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Federico Morini Returns to the Pro Peloton
 
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 5/24/2008
Federico Morini Returns to the Pro Peloton
 

Federico Morini Returns to the Pro Peloton
Sidelined by a training accident in 2001, after a successful debut year with Gerolsteiner, Federico Morini never gave up hope to return to complete health and a professional cycling career.

Do you want to recap what happened?
In December 2001 I had a terrible accident. I fell on a descent and suffered serious damage to my vertebra, spinal column and the medulla. I was diagnosed as being permanently paralyzed but I didn’t accept this and after months and months of exercise I managed to get back on my feet and also back on my bike!  I had the energy, the determination, the desire to succeed: but the physical conditions were lacking. I returned to being a perfect man but not a perfect athlete. Sadness, tears, desperation: but my priority has to be my life, I told myself.

From about mid 2004, with intensive therapy I cultivated the idea of returning to racing. I never gave up the goal of returning to 100% health and the highest level of competition.

I'm ready now all I need is a chance to prove my self.


Federico "Fred" Morini

So when did you start bike racing? Did your family influence you?

Fred: I was 7 years old and raced with a local team; my dad was a cyclist and my brother as well, it's the reason of my career. Neither were professionals,  but my brother was a very good grimpeur (climber) during the Pantani epoch.

So did cycling come easy to you and did you have immediate success?

Fred: I was a good rider from the start. My first race in the youth category I finished 4th, after that a few good victory's. My favorite sport when I young was soccer, but I was jealous of my brother and I had the  choice to stop it and start cycling, which I did.

So when did the dream of becoming a professional rider come for you and start your life long passion?

Fred: I realized I could become a professional around 1998. I was ranked as one of the top ten under 23 riders at the time in Italy. I was on the national team with Basso, Di Luca, Nocentini, Giordani, etc.

What team in Italy did you ride for as a U23? Did you have a mentor or teacher during that time?

Fred: I was very close to signing a contract for Riso Scotti (Riso Scotti - MG Maglificio) with Di Luca after worlds in Valkenburg in Holland, but the team one month later gave me a call to say the budget was reduced because of losing sponsors after many doping scandals... I had to race as amateur one more year for Mapei young team! and yes, I was racing around all Europe...

So by the end of 99 you were still looking for a contract; and now in your final year as a under 23 rider  Out of the Mapei team a lot of great riders went to the pro ranks?

 Fred: Yes but I was in the young team, of course many good riders in there as well. one of the strongest young team in Europe! We gained lots of victories.

Did you become a stagiare with Gerolsteiner... in 2000 before you signed a contract with them for 2001... Do you have any victories during your U23 period that are favorites of yours?

Fred: Yes, I have won some races before my stint as a stagiare, and then rode the full season 2001! Anyway, in '99 I raced with my Mapei young team in some professional races as well. In the Milano-Tortona - Città d'Empoli and Tour of Marche region stage 3 the hardest; of course I have more victories during that period.

Regards a mentor, I have to say thanks to my own coach, Mr. David Mariani he did a lot to support me and encourage me to do the best to become a pro... I worked very hard under his vision.

With these victories of course, you gained the attention of Gerolsteiner and their D.S. and signed with them in the winter of 2000 for your neo pro ride in 2001.

Fred: I signed the contract at the Camaiore Grand Prix in August, I went there to meet Mr. Hans-Michael Holczer, the team manager, I was very close to signing for an Italian team also, but sometimes Italian's are a bit slow to decide.

So finally the dream that started when you were young came true; and  you opened your pro account in 2001 in the tour of Austria on Stage 3 Österreich-Rundfahrt, Bad Hofgastein. Please tell me about that race and how you felt after.

Fred: I was not feeling so good from the start, on the first long climb of the day I dropped off the back; but I was very motivated to get in the bunch! My team director came to me to say: if you don't feel good at the feed zone you can jump in the team car... I would not hear of it, so I rode that climb by my self, on the top I crossed the line with 30" gap and after a good descent I got back in the peloton. Just then, I got the choice to attack, the idea was to anticipate the second long climb of the day.

I went alone, but after 10 km a small group caught me. I rode with the group most of the stage. With 10 kms to go I dropped off again from the lead group that included Pelizzotti, Casagrande, and 4 more riders... all strong riders who lived in front. After another good descent I got back in the small escape at the front again and went by self again... I won the race with a small gap!!!

Fantastic! Wow you beat Francesco Casagrande in his prime!

Fred: I felt like the strongest man in the world on that day, I told myself, "now you are a good pro rider Fred."I forgot all the bad days of my career I had before of that day.  I won over talented pro riders, Pelizzoti , Casagrande, etc on the final result they still write Casagrande Filippo, he's Francesco's brother but I beat the real "Big House"!!

