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Bortolami and Balducci
 
By Podofdonny
Date: 4/4/2002
Bortolami and Balducci
 

Bortolami and Balducci

Last years winner of the Tour of Flanders - should not be discounted for Sundays great race ....

The Tacconi Sport-Emmegi team will have high hopes on Sunday when their two gladiators of the pave Bortolami and Balducci return to defend the Tacconi crown.

Here are a couple of early season reports by Fabio and myself on two hard men of world cycling .

Enjoy - and remember to tune in for live ticker on the great race!

Bortolami 
Born at Locate Triulzi in 1968, Gianluca became a professional in 1990 with the Italian team, Diana. Steadily improving results (8 victories in four years) and better teams (Colnago and Lampre) saw him sign for Mapei. The 1994 season was a major triumph. Seven victories, including two victories in the world cup (and overall), and a stage in the Tour de France. It seemed that Bortolami (then 26) would become the next legend of Italian one day racing.

Injury and illness then decided to step in.

Following an operation to remove a rod in his arm, after a fracture of the ulna in December 96, Bortolami said, "Stop start, stop restart ... I want to erase 1995 and 1996." Sadly, while training for his new team Festina in Feb 1997 he tangled with a pedestrian and injured his shoulder. If not in plaster, poor ol' Bortolami has suffered everything health wise from blood poisioning to unwanted cysts.

There are however, more psychological blows to the mental state of the pro - racer too. After his brave victory in the Coppa Bernocchi in 1997 like Armstrong before him and Belli since, he raised his index finger to the sky in memory and tribute to Fabio Casartelli. He later said "He was in front of me when he fell at the Tour. A picture that remains in my mind. I have been scared since then".

With typical Bortolami luck (if he didn't have bad luck he would have no luck at all) although not riding in the Tour as a member of the team he got dragged into the infamous Festina Affair.

This season the winning ways have returned. As a confident Bortolami says "It does prove that everytime I race I show courage. I have had four great victories this year - and I want to improve on that for next season - I still believe I can win the World Cup. Even at 33 years old you still get almost a month between the important races - how much recovery time do you need? - I'm not that old!"

Bortolami then commented on his team mates and picked out Gabriele Balducci: "He is obviously improving and has demonstrated he is able to compete at the highest levels in the Classics. It is very comfortable, having a team mate able to share the workload in the last few kilometres of such races. If Balducci continues to progress at this level, it will be to our mutual benefit".

Balducci

Here are Fabio's comments on Balducci at around the same time ( Dec. 2001):

Italy's Gabriele Balducci, riding for Tacconi-Sport-Vini Caldirola, is definitely not one of the most famous stars in the international peloton. In spite of his five wins in the same number of years spent among the pros, he has often been neglected by fans and commentators, perhaps due to his own faults: the lack of experience and also a certain lack of trust in himself.


Also the exploits of other similar, young and promising riders such as Alessandro Petacchi (Balducci's teammate at Fassa-Bortolo last year) overshadowed him a little. But now, at least according to what Balducci said to Gazzetta dello Sport's Fabrizio Salvio, seems the 26-year-old Tuscan has got the necessary experience and a major self-confidence, and can start to think big, hoping to hit the target he likes the most: a victory in one of the World Cup Classics.

A good help and a morale boost came from the results he got in some World Cup races in 2001: he ranked 7th at Milan-San Remo, 14th at the Tour of Flanders, and 13th in Hamburg at the middle of August. In the opening race of the UCI World Cup, Balducci managed to catch the likes of Casagrande and Savoldelli on the Cipressa ascent; in the Flemish competition he managed to stay with the best riders until the end; in Germany he even tried to follow the example set by Missaglia in the previous year: he launched a powerful attack with 4 kms. to go, but his legs weren't as good as Missaglia's and the poor Tuscan didn't succeed. Nonetheless all these memories of 2001 will likely help him to be more hopeful and daring next year.


Balducci is perfectly aware that making his dream of a World Cup race victory come true won't be that easy, but he told the Gazzetta's journalist that now he has got all the necessary "qualifications" to do well in the big races whose course particularly suits him.


But what does the man prefer ? A "home win" at Milan-San Remo or a prestigious triumph in any Belgian Spring Classic ? The Caldirola's one-day racer admitted winning Milan-San Remo is one of his most important dreams, but also said that, even if before 2001 the Italian Classic was his #1 target, this year he had the chance to take part in the Tour of Flanders and, after such an experience, he would even prefer the tougher Belgian race to the "Primavera".

And after mentioning the Tour of Flanders, it's hard to avoid talking about Gianluca Bortolami, winner of the Flemish race in 2001, and Caldirola's leader for the Classics. So does young Gabriele Balducci consider Bortolami an experienced rider that could help him, and teach him a lot, or is the Tour of Flanders' winner a dangerous rival for the team's leadership in one-day races?

"He's definitely not a rival," Balducci said without any doubts, adding that, "He can be of help to me, thanks not only to his experience, but also to his temperament: he's strong and determined guy, and I hope he may give part of his determination to me, I would certainly need it".

Will Balducci's dreams come true in 2002 ? Will he succeed in making himself a little more known? Let's wait and see what happens, beginning from February 13, when he should be at the startline of the Tour of the Mediterranean, followed by Tirreno-Adriatico (March 14 to 20), Milan-San Remo (March 23) and several northern spring Classics (Tour of Flanders, Gand-Welvelgem, Paris-Roubaix, Fleche Wallonne and Amstel Gold Race, excluding only LBL, whose tough route doesn't suit his features).

He could (not sure, though) also take part in the Tour de France, while the August World Cup races in Zurich and Hamburg are definitely part of his programs. And finally the Worlds in Belgium, whose easy course looks like being quite appropriate for Balducci "And I want to keep riding until October, as a spot in Italy's National team is one of my targets for 2002" he said. Good Luck to him!

A brief Bio of the MAN:

BORN in Pontedera (close to Pisa) on November, the 3rd, 1975.

PRO since 1997

TEAMS:
1997: CERAMICHE REFIN;
1998: SCRIGNO - BLUE STORM;
1999: NAVIGARE;
2000: FASSA - BORTOLO ;
2001-2002: TACCONI SPORT - VINI CALDIROLA;

WINS:
1997: ALESSIO CUP;
1998: 1 STAGE TIRRENO ADRIATICO;
1999: Giro Lago Maggiore + 1 stage Tour of Slovenia;
2000: No wins;
2001: 1 Stage (Stage 4) Tour of the Mediterranean


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