|"I am not a pure climber, not a powerful all-rounder, and not even one of the fastest guys in the peloton". It sounds like the perfect self-portrait of an average rider, meant to work hard inside the bunch, but never have particularly outstanding performances, while the big names are enjoying all the fame and glory (and money). Right ?
Wrong ! The man we are talking about is Alessio's Pietro Caucchioli indeed. Not a true mountain goat, not a Cipo-like sprinting machine, not a one-day race sensation. But a solid rider, able to capture two stages in 2001, and a podium spot one year later, in such a difficult race as the Giro d'Italia, where he even battled for second place overall with hot favourite Tyler Hamilton, handing it over just in the decisive, penultimate leg, the ITT into Monticello Brianza.
And there is no doubt about the fact that the Tour of Italy has been the turning point in the career of this 27-year-old from Veneto: after surprising everyone and making himself known by soloeing to victory twice in 2001, the Italian did even better in the 2002 edition, when he managed to climb the podium.
Some said he got such a good result only because the likes of Simoni and Garzelli weren't around any longer, but you can't say Caucchioli is wrong when the guy, interviewed by "Gazzetta dello Sport", replies that "You know, if you want to climb the podium you have to get to Milan. And I often managed to stay with the best riders even on the climbs too, which was enough for me to prove I was even better than in previous years".
Improving. Always doing something better than what you did in the past. This are the key words to describe a rider whose strong points perhaps are not his climbing or sprinting kills, but definitely an extraordinary motivation, determination, and spirit of sacrifice.
Features constantly leading him to think that what he has accomplished so far is not enough, to search for more and better results, and to tell the Gazzetta journalist that "the "secret" of my achievements is perseverance, is trying and working towards my goals. That's why I have already started my build-up for next year's Giro too. I have full confidence in my personal trainer, Sergio Gelati, a man I have been working with for five years.
He has always followed me and built my training plans, we continuously keep in touch with each other, as I really want to do things in the best possible way. You know, cycling is passion, but also a job, and you have to work hard in order to get good results in your job. Even more when you are not a pure talent. So I have to start working now if I want to do better in the next season"
And what are the main targets of this hard-working man, whose self-confidence has grown year after year, for the next season ? The Giro comes first of course "I’d be happy if I could repeat the good results achieved in the past, and show that I even got a little better than in previous years; improving doesn't mean winning the race, but at least getting a podium place again, no matter which one, perhaps after being a serious contender for overall victory. But my serious bid for the Giro title should come in 2004. I think I may be ready to go for the overall win by that year". Sounds like the hard-working man has accurately planned everything.
But which of his skills does he think he should work on, in order to become a real GC threat in 2004 ? "Well, if you look at last year's Giro, you may notice how in the final week Savoldelli dropped me on the Passo Coe ascent (it was the last climb of the uphill stage finishing into Folgaria) and was better than me in the decisive Time-trial too. So I must say that I should improve both my climbing and time-trialling skills. And perhaps both a specifical work on these features, and my natural, physical growth, will help".
There's another factor anyway: team support. The last Tour of Italy provided a further proof of the importance of being helped by teammates: whereas Tyler Hamilton was givren full assistance by the whole CSC-Tiscali squad, that helped him when he needed to change his bike, set a fast pace on a climb or simply regain the peloton after losing more than a minute on the Marmolada, and their ploy worked, Alessio's tactics were perhaps detrimental to the team instead: no clear leader, too many presumed captains going on solo, "suicidal" breakaway attempts, instead of giving proper support to Caucchioli. A good strategy for stage wins, but not to get a rider higher in the Overall Ranking.
But the man from Verona doesn't seem to blame his team that much "I believe in my team. I know them well, and Sport Director Bruno Cenghialta believes in my chances too. In current cycling there are just two real team leaders, Armstrong and Cipollini. Elsewhere it's the most in-form rider at the moment that becomes team captain. And Alessio is no exception to the rule".
Pietro Caucchioli - Biographical notes: Born in Bovolone (Verona province, Italy) on August 28, 1975. Turned pro in 1999 with AMICA CHIPS-TACCONI SPORT. The same year he clinched his first win, in the fourth and final stage of Giro della Provincia di Lucca" from Seravezza to Lucca over 165 km. He was part of a successful breakaway, and powered to victory from Lithuania's Arturas Kasputis and Italy's Diego Ferrari of Riso Scotti. The following year Caucchioli didn't grab any victories instead.
But in 2001 he moved to Alessio, and his Giro d'Italia showdown began. First with a sensational win in the eight leg of the contest (Montecatini Terme-Reggio Emilia), when he soloed to victory thanks to a powerful attack in the last kms. of racing, claiming the stage by a 33-second margin over a chasing peloton led home by Davide Rebellin (one more time a runner-up !), and also featuring the likes of Giuliano Figueras and "Lucky" Pérez Cuapio.
Caucchioli's aggressive attitude earned hm a second stage victory less than two weeks later, when he took the "Circuito dei Fiori" (also known as Stage 17) by edging out Portuguese revelation José Azevedo in a two-man sprint, with Jan Ullrich having his only good result so far in the Giro by taking third at 27". But that was the stage finishing into San Remo, and what happened a few hours later (Carabinieri raiding team hotels, banned substsances found, doping scandals following etc.) overshadowed Caucchioli's outstanding achievement.
In 2002 the man didn't grab andy Giro stage, but finished third overall, after moving up to second place in the Folgaria leg, and losing it to American Tyler Hamilton in the last Time-Trial only. No stage wins in the Tour of Italy, but an important success a few weeks earlier in Spain's Vuelta a Aragón, where he soloed to victory in the third leg of the competition, an hilly stage from Alcorisa to Estación de Valdelinares (174 km), where our man left mountain goats such as Piepoli, Aitor Osa, Escartín.and Sevilla behind. Not bad at all for the typical "I'm not a climber" guy.