So you finished the 2001 season with hopes for 2002 and your second year with Gerolsteiner who must have been happy with you. Holczer must have had confidence in your talent and future as Gerolsteiner as he signed you to a 3 year contract. And in 2002 Davide Rebellin joined the team, did you know Davide at the time?

Fred: Yes, I knew Davide before, the cycling world is very small... we often did the same races. Before the day of my accident Mr. Holczer asked me to sign a new contract until the end of 2004 plus the option for the season 2005. the team was on the way to get bigger and bigger, year by year.

Yes, I think the team were happy with me and we started to talk about at long term together. I was training in December, 2001 I was descending a climb not too far from my home town (Citta di Castello, Perugia) I crashed and went over the guardrail to the ravine below, it was a bad experience. I didn't realize that it was a bad fall, but it was and I lost sensitivity immediately in my limbs. Fortunately there were not too many rocks or maybe I wouldn't be here today.

It was hard to reach for my mobile phone with no feeling in my arms; I got it out of my jerseys back pockets almost a hour later... I called the police station and found me more than 1 hr later. I arrived at the hospital 3 hours after the fall, it wasn't that far really, only ten minutes drive, but the ambulance driver was careful to not cause things to worsen from vibrations... the time to make the transfer felt like two hours.

What was your reaction after the crash, while you waited to be helped? Did you lose consciousness, did you realize you were paralyzed at the time? How did you feel.

Fred: I realized what had happened. I thought I was paralyzed... but I also thought maybe it's just a physical reaction after a bad fall, thinking and hoping it was just shock!!! I became very confused, screaming help! None was found in the area as it is a small mountain road and not many cars drive through there often.

At 8 pm that night you saw the first doctor? During that time did you suffer a head injury or go into a coma?

Fred: I didn't meet with my doctors until the evening; nurses came in to check with me but they had no idea of what happened to me. Finally the doctors came and told me that I had fractured several vertebra, and suffered serious damage to my spinal column and shock to the medulla. They also told me I suffered 70% paralysis of my body, and would never walk again. Fortunately I didn't fall into coma then I just had pains in my neck and head. 

How quickly did you recover; or start to have a return of feelings to your legs and arms? Did your condition as a pro help your recovery?

Fred: More than a few months to start to have some feeling in my left leg; my arms had feelings right away but it was slow controlling them.

Sport and cycling in this case, gave me help. Cycling training is very hard, many hours on the bike, different physical conditions in 4-5-6 hours, maybe I would feel good at the start and so bad three hours later. I might feel like stopping somewhere to get some rest; but when you are racing, you can't do that. Cycling was the best experience to beat pain and depression. Cycling has been a great life school. During the time of the injury all I learned training and racing taught me to insist on not giving up. 

In April I asked my team to race again, I was so afraid to lose my place in the team. They needed me, I was young and worried about what the team thought; I returned to race in France without enough training just some rides on the wind trainer. But, you cannot believe how slow I was; the team didn't know all of that. Talking by phone, I told them that I felt good, but it wasn't true. I know it's stupid, but I was  very very worried. I had thoughts that maybe the team was looking for another good young rider. The team is a German team and I am Italian and it made me wonder if that would make a difference.

My doctor wasn't 100% happy to see me racing again; he told me to wait a few more months, but that wasn't possible from my point of view. The team was very close to me the first two months, after that time I didn't get many calls or emails from them... I started to think they forgot me already! Things were tough at that point.

Ok Fred, that's only four months of recovery how did you return to racing go.

I wanted to honor my contract, but what I did at the time was stupid. I had lost some muscle, I hadn't the training to or conditioning  to race again; I needed more time to prepare. In my first race back, I abandoned the race after just 50km... I just wasn't strong enough after the time off the bike.  My name was on the Amstel gold race start list, I got the start there because the team needed a rider, I still wasn't prepared. I had tremendous pain in my back and I missed physiotherapy that would have helped me return to form, because I traveled to the race to honor my contract.

In 2003 you retired from racing and wrote your book "Le Braccia al Cielo" (Arms Outstretched) to tell your story of the accident and return to health. Did you want to retire at 27 ? Or did you still want an opportunity to race professionally?

Yes I retired from racing in year 2003, I didn't want to, but many doctors told me I needed more time to recover to 100%. 10 hard days on the bike and then 20 days off with much pain, wasn't helping. I didn't intend to  retire forever. I wanted another opportunity toward the end of 2003 or for 2004. I realized that cycling is full of people who didn't have faith in my ability to return to full health.

I was diagnosed as being permanently paralyzed; but I never accepted it, and after months and months of exercise I managed to get back on my feet and also back on my bike! From about mid 2004, with intensive therapy I cultivated the idea of going back to racing. I had the energy, the determination, the desire to succeed; but the physical conditions were lacking. I returned to being a perfect man but not a perfect athlete. Sadness, tears, desperation: but my priority has to be my life, I told myself. I never gave up the goal of returning to 100% health and the highest level of competition.

