What's Cool In Road Cycling

Cristian Fanini Gets PEZ’d!

‘Love and life; that’s the message since 1990’ and ‘I want to save my sport; I have a son and I want him to race – clean!’ but, equally; ‘you always give people a second chance.’ Cristian Fanini of Amore&Vita – McDonald’s isn’t your average pro team manager. After speaking to one of his DS’s, Roberto Gaggioli and two of his 2009 riders – Chad Gerlach and Richard England – we thought we better catch up with the man himself.

PEZ: Amore e Vita – ‘love and life,’ Cristian?
Cristian: Yes, that’s the message since 1990, this message came from our connection with the Vatican, we’re not as closely linked as we used to be; my father and the last pope – John Paul II – were great friends.

We used to have the annual team presentation at the Vatican, but not now.

That was the reason we had the team registered in Poland, it was John Paul’s homeland and he suggested to my father that we do something there; that’s why we have the Polish riders on the team.

This year we’re registering in the US, we want to create something different.

PEZ: How was 2008 for the squadra?
Cristian: I’m happy with how it went; we had ten victories, with the most important being Yuriy Mitlushenko’s win in the Univest GP.

And it was good to see Miguel Martinez getting his first win since his return.

Mitlushenko is a great sprinter, but his career was interrupted by a very bad crash in the Etoile des Besseges.

We gave him a chance and he came back with great victories; I think he’ll be one of the top sprinters of 2009 – remember that as a first year pro in 2002 he won the GP Etruschi, beating all the big names of the day.

It wasn’t just wins, we had a lot of podiums too – nine second places.

We had our disappointments too; Ivan Quaranta is perhaps the most talented rider I have seen in my life. Last year he won an important stage in the Settimana Ciclista Lombarda, he beat Daniele Napolitano and Mattia Gavazzi – who I think will be one of the best sprinters next year – and he was 10 kilogram’s over-weight.

He thinks that he doesn’t need to train, but as the years pass, you must train more. He was upset because I wouldn’t take him to the States this year, I took Mitlushenko instead – and he won, so I made the right choice!

PEZ: You believe in second chances though?
Cristian: Of course; I haven’t forgotten Valentino Fois, his death in March this year left us speechless, I can remember the day he signed his contract with us, just like I remember his funeral.

(Fois was a top Italian amateur and team mate of Marco Pantani who Cristian was helping to battle back from drug and drink addictions.)

PEZ: What do you expect from Chad Gerlach?
Cristian: We don’t expect anything special; we contracted him for the same reasons as Fois. He has similar addictions; we want to give him another chance.

I am not expecting him to win, I want him to feel good about himself and I want to help to heal him.

PEZ: You took on the role of running the team from your father.
Cristian: Yes, he’s a great leader and has been involved with running teams since 1948.

He tried to teach me something new every day, he’s my idol; he still comes to races and has so much experience when it comes to negotiating with sponsors and riders.

He understands better than anyone that your image is down to your choice of riders.

PEZ: This has been a tough off season to capture sponsors.
Cristian: Really tough! We can count on the support of McDonald’s and our bike supplier, Velo Vie are very close to us.

The difference with our team is that a lot of the sponsorship money comes from our family; it’s not just business. We’ve been involved since 1948, passion means more to us.

It’s hard to find big sponsors; they don’t want to invest huge amounts of money, especially with the drugs situation. McDonalds and Velo Vie stay with us because they know of our strict anti-drugs stance. This year we’re trying to make McDonald’s understand the potential there is for them in pro bike racing sponsorship.

PEZ: In the current climate, do you get a lot of riders looking for a job?
Cristian: Every day I get calls, but our roster is full and I am happy that we have made good choices.

PEZ: Who organises the logistics – travel, flights, entries?
Cristian: I do it mostly myself, the decisions are mine, but I get help from my dad and we have counsellors that assist when we require it.

PEZ: I believe that some race offer expenses to teams, but some demand entry fees?
Cristian: We try to do races which offer expenses; we have a lot of contacts in France, Italy, Spain and Germany.

At our level (Continental) we can ride up to UCI 1.1, but we have connections in eight different countries, so there’s no problem with the programme.

The entry fee for the Tour of California though is unbelievable; it would make no sense for us to ride.

In the US we will be riding races like Univest and the Tour of Missouri, where there are no entry fees.

One of the crazy things about pro cycling is that it’s often the big teams with big budgets who get financial assistance to come to races and they’re the ones that need it least!

PEZ: What’s the best part of your job?
Cristian: To have contact with the riders; but the winter months are a time I find exciting too.

This is the time that we are designing the new strip and colour schemes for the team vehicles; updating the website; putting the programme together.

I have collaborators, but I do almost everything; it’s my passion, in my blood and I give it 100% of my energy and effort.

PEZ: And least favourite?
Cristian: I don’t like when I have to face the people who speak badly of us because we talk about what is happening with drugs in cycling.

PEZ: Why the outspoken stance on drugs?
Cristian: I was a rider myself, but I would not take drugs. I want to save my sport and I have a son; I want him to race – clean.

I think that direction that the direction that is being taken by the Tour now is good, but I would like to see CERA tests conducted on the samples that were taken at the Giro, Vuelta and Olympics – stages were won by riders on CERA in the Giro.

I think we should start again, with a clean sheet; the riders must see the way that the controls are going – soon we must arrive at a point where no one will take the risk.

PEZ: How do you know that your guys are clean?
Cristian: We know they are clean; we test them every 7 to 14 days, depending on their race programme. If we see something strange then we fire them immediately.

A lot of the time the riders are living at my house in Tuscany, I have 12 to 14 riders here all the time, so I know what’s going on. If we caught them, we would report them to their federation and to the police, at once.

PEZ: Goals for 2009?
Cristian: I want to be successful in the USA; in 2007 we had a good Italian season, in 2008 we did well in the US, so a season which is somewhere between those two would be my aim.

With thanks to Cristian Fanini for his patience and time – we wish him and Amore&Vita – McDonalds, every success in 2009.

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