Cycling sponsorship in Italy is so deliciously old school. Not for them all this buzz talk of eyeballs, return on investment and so forth or because someone in the marketing department has identified cyclists and cycling fans as a suitable bunch of saps and suckers, instead companies that sponsor women’s cycling teams seem to be there for the old fashioned motives of giving something back to the community and because cycling is the big boss’s favourite sport. Maybe these sorts of companies don’t tend to have so much cash to splash out, but when the going gets tough they stick around. Italy always seems to have half a dozen or so teams supported in various hyphenated permutations by the same twenty or so sponsors. The focus is on one or two star names supported by a smallish core group of domestiques who live close to the team HQ, then backed up by part-timers and students at various points in the season. Results-wise that means that a season can get judged as a success or a failure depending on how well the star riders avoid injury, but I suspect that the team and sponsors can point to all sorts of other benefits that we outsiders miss.
In that regard, Team Gauss-RDZ-Ormu are the perfect paradigm. They’ve been around for a few years now, previously as Team FRW – Gauss, but things never seemed to click properly. Not for any one single reason that I can find, it’s just been a succession of nearly-theres, not-quites and if-onlys. Luperini was their star rider in 2005 but missed much of the season. Likewise did Giorgia Bronzini and Modesta Vzesniauskaite in 2006. Last year they had both world champion-to-be Tatiana Guderzo and Italian champion-to-be Monia Baccaille on their books at the start of the season, but both of those left mid-year, leaving Julia Martisova and Edita Pucinskaite as the only riders on the team to crack the top fifty of the world rankings. Bronzini clearly doesn’t hold any grudges because she’s back again this year. And are the management discouraged? Unlikely, since if anyone knows about grinding away for years out of the spotlight it is DS Luisiana Pegoraro, who won a stage in each of the Giro and Grande Boucle back in the nineties but spent far more time at the unglamorous end of the peloton. What’s more the management issued a very positive press release noting all their successes in 2009: 22 victories, 27 second places and 20 3rd places.
That video at the top was taken at this year’s team presentation and introduces the whole squad. If you want something a bit more dramatic, then this one was shot during the official photoshoot. Of that squad, these are the names I reckon you should be watching out for this season
Giorgia Bronzini. Undisputed team leader and part-time lumberjack. Or to be more precise an Agent for the Gruppo Sportivo Forestale. Beyond that she is one of the top sprinters in the women’s peloton with a massive number of wins and podium places going right back to her break-out moment in the 2003 Giro di Toscana - Memorial Michela Fanini where she took three stage wins. In recent years she’s been a bit pushed aside by Teutenberg and Wild (look for example at this year’s Tour of Qatar where she took one win and two second places in the three stage race but still lost the overall after Cervelo used their team strength to dominate the intermediate sprints and gain those vital bonus seconds). She’s also a trackie in winter, 2009 world points champion and a good bet for getting another rainbow jersey either there or in the scratch race at some point in the future.
Martine Bras. A tulip in the azzurra garden, aka the Northern Branch of Gauss (and in these straightened times a small part of me wonders how much that is down to the "can we all crash at your place when we race in Belgium" factor), Martine is a great one day rider caught for the moment in that Poulidor trap of being for too long the gallant runner-up. Second place in this year’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda, on the heels of second places in Tielt-Winge and Wanze sums up how the last couple of years have gone for her. Martine is also, according to the bio on her site and for the benefit of travelling antipodeans looking for an ice-breaker, a lover of all things New Zealand where she spent six months in the late nineties.
Edita Pucinskaite. Edita first rode in the Worlds back in ’93, was winner of the Grande Boucle in ’98, the World Champion in ’99, and the Giro in ’06 and ’07. the RAI commentators were only half joking when they greeted her victory in the first stage of last year’s Giro with the words " here comes Peter Pan." OK Lithuania is very strong in women’s cycling, and this interview with escapee Alona Andruk gives some hints on how they do it. "From childhood your whole life is organised by your trainers and based around two or three sessions a day. If you get a day off you certainly won’t spend it with friends your own age." Even so, that can’t explain how she’s spent almost twenty years at the front of the peloton.
Julia Martisova. Another veteran, but one who has taken a few career breaks over the years, she was the team’s GC rider in the late season stage races. If she was on VDS she’d be Martin Elmiger; someone you never see, hear or read about, but who mysteriously scores lots of points over the season.
It’s not a bad collection of riders, but not bad doesn’t count for much when you line up alongside HTC and Cervelo.