All I've wanted since is a chance to prove myself on a team and in competition.

Many team directors told me to look for a sponsor if I wanted to race again... I didn't understand why.  I was good two years earlier and so bad later... it was very hard to hear. I didn't stop racing because I was involved in doping; I had an accident, I missed the respect. Many riders returned to racing after a long suspension and were given a second chance to prove themselves; maybe that's right, but what about a rider who suffered time off because of an injury. Didn't he deserve a second chance to prove himself?


Fred warming up...

I understand you never stopped riding and training, work on cycle tours and training camps. What else did you do during this time. Do you feel you have returned to a physical condition where you can race with no problem at the pro level?

I always believed that I could recover well and be a strong rider again. I did many things during these last years. I got work in cycling as guide for bikestyletours.com (great people), I worked as a commentator work for Italian radio and Eurosport Italy, I worked as Davide Rebellin PR officer and some work for Gerolsteiner. I also worked as a cycling events organizer... and much more; but most of this in cycling.

I am also involved in the family business, we run shops for motorcyclists and car components, we also repair cars... but my life is cycling. I want to be a pro rider again and help people improve on the bike ( as I already do at camps and bike tours) and get more young people into cycling sport.

Over the years I continued treatments to return to complete health. I was lucky to get support and help in my recovery. I want to give special thanks to Doctor Fabbri my physiotherapist and Dr. Ivol Pulcini, he's a doctor for the Giro d'Italia as well. They both always believed on me! I was tested and given a full doctors approval to race. I think I can be strong  rider again... of course I need someone to give me the opportunity and test me in racing so I can prove myself.

How would you describe yourself as a rider then and now? A climber, one day rider or all around rider that could show well in stage races?

I am a good rider for hard one day races... I can do well in Belgian races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Fleche Wallone or Amstel Gold, Tour of Lombardia... a typical Spring classics rider. Of course I am also good for short stage races as well, but not the long climbs as you find in the Alps.

Didn't you sign with Agisko/Dart/CyclingTV for 2007?

I was close to signing a contract in 2006 with a team in Italy, but when the time came the team had lost sponsors due to the doping controversies and the team didn't have the funding for me and other riders. The adventure with Agisko didn't work out. I had hoped that it would lead to a return to racing and in the future perhaps a team directors job, it didn't.

I understand you have some news regarding a team for 2008 and a return to pro racing in the USA can you tell us about it and when you will return?

I have signed a deal for a small elite team in the USA, Richimond Pro Cycling based in Virginia. It's a chance to test me again finally. I am so happy to be racing for an American team soon. I start in June. In the past I asked the European teams; but nothing good came up, so I started thinking about a new cycling world the USA. Your country in the last years has done very well in cycling, Armstrong is the best example; but he's not unique or the only good rider from your country. I just think US cycling needs more promotion to become one of the biggest sport in the country, and perhaps the strongest cycling country!

I want thank all the people of Richmond Pro Cycling as they had faith and trust in me. I know this may not have been easy, after my 4 years not racing, but I presume they understood all I have felt during this long time of recovery and desire to return to the sport.

I still have something to show, and they feel I can do well and show some good results. It's very important to me. We arranged a short term deal: 2 months racing with them. During this time we will see what I can do; if I can race well and stay in pro category many more years. I will arrive in Virginia around the first week of June and start racing with them near the middle of the month.

I wish my story will help the team and riders, giving them additional motivation. Of course, I hope my story will motivate more people of your country to ride a bike. Cycling has taught me to believe in and do as much as I can to share the activity with others.

Is there still A Gran Fondo bearing your name?

Yes on June 2nd. I will race in it before I fly to the United States to start with the team. I will also be at the last 10 days of the Giro d'Italia to guide Australian and American guests with www.bikestyletours.com. It will also give me a chance to ride in the Alps and continue my training so I am in form for my racing debut in the America. (Fred has been increased his training intensity for the last month after signing with Richmond Pro Cycling.)

Richmond Pro Cycling Team Press Release:
Richmond Pro Cycling is set to make its mark in 2008. Coming off a weekend of dominating team performances in Virginia, the team announced that it had signed former Gerolsteiner standout, Federico Morini of Italy. Team Manager Craig Dodson was inspired by Morini's comeback to racing in 2002, as well as a reputation among former teammates as a true professional. Dodson added that, "Fred has strong ties to Virginia and his palmarès alone would be enough for this team, but Fred's natural rapport with youth make him an ideal addition."

Morini, who was forced to retire in 2003 after a serious training accident, will provide the team with added depth in stage races, not to mention an enormous base of experience for the younger riders on the team. From his perspective, Morini indicated he was excited about joining the team and intended to make the most of the opportunity.

Resources
Fred Morini web site
Richmond Pro Cycling Team

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