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Ferretti the fox

Editor's note: The February 4, 2002 issue of VeloNews featuresour annual Pro Road Season Preview with fullrosters for the UCI's 30-team Division I; analysis of the top ten squads;a look at Postal's new recruits; a profile of Rabobank's new hope for theTour, Levi Leipheimer and the following conversation with the man in chargeof the world's No. 1 team.He’s renowned as the wisest team boss in the business. A small man withimpeccable manners, his signature dark glasses, bald head and polo shirtare as familiar a part of cycling as the peloton itself. He has been drivingteam

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At 60, Fassa Bortolo's revered team manager Giancarlo Ferretti is still up and running

By John Wilcockson

Photo: Galen Nathanson

Editor’s note: The February 4, 2002 issue of VeloNews featuresour annual Pro Road Season Preview with fullrosters for the UCI’s 30-team Division I; analysis of the top ten squads;a look at Postal’s new recruits; a profile of Rabobank’s new hope for theTour, Levi Leipheimer and the following conversation with the man in chargeof the world’s No. 1 team.He’s renowned as the wisest team boss in the business. A small man withimpeccable manners, his signature dark glasses, bald head and polo shirtare as familiar a part of cycling as the peloton itself. He has been drivingteam cars for 30 years. His name is Giancarlo Ferretti, and in two shortyears he has guided FassaBortolo from start-up to the No. 1-ranked team in the world.When VeloNews interviewed him just before New Year’s, Ferretti was visitingwith a team sponsor. He was all Italian elegance: tailored gray slacks,fitted black blazer, blue shirt and cycling-motif tie. He may look hisage, 60, but he still has the outlook of a young man just starting out.Ferretti’s teams have won almost 670 races at an average of 25 winsa season, but when asked if there were things left to achieve, he replied,“I still would like to win more … win more races … win more big races.In short, I still feel like someone who hasn’t won anything.”In fact, the only major events that Ferretti teams have not won arethe Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Paris-Roubaix. Ironically,none of those races is a priority this year for Fassa Bortolo — whose marqueeriders are former world No. 1’s Michele Bartoli and Francesco Casagrande.Roubaix is a specialty race not suited to lightly built men like Bartoli(143 pounds), and the Vuelta is not a race the team needs to start, astitle sponsor Fassa’s commercial activity (cement building products) isalmost entirely within Italy. But wouldn’t the Tour be a goal, given thatCasagrande is one of the world’s very best climbers, who came close towinning the 2000 Giro d’Italia?Ferretti answered in his quiet baritone, with brutal honesty: “FassaBortolo will go to the Tour de France, but it will certainly not take Casagrande,because as long as [Lance] Armstrong and [Jan] Ullrich are racing, theTour de France will be very difficult to win. Fassa Bortolo knows its limits,as well as its strengths, so we will go with a team that can win stages,not the overall, because we know we can’t win it.”Not many team managers would be that open. But Ferretti is a realist,knowing that a pure climber like Casagrande, who weighs only 60 kilograms(132 pounds), is at a big disadvantage in the modern Tour. Casagrande,though, seems to be following a trend in Italy, where the average weightof the last five winners of the Giro was just 59 kilos (130 pounds).“Yes,” Ferretti admitted, “currently we are more insistent that a ridernot carry extra weight…. Casagrande and many others are lighter, but itis not a trend to look for smaller riders. I would like to have a riderlike Ullrich, who doesn’t weigh 60 kilos, or racers like Armstrong, wholikewise doesn’t weigh 60 kilos….”Neither Armstrong nor Ullrich was available when Fassa lured Ferrettiout of semi-retirement just over two years ago to launch its squad. Thegoal was to build a competitive team that would increase brand awarenessfor the company’s building products. Much like a football coach who isgiven authority to run both a team’s business and player operations, Ferrettiwas given the title “team manager” and the freedom to construct a squadfrom top to bottom.His budget was such that he needed to pick only two co-sponsors thatcontribute cash as well as equipment: Pinarello bikes and Pearl Izumi clothing.“I don’t call them sponsors, but I very much prefer to call them colleagues,because they work very closely with us,” he said.Despite a good budget, Ferretti had a limited choice of riders for hisinitial roster. So he put together a squad made up of men he believed wereundervalued by their previous teams (Alessandro Petacchi from Navigare,Dario Frigo from Saeco and Raimondas Rumsas from Mróz) and othersnear the end of their careers (Wladimir Belli from Festina, Nicola Lodafrom Ballan and Dmitri Konyshev from Mercatone Uno). None was a star, butunder Ferretti’s guidance they notched up 23 wins in 2000 and ended theyear ranked No. 3 in the world.All those riders remained with Fassa in 2001, while the team recruitedthen world No. 1 Casagrande (from Vini Caldirola) and the promising IvanBasso (from Amica Chips). Then, just before last season ended, Ferrettiwas able to sign from Mapei one of his favorite riders from the past, Bartoli.This pleased Ferretti, as when asked to recall a race in which his tacticalskills made a big impact, he named the 1996 Tour of Flanders, when he wasdirecting Bartoli at MG-Technogym. “It was Michele Bartoli’s first majorvictory,” Ferretti said.“Michele’s way of racing wasn’t always the most effective from a tacticalstandpoint, so I suggested that he conduct himself differently in thatrace…. I told him to reserve his strength for the final 30 kilometers,because he otherwise tended to be active throughout an entire race.” Bartoliput all his effort into an attack on the cobblestone Mur de Grammont —just inside the final 30km — and won the World Cup classic in a solo breakaway.“[It] was a thrill for me as well as for him,” remembered Ferretti,“because I felt that I had contributed to the victory more on that occasionthan in other instances.”The seasoned team boss also has suffered many difficult moments. “Themost negative have taken place only recently: these moments of persecutionwith regard to doping,” said Ferretti, who had to fire Frigo last yearafter his rider admitted to the possession of banned drugs when challengingfor victory at the Giro.“In Europe, we feel persecuted by judges, the police — everyone — asif we were all criminals. I don’t feel like a criminal. I feel like a sportsman,a man who has very much helped his many racers, and who will continue todo so….”
Yes, with Fassa, the old fox is just starting to run.<A Ferretti snapshot
1963-70 Raced as domestique for Legnano, Sanson and Salvaraniteams
1971-72 Attended Central School for Sport in Rome
1973-84 Won 304 races as director of Bianchi team, with Gimondi,Prim, Knudsen, Contini and De Wolf
1986-93 Won 156 races as director of Ariostea team, with Argentin,Sørensen, Richard and Järmann
1994-97 Won 163 races as director of MG team, with Bartoli,Baldato, Bugno, Richard, Museeuw and Peeters
2000-01 Won 46 races as director of Fassa Bortolo team, withPetacchi, Frigo, Casagrande, Rumsas and Konyshev