What's Cool In Road Cycling

MAX SCIANDRI: The Pez Interview!

Max is a great interview – open, candid, and keen to talk about everything. Still, we barely scratched the surface on his 16 years as a pro rider… I first rang him on his cell phone. He was driving his kids to a recital, so we had to connect a few days later.

We talked a bit about his recent retirement, but the most interesting stuff came when Max talked about his many many experiences as a pro, like beating Greg Lemond, getting pipped by Riis, and how much things have changed in the last 16 years…

Here’s Max at the Tour of Flanders start this Spring.

Max Sciandri turned pro in ’89, and rode through the era of Indurain, and well into the era of Armstrong. He’s seen so much, and done a ton, where do you start to ask questions? Actually it was easy – Max is so relaxed, and talkative that the conversation just flowed from one topic to the next – it really did feel like we were having beers in the pub instead of chatting on the phone some 5000 miles apart.

Max was born in the UK, and learned his English there, so listening to him is a cheerful exercise in placing his accent – it’s sort of Nigel Hufnell meets Marcello Mastroianni – hard to place and totally unique – much like Dunc Steele must sound like to an Italian! He speaks both slowly and thoughtfully, then accelerates into a quick rhythm as only an Italian can…

When we talked a couple of weeks ago, Max was still enjoying the novelty of having no races or training to do…

PEZ: I actually heard about your retirement after I had contacted your team press guy at CSC to request this interview, and of course I was surprised – . So what led to your decision to retire?

Max: … Wellll you know, there’s one, and a lot, and no factors… it came to the point that 16 years is a long time. And I started to lose a little bit of motivation, even though this year was with a great team, and I went to the Tour de Georgia, then after I went to Miami to relax a bit with my brother [who lives there], and when I came back home, I just couldn’t get on my bike again, and I just said … that’s it. And that was it!

Max gets the win in Stradella at the ’94 Giro.

PEZ: Just like that…?

Max: Just like that, just like that… So, right now I’m doing gardening, just working on my house, relaxing with the kids – doing the things you kind of haven’t done before. I went to the beach with Rolf Sorenson yesterday, and we had a couple of days out with our families. Just little things like that you know? No stress whatsoever. Not thinking about getting to a race, or is my form okay… just taking it easy. This weekend I’m going to Los Angeles to see my family [Max’s parents live in LA, and own a restaurant called “Ago” (pronounced: AH-go), serving classic Tuscan food.- ed.], plus we’re opening a new one called “Soertino” in Florence.

Max has been offered a position in the family-run restaurant business, and is currently looking into it, but declined to say too much, preferring to wait until it’s done.

Max: So that’s about it, that’s something what (sic) really got me going with the decision. I’m glad, you know … when I called up Bjarne Riis, it was a bit hard that moment, then I felt better after, and now I’m quite happy.

You know, I’ve been on my bike since I was 9 years old…

PEZ: Have you been riding in the last month – since you decided to stop?

Max: Yeah a bit, on and off. As you know in this area, in Tuscany, there are sooo many riders, Ballerini, Sorenson, Scinto, myself, we just get out on a nice little couple hour rides… Just cycling for fun.

It’s funny, because a lot of friends, people I know.. “so, what are you doing? Are you working?” Listen – I want to RELAX. Take it easy – you know a couple months EASY. I’ve been running around all my life and now I just want “think” about what I’m gonna do… have a look from the outside.

Giro ’94 again – this time in the hill climb TT.

PEZ: Back in Tour de France 94 or 95, you were outsprinted for a stage win by Bjarne Riis. In the interview after, you just spat the words into camera: “Jesus… beaten by a guy like Riis!” Did you and Bjarne ever talk about that race?

Max: You still remember that…? Well that’s funny, because basically I didn’t even know who Bjarne was. It was a day we had a breakaway of like 5 or 6 riders, the strongest rider was Museeuw, and I thought “if I can beat this guy then it’s done” – you know? And Phil Anderson and Alvaro Mejia from Motorola were also in the break, and they really went flat out that day. Well the last 15k, Bjarne Riis didn’t pull a meter, he just sat on the wheels. And so Museeuw’s the main guy, and Riis is just sort of sitting on the wheel, and nobody said nothing to him because nobody really cared much… And here I am, flat out and sprinting with Museeuw – – – and like “yeah I got it I got it!” And I’m just about to lift my hands up…and at 50 meters – I’m very close to the barriers… he [Riis] just pops his wheel through between me and the barriers… and boom – he lifts his hands up and he wins.

And I’m like: “I caaannn’t believe it…”

You can still hear the disbelief in Max’s voice…

PEZ: So did you ever talk about that?

Max: No we didn’t, but I was really pissed with him, cuz then he started to live around this area, and we started to meet at the airport… I didn’t talk to him for a year or two after that.

PEZ: (…laughing…) So to this day you’ve never talked about it?

Max: No. – we haven’t. That’s a funny thing you remembered!

PEZ: I want to ask you about CSC. We’ve heard a lot about how Bjarne structures his team so much differently from other teams – what’s it really like in there?

Max: Well, I wouldn’t say sooo much differently… it was a lot on … on honesty, talking a lot and having good relations with your teammates.

PEZ: Is that unusual – is it a unique aspect to pro teams?

