Quite a weekend for Italian cycling - not only did the much loved Andrea Tafi nicknamed the “gladiatore” by his fans , defeat Leeuw van Vlaanderen, Johan Museeuw, and all other challengers to win the tour of Flanders , but his fellow Tuscany friend Mario Cipollini rode a brave race to keep his hold on the coveted World cup leaders jersey .
Tafi a veteran of the peloton made his professional debut way back in 1989 and since then he has been delighting fans world wide with his larger than life exploits both on and off the bike .A man who has always had the courage to for a long solo break , or be seen at the front of the peloton setting the pace for one of his Mapei team mates or riding to one of his famous victories would have done enough by just these exploits to win the respect of fans and fellow riders alike .However , Tafi also has a good natured , generous personality which he always seems willing to share regardless of the situation . In Langkawi he has almost legendary status - which when you consider his antics on stage 2 of the 1999 race is not surprising . The riders were lining up for the start of the stage while a brass band was jovially playing - suddenly Tafi was off his bike and conducting the band - much to the amusement of his fellow riders , the crowd and the band . Even yesterday when he emerged on the winners stage he turned to the crowd and gestured to them “is it all right if I stand on the podium” - even the biggest Museeuw fans could not help but cheer the smiling Tafi onto the podium.
Its also worth remembering that when brave Thijs was caught after his epic solo effort yesterday , which rider gently patted him on the back - you guessed it Tafi . Such gestures are noted and loved by fans of cycling world wide .
Not that Tafi is unused to winning the larger races . Three times winner of the “hell of the South “ the Giro del Lazio (1991,1996,and 1998) , the Giro.di Lombardy in 1996, in the Rochester Classic of 1997, in Paris-Roubaix of 1999 and Paris-Tours of the 2000 are included in a list of thirty victories .Following last season which was dogged by injury and sickness Tafi has been working hard to prepare for his Spring classics campaign The rider of Fucecchio has so far competed in the Tour Down Under (6 days of contest), the Tour de Langkawi (10), the Vuelta Valenciana (5), Paris-Nizza (8), the International Week of Coppi and Bartali (5) and the Three Days de Panne (3) . As Tafi explained yesterday about the secrets of his success -
: "Many sacrifices and a lot of hard work . From January I have raced on the roads of the world, in Australia, in Malaysia, everywhere just for good form in these races especially after the troubles of the last season, when I had too many injuries and too much illness .To be honest though my main aim was to win in Roubaix next Sunday again - then I could retire from the sport a happy man .However now at least I have won the Tour of Flanders , and my career in the Classic races is complete with victories in Roubaix, Paris -Bruxelles, Paris -Tours “.
Tafi then spoke of his victory "In order to help Nardello I had already attacked several times . This year the Mapei team is in great harmony. With four kilometres to go I was worried about the two Belgians and the sprint of the American Hincapie - I decided to attack again , knowing that Nardello would benefit if I was chased down .”
Last time Tafi won Roubaix the organisers gave him two cobble stones as opposed the normal one . One is on his mantelpiece - the other was used as a foundation stone in his newly built Tuscany Villa .
Wonder if Tafi can make it two victories but three pieces of pave this Sunday?