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In our special Italia Bici section, presents the finest Italy has to offer in bicycles and cycling apparel. Each feature presents a leading Italian manufacturer and its 2005 product lines, with special insights into the design and manufacture of their products, including the input provided by some of the world's leading professional cyclists.

In these pages, we also meet the designers and driving forces behind some of cycling's greatest names, and look at the history of companies that have shaped the sport in the world's number one cycling nation.

By Cyclingnews Staff In Rossano Veneto, Italy

Back in the day, well, ninety-nine years ago to be exact, in 1906 Pietro Dal Molin founded the Wilier bicycle company along the Brenta River in Bassano del Grappa, Italy in the province of Vicenza, just at the foot of Monte Grappa. The bicycle craze was sweeping Europe in general and Italy in particular so in his small forge, Dal Molin built "cavalli d'acciaio" (steel horses) that gained recognition as top quality bicycles that were highly sought after before WW1. In fact, many of the Italian bersaglieri bicycle troops in WW1 rode Wilier manufactured bicycles into battle.

The Gastaldello family proudly shows off the new Wilier Triestina LeRoi Cofidis team issue to Cyclingnews. L-R: Andrea: marketing & administration Enrico: sales manager Lino: the boss Michele: production manager
Marco Pantani's Alpe d'Huez Wilier Triestina in company HQ in Rossano Veneto
A wild scene in Trieste at the 1946 Giro d'Italia: Wilier Triestina's Cottur (on shoulders of fans) is king for a day
Wilier Triestina's scrapbooks, filled with intriguing historic photos
Wilier Triestina's showroom
Wilier Triestina's HQ in Rossano Venetot

Just after WW1, Dal Molin "fiiglio" Mario took over the business and focused on building quality bicycles as the Italian two wheel industry grew between the World Wars. Although the Allies bombed Bassano del Grappa several times during the war due to its occupation by German forces, Wilier emerged unscathed. After WW2, Wilier's fame continued to spread as Dal Molin decided to form a professional cycling team, with rangy powehouse Giordano Cottur as leader. Dal Molin also added 'Triestina' to the Wilier namew to pay homage to the irridentist trend that swept Italy after WW2. Despite finishing on the winning side in the war to end all wars, the Treaty of Versailles was not kind to Italy's claims on the former Austro-Hungarian territory, which fuelled Italian nationalism and inspired the revolt of Fiume by poet Gabriele D'Annunzio in 1919. In the end, Italy kept Trieste & Istria but the disatisfaction remained. But after WW2, Italy wasn't on the winning side and the fate of Trieste and Istria was uncertain. Would Italy be allowed to keep them or not?

Dal Molin decided to associate the name of with Wilier and in late 1945, Wilier became Wilier Triestina. The bike brand was know for the unique look of their copper-colored "ramata" frames and in 1946, rode in the first post-war Tour of Italy. Cottur "won" the 12th stage of the '46 Giro into Trieste which was stopped due to anti-Italian protesters outside the city, but continued unofficially into Trieste where Cottur and the rest of the Giro riders were greeted by huge and enthusiastic crowds. This Giro stage became more than a bicycle race; it was a symbol of "irridentismo": the Italians wanted Trieste to be part of Italy and not be absorbed by communist Yugoslavia. The team's success and the strong demand for bicycles in a rebuilding Italy fuelled major growth at Wilier Triestina, with production up to 200 bicycles a day and employing 300 workers. In 1947, Wilier Triestina signed the young Fiorenzo Magni, an emerging talent with the legs and the head to stand up to Coppi and Bartali. Magni won the Giro in 1948 and went on to win the Tour of Flanders in 1949 and 1950, plus Tour de France stage wins and the prestigous 1950 Boule d'Or in Paris.

But after the boom for Wilier Triestina came the bust; the bottom dropped out of the bicycle market as Italian consumers saved enough for their first Fiat or Vespa and stopped buying bicycles which had flooded the market from 1945-50. In 1952 Dal Molin shut Wilier Triestina down and folded its pro team. After the name had lain moribund for almost two decades, the Gastaldello brothers from Rossano Veneto, just down the road from Bassano del Grappa obtained the Wilier Triestina marque in 1969 and began to revitalize it with a small, high-end production in the officina behind their shop on via Stazione in Rossano.

Wilier jumped back into professional cycling in the 1980's with the Supermercato Brianzoli squad, whose rider Claudio Corti won the Italian championships in 1985 & 1986 on a beautiful "ramata" (copper plated) Wilier Triestina. After Supermercato Brianzoli folded, the Gastaldellos teamed up in the 1990's with Brescialat and Mariano Piccoli won a stage for them in the Giro d'Italia in 1995. After two years, Wilier Triestina worked with Team Mercatone Uno and Marco Pantani. In 1997 Pantani finished third in the Tour de France and won the stage to l'Alpe d'Huez, setting the abolute record on his yellow "Pirata" Wilier Triestina.

After a big bike brand with deep pockets pushed Wilier Triestina out of Mercatone Uno, the plucky Italian company still had their association intact with Brescialat, which became Liquigas-Pata in 1999. Pantani's exploits had pushed the Italian firm to build ever lighter and more advanced bicycles and inspired new Wilier Triestina models that are now famous like the Alpe d'Huez and Mortirolo. In 2000, classy Italian Davide Rebellin, who lived just down the road from Wilier Triestina, arrived at Liquigas. In 2001, Rebellin exploded with big wins in Tour Méditerranéen, Tirreno-Adriatico, GP Industria e Artigianato and Giro di Romagna among others, further validating Wilier Triestina as one of the top racing brands worldwide. In the meantime, Marco Pantani and Mercatone Uno came back to ride Wilier Triestina in 2002, but the Italian climber did practically nothing that year.

When Rebellin made his move to Gerolsteiner in 2002, Wilier Triestina went along with him to the German bubble-water squad, where he notched some major wins in three years for Wilier including stages in Paris-Nice and Rund um den Henninger Turm in 2003 and of course his historic 2004 triple play with superb back to back to back wins in Amstel Gold, Fléche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. With those victories Rebellin was also runner-up in the World Cup. Wilier also sponsored the Lampre squad in 2003-04, with few results to speak of and world champion Astarloa out or unfit for most of the season.

Although another big bike brand with deep pockets pushed Wilier Triestina out of Gerolsteiner for 2005, the Rosanno Veneto firm recovered nicely in the bike sponsorship wars to conclude an agreement with Cofidis. With top names on Cofidis like Australian powerhouse Stuart O'Grady, 2004 Tour de France stage winner David Moncoutié, emerging stage race talent Leonardo Bertagnoli and solid French riders like Sylvain Chavanel and Cedric Vasseur, Wiler Triestina will assuredly shine bright in the ProTour peloton once again in 2005.

Further reading

Wilier's website
Fabian Wegmann's 2004 Wilier Triestina