Look for an in-depth feature in the latest issue of VeloNews
By Andrew Hood
Davide Rebellin admits it will be all but impossible to repeat last year’s winning streak, when he took a rare treble with a sweep of the Ardennes classics. Coming into the 2005 season, the Gerolsteiner rider is instead hoping to spread the wealth, targeting wins from March to October as he eyes cycling’s new ProTour.
Rebellin came up short in last weekend’s Milan-San Remo, but he was one of the main protagonists on the ill-fated attack over the Poggio. That new aggressiveness will be the hallmark of the Italian’s 2005 campaign.
Earlier this year, VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood sat down with Rebellin during the team’s training camp back on Mallorca for an in-depth feature that appears in the latest issue, along with profiles of other major classic contenders.
Rebellin talked openly about a tumultuous 2004 season that began strong with the Ardennes domination yet ended on a sour note as he lost the World Cup and was forced off of the Italian Olympic and world championship teams. Here are excerpts from that interview:
VeloNews: Your 2004 season was sweet and bitter at the same time, do you see that way?Davide Rebellin: “It was good that I won those big races. They were the biggest wins of my career and I was very satisfied. But it was very difficult that I didn’t win the World Cup. The situation of the world’s, of the Olympics, the exclusion from those events affected me.”
VN: What was most satisfying in 2004?DR: “The season was very satisfying for me, not for the quantity of victories, because I have won more in previous years, but in the quality of victories. These victories were the most important of my career. It was very satisfying to share that with the fans and to give something back to the team that’s trusted me for so long.”
VN: What was most disappointing?DR: “I always said the exclusion from the world championships was a grave injustice. It was also an injustice to be left out of the Olympics, but the world’s was especially difficult. How can you leave the leader of the World Cup off of the world’s team? It was difficult for me to understand but it wasn’t in my control. Losing the World Cup title was different. I lost that on the roads, when I should have won it. I was distracted with the problems I was having, so to lose the World Cup too made it ever more bitter.”
VN: Are you able to forget the disappointment of last season and remember the positive aspects?DR: “What happened last year even gives me more motivation for this season. Under the new ProTour system, I would have finished ranked No. 1 based on what happened last year under the new scoring system. That gives me hope for the coming season. I have to think about what’s going to happen this year. I am always looking forward, always looking ahead with satisfaction of what I’ve been able to accomplish and what new goals I want to reach. I always want to have a new attitude, that’s what’s nice about the racing season. What happened last year is in the history books. Now it’s time to begin anew. I can’t dwell on the negative things that have happened. I must remember the good things and take my power from the positive.”
VN: What are you primary goals for 2005?DR: “I will look at all the ProTour races. I will race Milan-San Remo and Paris-Nice. Those are races in the past that haven’t been for me, but I think I can do well in those events. I’ve not decided if I will race in the Tour. I will decide after Liege.”
VN: How has the creation of the ProTour changed your schedule?DR: “They’ve changed the World Cup for the ProTour, so it’s a different approach. You must compete in more events, you have to compete in more tours. It takes a more complete rider. You can’t only be good in one-day races to try to win the ProTour. It’s better suited for my characteristics. I will plan my season based on the races that fit my skills. The ProTour does have some good points. I’m good in one-week tours, so I think it favors a rider who can be strong all season long. It’s difficult to say how exactly the ProTour will affect my racing schedule. I am planning two periods during the season, one for the spring classics and again for later in the season. It’s impossible to be strong at all the races. I will stick to this program and wait to see how the season is unfolding.”
VN: What changed for you in 2004 that had such a successful spring?DR: “First, I was in top form. I had good preparation and I really entered the spring in my best form. But I think the biggest benefit was my experience. I’ve been strong in the past and not won. I understood what I had to do in certain situations. Plus, after winning Amstel Gold, I had less pressure. I had just won a big race and I could wait for the others to make the first move. It helped me to go into Liege with less pressure and be able to race more relaxed. I always go for the win, but to get a big victory was an important barrier to cross.”
VN: Was that week your best of your career?DR: “To wear the maglia rosa (in 1996), that’s big for any Italian racer. Winning those three big races in a row, that’s a big achievement. The biggest achievement of my career.”
VN: Was going for the World Cup a goal at the beginning of the season?DR: “Yes, it was one of the objectives in a season with many. After my strong spring, it become one of my top focuses. I raced only 10 days in the Giro and didn’t race the Tour in order to be strong in the second half of the season. The idea was to prepare for the Olympics and the world’s, but of course, that didn’t happen. Bettini was very strong, especially in the second half of the season. He came out of the Olympics stronger than I expected. I thought perhaps he would let up a little, but he remained very strong. Paris-Tours was not a good course for me. I felt like I lost the title there. I wanted a better result and I could sense that Bettini was getting stronger and I wasn’t.”
VN: Losing the World Cup then was just the final disappointment of the season?DR: “For sure, it was a major letdown, a big disillusion. To lose the jersey in the last race was the worst way to lose.”
VN: How much of a factor was the polemic over the world’s exclusion a factor?DR: “I think I lost the World Cup because of all those problems. I had to travel to Argentina, which is a long trip. I was there for one week trying to resolve the necessary paperwork. I just tried not to think about it, but I knew I was losing my form. It wasn’t the best preparation, to be traveling so far away, to miss important training time. It certainly influenced my performance at Lombardia.”
VN: When did you first learn you weren’t going to be selected for Athens?DR: “Just 20 days before the Games. The president of the Italian federation sent me a letter, saying I was being not invited for ‘technical reasons.’ I could never get a straight answer out of anyone. I honestly don’t know why. I don’t understand how the World Cup leader could be left out for technical reasons.”
VN: And what about the world’s?DR: “That was about three weeks before. When I saw that I wasn’t going to ride the world’s, I tried to find another solution. I know the president of the Argentine cycling federation. He used to race in Italy. He was the man who suggested I try to acquire an Argentine license to race in the world’s. I don’t have any relatives in Argentina or any connection to Argentina, but he said it might be possible to gain a passport.”
VN: It all came down to the wire, what happened?DR: “It was just all too rushed. I have a national identity card, but I didn’t have a passport. I still don’t have the passport. The national ID card wasn’t enough for the Italian federation or the UCI, that I be allowed to race for Argentina. The day before the final inscription for the world’s, it became obvious that the passport was not going to arrive in time.”
VN: Do you expect to get the passport any time soon?DR: “After the Tour Mediterranean, I will travel to Argentina. I have to go before the flag and make a statement of allegiance.”
VN: Would you race again for the Italian team if you were asked?DR: “No. From now on, I will only race for Argetina. Once I get the Argentine passport, I will not race again for Italy. I would like to compete in the Olympics in 2006 for Argentina.”
VN: How disappointing was it not to race the world’s?DR: “Very much so. I wanted to race before the fans because I was born in the province of Verona. I liked the course a lot. I think I could have done very well. All the polemics involving the world’s for sure cost me the World Cup. I couldn’t do the proper training. I went to Argentina for six days. It’s a long flight, some 10 hours.”
VN: Do you think it’s possible to repeat your season in 2005?DR: “To have the same success I had last year I believe is almost impossible. These are races I like very much, but what happened is once in a lifetime. I want to be able to do something good, but there are other races I can aim for as well. Milan-San Remo, Lombardia and the world’s – these are the most important races for me.”