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BMC director Sciandri tries to revive famous Italian team

Max Sciandri, a sport director for BMC Racing, wants to form a development team under the S.S. Aquila name, based near Tuscany.

MILAN (VN) — Tuscany has produced famous wines, artists, and writers — and gave birth to cycling greats like Gino Bartali. His name lives on and so does his first team, S.S. Aquila from Florence’s outskirts in Ponte a Ema. BMC Racing’s sports director Max Sciandri, also from the area, is trying to take it to another level with class and style, and he needs to find support.

After racing professionally, Sciandri led the young British development program from his home in Quaratta and joined BMC Racing, where he looked after upcoming stars like Taylor Phinney. He wants to remain with the American WorldTour team while helping give new life to S.S. Aquila, or “Team Eagle.”

Looking over his troops in the Vuelta a España, Sciandri saw Pete Kennaugh ride by to the stage start. Kennaugh rode for the British Academy program, which worked so well in teaching young cyclists how to race, but also how to live and train correctly. Team Sky began with many of those riders on its roster and spun off the Wiggins team, which has a style of its own thanks to Rapha and Bradley Wiggins. These things, and of course the love for cycling, get Sciandri’s motor running.

VeloNews caught up with Sciandri this week at the Spanish grand tour.

VN: You are the vice president of the current club, a beginner’s team that Daniel Oss rode for. Why is it so special?
MS: The team is called S.S. Aquila and it was the team of Gino Bartali. Just the jersey on its own is an icon. If you see that black jersey with the white stripe — which now looks so retro and cool — you just stop in your tracks.

VN: Is it well known in Italy?
MS: The jersey, it’s a historic jersey. But there’s more to it than just that image, I want to have a young riders development program, a little bit like the British development program that used to exist.

VN: And a little bit like Bradley Wiggins’ team?
MS: Yes, a little bit like Wiggins’ team. A few years ago in the Tour of Britain, Wiggins and I were sitting down at the table and he was telling me how he wanted to start his team and I was telling him how I want to start my team — we both had the same dream.

VN: Italy still has its crisis. Is the money there to do it?
MS: I think there would be if you met up with the right person, you could find the money in Italy or from the U.S. or U.K., from anyone who would want to support this project. In Italy, we lack someone with these new ideas and a team to help riders develop. Right now, the young talent is there but they don’t arrive to the top because of the lack of a development system. It’s a flawed amateur system, where they only think about winning. Instead, I want to create a long-term project, where we are developing the riders and we have an image, respect.

VN: Would this be at the continental, under-23 level?
MS: We’d start in the under-23 level and then after a few years maybe we would promote the team.

VN: How much money would you need?
MS: To start with you need 400,000 to 500,000 euros [about $500,000]. That’s what you need to do something that’s very low-key but still having something that’s professionally run with the physiotherapist and a nutritionist. And it needs to be an English-speaking team because many times we come across the Italians who are growing up in the sport and can’t even speak English, and cycling is becoming an Anglo-Saxon sport.

VN: Would it be based in Tuscany but with English-speaking directors?
MS: Yes, but the team will be based around Tuscany and the riders will need to live there. My idea is particular, like what they do in football or basketball, where you have a management company and the team continues despite sponsors coming and going. Right now, you see team Tinkoff folding and the castle melts into the sand. Instead, the castle should remain.

VN: This is your dream, your long-term project while you’re still working at BMC racing?
MS: It’s the dream that I have. Maybe in the next years I would continue to work with BMC but have some people on the side helping me develop the team. That would give me a way to keep my feet on the ground and see how it works as it becomes more important, then I would join full-time. But you don’t need many people to help run it right away, just the right people. It would be based around a social media image, but the image would be this historic jersey of the Gino Bartali club. If the young riders see that, they’ll want to join and will want to help make the project real.

VN: How many riders would you have in the team?
MS: About 10 to 12. We would only have one race program, not multiple race programs. It’s true that many times you’re not really learning when you’re at the races, it’s when you are doing these blocks of training and development with the riders, that’s where you learn. It will be a team of 10 to 12 riders and a staff of five to six people. With that, you’d be set off well.