a training trip to Northern California, Garzelli is looking make up for his poor showing in la corsa rosa last year.
"I like the route", said the quiet man from Varese, "and I'm really training hard to be at the (Giro) start in Groningen to be in the best form possible".
Garzelli has a lot of pressure on him to win the Giro; as Mapei-Quick Step's G.C. honch, he must be motivated, totally focused and healthy from start to finish in the Giro to have a chance to beat defending champ Gibo Simoni (Saeco-Longoni Sport) to Milano. If Garzelli has a chance, it will come down to the penultimate TT stage in Brianza (starting in front of Mapei sponsor Colnago's HQ) for him to win.
Garzelli's neighbour in Varese, Italian Champion Daniele Nardello will be also looking to make his mark in the spring with good performances in the classics, as well as the Giro and the Tour De France. As last year, Nardello won't make GC his top priority.
Another Mapei man that will be looking to make up for a poor showing in 2001 is sprinter Tom Steels. With health problems that have kept him from finding his best form in the last two seasons, Steels has been overshadowed by Freire and is hoping to get back to his winning ways quickly in '02.
Mapei's Top Team also features old warhorses like hardman Andrea Tafi, still-speedy Stefano 'Zaza' Zanini, track specialists McGrory and Gilmore and explosive, unpredictable South African Robbie Hunter. Mountain bike racing will provide two phenoms; Miguel Martinez, who will split his season between Mapei and his MTB team Full Dynamix and Aussie Cadel Evans. Cadel is clearly on the fast track to the very top of the sport and many expect the likeable Melbournian to be a Tour De France contender before too long.
As for the "Gruppo Giovani" (Espoirs Team), they are in TT3 for convenience sake more than anything. This team will have the same name and same jersey as the Mapei TT1 "Top Team", but can not ride in the same races.
Recent Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under winner Mick Rogers is joined by fellow Aussie Allan Davis, classy Evgeni Petrov ('00 double U23 World Champ), top Swiss tester Fabian Cancellara. The "Gruppo Giovani" are certainly the cream of the crop of young riders and old hand d.s. Fabbrizio Fabbri will keep the Mapei Espoirs Team in line on their way to the podium.
Mapei boss Giorgio Squinzi has a unique point of view on his cycling team. "We have a different philosophy and behaviour on our team. We have a strong desire to win, but in an open manner. To give you an example, we are no longer (ranked) #1, and we are not happy with that but we will never take shortcuts to return to the top".
Squinzi's motto says a lot about his principled approach to the sport of cycling: "Mapei, To Win Together."
Hey! What's a Mapei? Well, Mapei s.p.a is a $700 million dollar a year company specializing in adhesives and coatings for building use. The worldwide leader in this market, Mapei s.p.a has grown 20% per year since '94. Mapei employs 3,000 people in 36 factories across 18 countries worldwide.
Is the huge Mapei-Quick Step team a logistical nightmare? Well you decide; there are 40 riders from 14 nations, 11 sports team staff, 8 team doctors, 13 full time and 4 part time soigneurs. Vehicles include 1 large bus, 3 campers, 3 team service trucks, 1 medium van, 2 regular minivans, 14 station wagons and 1 scooter.
Colnago and Shimano will return as key sponsors in 2002, while the colourful Mapei-Quick Step team wear will be supplied by Santini. Mapei-Quick Step will get 160 bikes with Shimano Dura-Ace groupsets, 250 pairs of wheels and 2500 pairs of Michelin tyres this season. Santini will supply 1,200 jerseys, 10,000 caps, 1,400 racing gloves and 2,000 pairs of socks.
In '02, Mapei-Quick Step will race in almost 140 races on 5 continents with a total of 405 racing days. The team has won 562 races since their debut in mid-'94 and there is no reason to think that Mapei-Quick Step will stop winning any time soon.
For more info, check out the Mapei team roster and the Mapei Espoirs roster.
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
More pics from Roberto Bettini:
The post-launch party, also by Bettini:
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