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Catching Up With The Gladiator
By Staff
Date: 6/8/2003
Catching Up With The Gladiator

By Tony Szurly

I had a chance to visit with Team CSCís Italian star Andrea Tafi on Thursday at the Trenton Classic, the second part of the Wachovia trifecta. Arriving at the staging area about an hour before the race start, I found the place buzzing with activity- riders warming up, mechanics running here and there with wheels and spare bikes, soigneurs getting the feed bags ready. As I came up on the CSC team car, I saw DS Johnny Weltz and was about to ask him if Tafi was going to ride tonight when I heard a voice coming from the back seat of their teamís minivan calling "Io Tifo Tafi!" It was Andrea himself, getting a kick out of my Tafi fan club T-shirt. He made a point of letting the other guys on the team know that he had fans everywhere, even here in the US.

He was still in team warmups and it was inside an hour before the start gun. I had brought Andrea a copy of the dayís La Gazzetta dello Sport, knowing he follows the Italian Serie A games pretty closely and I figured he would welcome some news from home. He was glad to get the paper and traded me a signed CSC cap. He turned to the cycling news section and quickly noticed that his buddy Michele Bartoli had pulled out of the Tour of Germany with congestion. Then Weltz came over and we talked briefly about the young French rider Salansonís recent death. He mentioned that it happens sometimes to even young healthy riders. When I said I felt particularly bad for his roommate and friend Sylvain Chavanel because I thought it would really affect Chavanelís performance in the upcoming Tour, Weltz said that sometimes things like this make a person even stronger.

Andrea said he was happy to be back racing in the United States; he hadnít been here since 1997 when he came over with Mapei. He mentioned that he liked the friendly people and enjoyed the Philadelphia course. He said the races here were particularly important as the head of the CSC US operation was at the races this week and that team boss Bjarne Riis was also in town looking to court a potential US sponsor. We talked about his new website and I gave him a hard time because it never gets updated. I told him I would put some pictures from the US races up on my website.

It's amazing what a few months of being on this new team has done for Andreaís English, it was great to finally speak to him in English and not French like the last couple of times I saw him. Although CSC is a Danish team, the language of the team is English - most of the Danes already speak good English, they also have Julian Dean, a Kiwi and only the two Italians (Tafi and Andrea Peron). Johnny Weltz speaks Italian and Joseph, one of the team soigneurs, is Italian.

I guess when youíve been around the block as much as Tafi, a 15 year veteran of professional cycling, little things like warming up and signing on are part of a long-established personal routine. He was just about the last guy to sign in and practically put on his kit just minutes before the scheduled start, knowing there would be a long delay of pre-race activities and announcements before the actual race would begin.

It didnít seem to be a problem because on the first 6 mile lap of the 91 mile race, Il Tafone went to the front and dragged the entire peloton along State Street at 30 miles per hour. Maybe this was his way of warming up! The CSC team did a phenomenal job of controlling the race from the front, placing Lars Michaelsen in one break and then, later on, coming to the front to pull back any attacks. With his display of power today,

I still canít figure out why Riis does not think Tafiís horsepower would be an asset to Tyler Hamiltonís GC bid at the upcoming Tour de France. Tafi is a guy that can drag along the whole bunch for hours on end. The race action has been described elsewhere, suffice to say that CSC made sure it was revved up enough in the closing laps so that guys were being shelled out the back even on the downwind leg! Julian Dean repaid his teammates in the best way possible with a full field sprint finish win. The race was run in course record time, less than 3 hours for the 91 miles! I overheard a guy from the Jittery Joeís team talking about the race, shaking his head in disbelief at the way Tafi was hammering along at over 30 miles an hour and carrying on a conversation while he was literally on the rivet with his tongue hanging out.

Morale in the team after the race was pretty high, with two wins out of two races, important UCI points and some great exposure in their US market. Tafi had finished third in the sprints competition for some extra cash.

Back at the cars, while Julian was off to the podium presentation, Joseph was giving the guys their post-race rubdowns, some drinks and food. Tafi rolled up, couldnít find a place to put his bike in the crush of people and handed it to me. I took it and carefully laid his #38 team issue Cervelo next to Julianís bike. Andrea signed a bunch of autographs for his fans and made plans for the rest day tomorrow. He asked me if I could bring a paper by the hotel (which is only about 2 hours from my house) Yeah, right! See you Sunday, Andrea.

Visit Tony's excellent Andrea Tafi website "Io Tifo Tafi" here.

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