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Classic jerseys: No.21 Fassa Bortolo

In-depth
23 Dec 2019
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With just under 20km of the 2003 Tour of Lombardy remaining, Michele Bartoli attacked, riding away from a leading group of 20 riders.

Bartoli had signed for the Fassa Bortolo team in late 2001 after his contract with Mapei was rescinded. Bartoli and Mapei had been at odds over his non-selection for a number of races and relations had deteriorated to the point of no return.

His move to Fassa Bortolo reunited him with sports director Giancarlo Ferretti, a man he had ridden for at MG Maglificio in the 1990s and under whose direction he had won the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

‘This solution will cost me a lot of money, but will give me the chance of taking part in a race within a few days with another team,’ Bartoli said.

The Italian quickly rose to prominence at Fassa Bortolo and took his first win for the outfit early the following year at the Tour Méditerranéen before winning the Amstel Gold Race.

He enjoyed a fine run of form late in the season, winning four races in the space of three weeks, including Milan-Turin and the Tour of Lombardy.

That 2002 Lombardy win had come from a 15-rider sprint. Bartoli had easily prevailed in the dash to the line thanks to good work from teammates Francesco Casagrande and Ivan Basso.

Twelve months on Bartoli decided to take matters into his own hands in his bid for a repeat win, bursting away from the bunch to spark the race to life.

After breaking away from the group of leaders on the run-in to Bergamo, Bartoli was joined by the Cofidis rider Angelo Lopeboselli. The two men worked together to build a lead that had reached 91 seconds by the time Bartoli made his way past the Cofidis rider with 100m to go, easily opened an impenetrable gap and rolled across the line with arms outstretched to claim his second Lombardy win in succession.

It was the first time any rider had claimed back-to-back victories at the final Monument of the season since Eddy Merckx more than 30 years previously (in 1971 and 1972).

‘I was able to confirm to today that I still have what it takes to win the big races,’ Bartoli said afterwards. It would be his final win for Fassa Bortolo, having agreed a move to CSC for the 2004 season.

‘I’m happy to be able to win this one for my sponsor,’ he reflected. ‘I was really happy at Fassa because it was like a big family for me…’

Ale-Jet flies high

Fassa Bortolo, an Italian building supplies company that claims a history stretching back to 1710, first entered the world of cycling sponsorship in the 1990s with a women’s team focussed on developing young talent that remains active today – Giorgia Bronzini, Tatiana Guderzo and Elisa Longo Borghini having all gone through the team’s ranks.

In 2000 the company moved into sponsorship at the top level of men’s cycling. Among the riders on the team’s initial roster was a 26-year-old Alessandro Petacchi, who had signed from the second-tier team Navigare-Gaerne.

Petacchi would remain with the team throughout their entire six seasons, recording more than 90 race wins in their colours.

Many of those victories came between 2003 and 2005, when ‘Ale-Jet’ reigned supreme in Grand Tour sprint stages. In 2003 alone he won 15 Grand Tour stages, claiming six wins at the Giro, four at the Tour and five at the Vuelta, becoming just the third rider to take stage wins at all three Grand Tours in the same year and the first to take multiple stages at each.

The following year he won a record nine stages at the Giro for Fassa Bortolo – the best haul at the race since Giuseppe Olmo in 1936.

Dark days

While undoubtedly successful – Fassa Bortolo twice topped the UCI’s end-of-season team standings – the outfit’s history was not without controversy. In 2001 Dario Frigo won Paris-Nice for the team and then rode well at the Giro, wearing the pink jersey for nine days before losing it in the Dolomites.

Frigo was just 15 seconds off the lead with only six stages remaining when 200 police officers raided team hotels in San Remo, seizing banned substances and prompting the Giro peloton to refuse to ride the following day in protest.

Frigo himself would have no choice but to climb off his bike, thrown off the race 24 hours later with drugs having been found in his room. He was banned for six months but returned to the team in 2003, only to be caught again two years later when his wife’s car was stopped during the Tour de France and found to contain doses of EPO. Frigo was arrested and later handed a one-year suspended sentence.

In 2003 Denis Zanette, who was among those investigated as a result of the 2001 Giro raids (Zanette was with Liquigas at the time – he joined Fassa Bortolo in 2002), died from a heart attack after visiting his dentist.

While no link to doping was established by the post-mortem, journalists wrote of the health risks riders were taking to remain competitive, while Ferretti described Zanette’s death as a ‘frightening shock’.

In a 2012 affidavit provided to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, former Fassa Bortolo rider Tom Danielson stated that during his time with the team he ‘began to realise the prevalence of doping and to ask questions about doping methods’.

Fassa Bortolo folded after the 2005 season with Petacchi claiming the team’s final major win – Milan-San Remo – early in the year.

‘Our objective was to have a serious and successful team,’ Paolo Fassa, president of the Fassa Bortolo company, had said at the start of the 2005 season. ‘And we have achieved that.’

Other notable riders to have worn the Fassa Bortolo jersey include Filippo Pozzato, Ivan Basso and Fabian Cancellara. In 2016 Cancellara said that he learned just how tough cycling is while at the team. ‘Ferretti was a hard one,’ he said in an interview. ‘He was like, “Ride your bike and don’t cry.”’

This jersey is part of Paul Van Bommel’s collection of memorabilia, on display at the Bike Experience Centre in Boom, Belgium. Go to deschorre.be/develodroom.html