By Tim Maloney, European Editor
For the last several years, Davide Rebellin has made steady progress to the top of the Italian pro cycling heap. That's the way Rebellin is; not a spectacular, showy rider but a solid, ever-stronger guy who gives an honest day's work at the office.
Cyclingnews met recently with Davide Rebellin as he finished his build-up to defend his title in Tirenno-Adriatico. Davide and his wife Selina welcomed Cyclingnews into his home near Cittadella, Italy on a warm, late winter afternoon.
Cyclingnews: What kind of ride did you do today, Davide?
Davide Rebellin: Oh, I was out for about 6 hours
CN: I've seen you out riding often on the small country roads near the foot of Monte Grappa where did you go today?
DR: Near Bassano del Grappa; up the Rosina climb in Marostica, then up towards Asiago near Lusiana and Conco, then I came down from there and went up around Crespano del Grappa and then came home. I usually train alone, but sometimes I ride with (Gianni) Faresin or (Filippo) Pozzattoor sometimes I ride with some dilettanti
CN: Last year on Cyclingnews, we did a few stories about your training program and we noticed that it must have worked since you won 11 races last season.
DR: I have been using the same training program for the last two or three years and last year, I tried to improve my finishing speed, my sprint. This year I am still working on this, but I'm behind last year with respect to my training because I want to reach my peak condition in the classics in April. Last year, I was winning right away but this season, my training is designed bring me in to form later I've had a few problems with (sore) tendons but nothing serious.
CN: Well it's a new season and a new team and a new bike for you with Gerolsteiner and Klein. How is it going?
DR: So far, it's really good, a top team with very good organization; I'd say that the team is built around me as I'm the leader and the team structure is designed to support me in the major races. I haven't found a big difference between, say Gerolsteiner and Liquigas (Rebellin's 2001 team) since most of the top teams are organized well. Plus a lot of riders speak Italian and there are five Italians on the team; the team direttori sportivi (Rolf Golz and Christian Henn) raced in Italy too, so our usual talk is in Italian.
CN: So bringing in all these Italian riders ought to help Gerolsteiner in the future?
DR: Certainly; Gerolsteiner wants to become a bigger team in the future and the management is really open to listen to what I am saying; I can bring a lot to the team with my experience as well.
CN: And you are riding on a new bike this year; an American bike with a German name. (Klein)
DR: Oh it's a really good bike; very light and stiff, ideal for my style of riding. It's a custom built bike for me and the fit is great.
CN: Which classics will be your particular objectives this season?
DR: The World Cup overall title is my primary objective, starting with Milano-San Remo, then Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel. I like the Ardennes classics. Then we (Gerolsteiner) will go for a big Giro d'Italia and after that we'll see how things go for the second half of the season.
CN: Tour of Flanders?
DR: Well, for the Tour of Flanders I still have to decide, but I don't think I'll ride. I'm not comfortable on the pave' (Rebellin weighs 62kg) so it's not really a race for me.
CN: Since this year is the first time Gerolsteiner will contest a grand tour, what do you have in mind? GC, stage wins?
DR: For right now, we'll be going for stage wins in the Giro d'Italia; if you are preparing for the classics, it's hard to keep your form for a grand tour like the Giro d'Italia, so I'll go for stage wins, but we'll see how things are going.
CN: Have you taken a look at the Giro d'Italia course?
DR: Yes, it's very good! A Giro that's pretty good for my riding style, maybe a little easier than last year, and the last week will be the hardest for sure.
CN: Any ideas on the final part of the season?
DR: Sure; I'm hoping to be competitive in the World Cup (Rebellin finished fifth in 2001) and the races that are best for me
CN: You have been a world class rider for over 10 years now. You were runner-up in the amateur Worlds in '91 in Germany. How have you seen cycling change in the last decade?
DR: Every year that goes by, the other riders are always better prepared; more and more riders hardly get off their bike in the winter and are starting the season with a lots of kilometres in their legs. A while back, the riders who would stay fit all winter were a lot fewer! So most of the peloton is very fit to start the season, they have learned to train better and live the life of a racer, so the base level of cycling has gone up. It's harder to make your mark (for young riders) as it used to be, unless you are a "fuoriclasse" like Armstrong who is better than other riders.
CN: Have you been following the news about Frank Vandenbroucke?
DR: Yes and I am sorry to hear about this. I think he's an excellent rider. I think sometimes these (doping) things get exaggerated.
CN: As I recall, Davide, you haven't been involved with any doping scandals during your career you have the reputation as a clean rider. How do you look at the entire doping issue in cycling?
DR: Unfortunately, doping is around in sport, but it isn't only in cycling, it's in other sports too. Perhaps cycling has been too targeted for all of this attention about doping. There is a certain image (from doping) that certainly isn't very good (for cycling). I didn't like to see those pictures of him in handcuffs; I don't think he killed anyone!
