Giro d'Italia

VN Archives: Aaron Olson’s unorthodox Giro d’Italia debut

In 2006 U.S. rider Aaron Olson got called up to ride the Giro d'Italia just five days before the race began.

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You can’t blame Aaron Olson for being a little overwhelmed.

While most riders have weeks, if not months, to prepare for their first grand tour, the 28-year-old Olson from Eugene Oregon, got the call just five days before the start of this year’s Giro d’Italia

Olson was asleep when his team boss with Saunier Duval-Prodir left him a voicemail message. Injuries to several other riders had left the Spanish-based team shorthanded, and they wanted Olson in Italy.

“l said, ‘Yes, right away,’ and I was on a plane like five hours later,” said Olson after stage 6 from Busseto to Forli. “l went from L.A. to Paris and then Milan.”

The former U.S. domestic pro, who last rode with Colavita, came to support team leader Gilberto Simoni in what will be the Italina’s last year as a pro.

“l’ve just been staying with Simoni all day as long as I can,” Olson explained, ‘Typically, there are two or three of us with him just so he has guys around him if he needs anything.”

This is Olson’s second go round in Europe. Earlier in his career he spent time over here with the U.S.national team and then as a member of the now-defunct iteamNova squad.

Despite the bumpy ride, Olson always knew he wanted to get back to the big time. His shot came this winter when he got a little help from some friends. Now, he’s one of just four Americans in the race, alongside Tom Danielson, Patrick McCarty, and Bobby Julich.

“Chris Horner put in a good word because he was leaving the team and he knew they wanted to have another American,” Olson said. “My coach, Massimo Testa, also helped me out. He used to be Horner’s coach and he speaks Italian and he knows the Swiss-Italian team manager from back in the day. So Testa made a call too, and said I was ready for the ProTour.”

That was good enough for Saunier Duva-Prodir, and the team hired Olson, sticking him in a slot formerly occupied by Horner and Tim Johnson before that. So, does Olson feel like the token American?

“l don’t know, maybe, maybe not,” he said. “l know they want an American but they don’t have to have one. They’ve had one the last three years with Tim and then Chris Homer and now me. But you have to be good enough for the job. They didn’t know me from anyone else, but Horner’s word went a long ways. He had seen me improving every year and thought I was a good guy.”

The rapid transition hasn’t been 100 percent smooth for Olson. His language skills begin and end with English, which can make life tough on a Spanish team with an Italian leader. Olson actually roomed with Simoni at the Tour of California in February, and the American says most of their communication was done with hand gestures and head nods.

“He’s pretty mellow and he’s funny,” said Olson about Simoni. “We can’t communicate too much, Most of it is in Spanish, which I am not very good at. It can be a little isolating at times, but [Polish teammate] Peter Mazur speaks English and my roommate here at the Giro, Marco Pinotti, speaks English pretty well too, so ifs not that bad.”

As for personal goals at the Giro, Olson was keeping it simple: He wanted to finish. “l really want to do a three week Tour because everyone says you are changed rider if you have done one,” Olson said. “You can recover better and have more endurance.”

If he does make it to Milan, could his next stop be the Tour de France? “Maybe,” Olson said. “Some guys on the team thought I have a good chance because I’m American. I’m definitely not counting on anything out at this point.”