Stefano Garzelli threatens retirement after Acqua & Sapone’s Giro d’Italia non-invitation
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stefano Garzelli threatens retirement after Acqua & Sapone’s Giro d’Italia non-invitation

by Ben Atkins at 3:53 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia
 
Sponsor considers walking away as Team NetApp gets the nod ahead of 2011 mountain jersey winner

stefano garzelliThe sound of jaws dropping could be heard all over the cycling World when the Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport announced the four wildcard teams for May’s race this afternoon. The loudest of those thuds came from Team NetApp, who couldn’t believe that it was one of the four, and Acqua & Sapone, who couldn’t believe it wasn’t.

The red and white team from Abruzzo considered itself a shoo-in for the race this year, with 2011 mountains jersey winner Stefano Garzelli in its roster. The signing of 2007 race winner Danilo Di Luca could only reinforce this invitation, surely; but it was not to be, and RCS Sport has gone for the smaller German team instead.

Garzelli was planning to retire at some point in the near future anyway, but the non-invitation of his team means that the 2000 race winner is threatening to bring the date forward.

“I’m saddened and disappointed by this news,” said the 38-year-old in a statement, “and at this point I am seriously considering ending my career here. Because when money gets the upper hand over sporting merit and someone who was the protagonist for 15 years – offering entertainment, joy, sweat and suffering to the fans, but also the organizers – and everything is not even taken into consideration, it means that the time has come to neglect my family less.

“In a month my wife will make me a father for the fourth time and, without important goals to reach, where can I find the motivation to train, go to training camps and spend time away from them when I find myself without the opportunity of trying to reach those results for which I have made so many sacrifices?”

The last of a generation

stefano garzelliGarzelli has ridden every edition of the Giro since 1997, other than 2006 – when he rode the Tour de France instead – and 2008 – the last time that Acqua & Sapone wasn’t selected. His greatest moment came in 2000, when he won the race after stepping out of the shadow of team captain Marco Pantani; he has also been through bad times in the race though, when he was excluded from the race after testing positive for a minute amount of masking agent probenicid in the 2002 edition.

Although he accepts that his chances of winning the race are now gone, he hoped to bow out with one final tilt at glory in the race.

“My dream was to end this wonderful adventure at the end of the Giro d’Italia this year,” he said. “I thought I would give everything I had left after a 30-year career, in the race to which I gave everything, but from which I also received. It would have been the right way to hang my bike on a nail, but this will not be possible.

“I’ve known for some years that I was not competitive for the general [classification], but in recent editions I’ve always left my mark; winning an important stage in 2010, or conquering the Green jersey twice, in 2009 and 2011. The latter has made me incredibly happy and proud because I think I have exceeded every expectation of the team, especially considering the location, the most severe ever in an edition of the Giro. I didn’t manage to win on Gardeccia [Val de Fassa – ed], but I am sure that this stage will long be remembered.

“I would have loved to try to win my tenth stage at the Giro, but even this will not be possible, I would surely have given the best of myself and I would certainly not disgraced.

Garzelli’s glory days in his home Tour have coincidentally come at some of the race’s biggest years, which he feels makes him unique in the modern history of the race.

“In the end, I believe that I’m the only rider who has won a Jersey in every "special" Edition,” he explained. “The pink jersey in the Millennium Giro, the green in the Giro del Centenario [2009 – ed], and another green in the Giro dell'Unità d'Italia [2011 – ed].”

Garzelli has the chance to prove a point in March as the team has been invited to Tirreno-Adriatico, which he won in 2010. Whether the lack of a Giro invitation does rob the 38-year-old of any motivation to continue though, he may well call it a day here.

Acqua & Sapone boss astounded and thinking of walking away

Garzelli was not the only one in the Acqua & Sapone camp to consider walking away from the sport after it was announced that the team would not be at the Giro. Enio Barbarossa, the boss of the chain of beauty and hygiene shops that literally translates as ‘Water and Soap’, could barely believe the news.

“If that’s how things are, after twelve years, maybe the time has arrived to leave cycling,” he told Il Pescara. “It's a world that we no longer like.

“It’s a decision that leaves us with astounded, and that we are forced to think seriously to farewell to cycling, despite the fact that our family has a staff of over 60 employees, just like many families living in cycling.”

Acqua & Sapone first entered cycling in 2001 as a co-sponsor to the Cantina Tollo team, but achieved far more notoriety the next year however, after taking over as the principle sponsor of the team and signing Re Leone Mario Cipollini. That season proved to be the most successful of Super Mario’s career, with victories that included Milano-Sanremo, six stages of the Giro d’Italia, and three at the Vuelta a España, all clad in the team’s Roberto Cavalli designed zebra stripe kit.

Cipollini also went on to win the World championships that October, but departed – along with a number of the team and staff – for the new Domina Vacanze team at the end of the year, taking his rainbow stripes – and the team’s zebra stripes – with him.

The new, red and white liveried, Acqua & Sapone team was formed in 2004, with a roster that included American Fred Rodriguez and Rinaldo Nocentini.

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