CN: When you are at the start line for the upcoming classics, which rivals will you see as the most dangerous?
DR: We'll have to see which riders are going well during that time; nonetheless, among the Italian riders, Basso, Di Luca, Bartoli and of course, Jalabert and Boogerd; Camenzind, Bettini. These will be the main riders to watch out for.
CN: Was it a big disappointment in the final of last year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege?
DR: Oh sure; everything was going well until the last 300 meters and I was a bit surprised at Camenzind's speed. It was too bad; to come that close to such a big win.
CN: What about the so called "young lions" like Di Luca, Basso, and Figueras?
DR: They guys are not so young anymore; it's been a few years that these riders have shown that they can be up front and win. Right now, Di Luca is good.
CN: You have been racing at the top level of the sport for 10 years; what do you remember as your best moment?
DR: Well maybe when I won the stage of the Giro d'Italia and took the Maglia Rosa (1996 at Monte Sirino, where Rebellin kept the Maglia Rosa for six days); that was the first big win for me and that the one I still treasure. For an Italian to win a stage at the Giro and take the Maglia Rosa, that brought me a lot of attention from the public.
CN: In your career, you been more of a gypsy than many Italian riders as you've gone to foreign teams. Do you just like the change of scene?
DR: Sure, I like to a change of scene; to find new things to stimulate me but above all, I want to be part of a group of riders that I feel comfortable with. Last year, Liquigas decided to get out of cycling, so I could continue with Gerolsteiner and I brought a few riders with me that I trust. We know each other well and all I need to do to communicate in the races is to make eye contact and we understand each other. Changing teams for one reason or the other isn't just to change the environment of the team, but also to find some good feelings away from the race scene: to be together, to travel together to and from the races and at the races should also be fun.
CN: We've heard that from time to time, you have had offers from big teams like Mapei, for example.
DR: I like a smaller team more; where I am the leader and I have this responsibility on my shoulder. Plus in a smaller team, it's more like a family; there is not so much pressure to always win. In the big teams sometimes the smaller wins or good placings are not valued very much and I prefer that I can continue to have satisfaction even from these.
CN: Last year, you turned 30; for an endurance athlete, you are entering your prime. What will be the major objectives for the rest of your career?
DR: I want to do well in a major tour; to go for the GC, to see how far I can go with this. Rather than focus on the classics, eventually I'd like to make a training program that will prepare me for a major tour.
CN: Have you thought about how long you would like to continue your racing career?
DR: I don't know; I hope another four or five years. As long as it's not a drag to go to the races and I have the desire to do this I'll continue. When you start to see that the results aren't coming any more, that training is too much, I'll retire. I still have the desire; I still like to ride for seven hours; it could be work for some but for me, cycling is still my passion so it's not too hard.
CN: What do you think about during a seven hour ride?
DR: There always something; the training program to follow that day, a race situation or when the training isn't too hard, what I have to do at home; stuff to do with my wife lots of stuff.
CN: Have you thought about what you'll do when you finally hang up your bike?
DR: For now, I don't have a definitive idea what I'll do. I'd like to do something that keeps me close to home since I've travelled a lot. I like family life so to be at home is great something that will give the opportunity to do sport. I like to keep active so we'll see.
CN: You have recently moved to Monte Carlo; how do you like that?
DR: Now I'm there for a lot of time; in the winter and when I'm racing in France, it's great for training especially. We go back and forth between Monte Carlo and Italy.
CN: Do you do any gambling in the casinos?
DR: (Laughing) No! We've never gone there.
Selina Rebellin: It's better to stay away!
CN: I read in a recent issue of 'Bicisport' that Selina is your manager, so there is a team Rebellin at home too!
SR: I have to do my thesis and I'll have my law degree.
CN: Olano's wife Karmele is his manager too, so how do you see the role of women doing business in the male-dominated world of cycling?
SR: Well, regarding the little experience that I have had so far, it's not easy but it's a lot better than it used to be. For team people to see a wife who goes along with her husband to the races; that doesn't bother them like it used to. But in my opinion, there is still the general opinion that the wife should stay at home when the husband is racing, that she doesn't get too involved with the goings-on of the team. But I go ahead with what I have to do and I don't really worry about these attitudes.
CN: In closing, do you want to send a message to your fans?
DR: Well some of my fans are nervous because I haven't won anything yet this season. Last year I had already won three races but I'm sure that they will see me in the big races, even though I may not be winning the smaller races.
As Davide and Selina Rebellin were looking to relax on a rare Sunday evening at home together during the cycling season, Cyclingnews wished Davide luck in his future races and bid them adieu.
For more info on Davide, including his diary, see his website, which will have an English translation by end March for non-Italian speakers.
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