Max: Well, I’ve seen a lot of teams, you know… but talking and saying what you think in the right way, it helps a lot. It can be hard sometimes, and be a bit tough on people, if you say something that is not the best thing to say – but then it clears up any problems you know. In terms of talking and getting the team to work together – that was something that was really different from all the other teams.

Casa Max: Here’s what 16 years as a top pro can earn you… your own Tuscan villa. It’s: “up in the hills, 220 odd trees, in a renovated 200 year old house, all stone. It’s got a natural spring, views, every year I make my own olive oil.”

PEZ: It’s one thing to talk about these things, but it’s another to make them actually happen… did you see that these things actually happened?

Max: Yeah – they actually happened, because if you look at the results at the beginning of the season, you see the team was riding really well… but again, there were so many people from all over the world, it still made keeping this thing going quite hard. And even with Ferretti at Technogym-MG, the team worked really well, because Ferretti knew how to get the best out of every rider.

CSC was a team that was 100% behind the rider in terms of equipment, and training camps – it was really good.

PEZ: Was it a “fun” team to be on? You know, as teams go…

Max: I was very pleased and honored to be on this team. I saw that a lot of people really wanted to be on this team… I noticed it right away.

PEZ: You’ve raced through both the Indurain era, to well into the Armstrong era, and of course the years in between. Can you tell us a bit about how things have changed over that time?

Max: Well, I’ll say that the main thing that’s changed a lot is RESPECT. That’s something that is really lost in today’s racing. The young riders, they don’t have the respect for someone who’s been around for many years.

It’s the way they race, for example, in Tirreno Adriatico 3-4 years ago, in a sprint – it’s 3-4 kms before the sprint and riders are starting to go a bit for position, and moving along, and here comes this young sprinter from one of the smaller Italian teams, and he goes up to Rolf Sorenson, and he hits him with his elbow on his side – you know on his stomach! And I see the guy, and I ride up to him and I say “You hit Rolf Sorenson! When he was winning Tirreno in 1988 you were probly a f**kin junior!” I screamed at him. And that just shows that there was no respect. When you’re a little kid, and you turn pro, and you’re racing with people you’ve seen on tv for years… and then you show no respect… That shows a lot how it is now with cycling.

The 95 Tour with MG-Technogym.

PEZ: So if you’re a young pro, and you’re new to the peloton, what’s the best way to earn the respect of the older guys in the bunch?

Max: LISTEN! And don’t talk so much. Listen, and let the other guys talk… that’s what I did. And then you get a little result here, and a little result there…

Basically, if I could suggest anything to any young riders, it’s to step in and… listen a lot, and don’t just throw yourself here and there – always talking… Show respect – it’s the same in life as in sport.

PEZ: What do you think of the new crop of young American racers? Guys like Tom Danielson, Tim Johnson, David Clinger – all who’ve joined the Euro-bunch this year…

Max: They’re okay actually – they’re nice guys. I’ve talked to them a bit and they’re okay. It’s not very easy being an American guy and just thrown into some team, and have to adapt. You have to have a … very adventurous spirit to just go in Spain, or Italy or France…There’s a lot of hunger to be in a big team.

PEZ: Is it easier now, or back in the Indurain era to join the pro ranks?

Max: Hmm… Maybe it was easier then. Because they had maybe a few more workers – “gregari”- today more and more people want to win, and everyone wants to have their [UCI] points. In the old days when I turned pro, there was no points at the beginning, so you know a team had 1 or 2 leaders and you worked for these guys. Today you work your ass off the whole year, and the you have 100 points and you want to find a new team and they say “What you got? – oh you got 100 points?” And maybe you helped a guy win 5 races but the points they seem to count for more than the whole thing I think. So sometimes you don’t really give everything to help because maybe you want your own points. So in the early days it was a bit easier for a young rider because they knew that when they joined the team, there was maybe an Argentin, or somebody else, and you just had to work for him… And then slowly slowly they’d find their own little space… between the seasons to get their own result.

PEZ: Are the races faster now than they used to be?

Max: Yeah. I found that the gears everybody pulls are harder, in terms of going up a hill, they’ll pull bigger gears than in the old days. I remember when we put on the 11! We used to have 12 you know – and I thought “…what the f**K…?!”

PEZ: Did you have “FUN” through your career?

Max: I had a lot of fun… till… (phew..) a few years ago. Basically the mobile phones, when they came out, it made everybody a bit more individual in terms of after the race. After dinner, everybody used to just hang around in the hotels in the lobby and talk together you know? And today, everybody’s got a computer and they’ve got to send out emails. And they’ve got a cellular phone and they have to do a round of calls here and there… So it tends to be more of everyone on their own… In the old days everyone just used to hang around together a bit more.

Max rode with seven teams in his career, including FDJeux in 1997.

PEZ: In the older days, or even now, did your wife ever travel to races?

Max: Yeah she used to come sometimes, not often though. In the old days it was almost forbidden… I remember in my second year I went with Carrera and Davide Boifava, and my wife came up to our room to change our little baby, and I was like [exasperated] “f**k! move move quickly-quickly change the nappy and go-go-go!” I was like… afraid!

Now there are more wives coming to races. Bjarne Riis has a little van for the wives if they want to follow the race. They stay sometimes in the same hotel, but not in the same room with you. But especially in a stage race, you just want to stay with your roommate and stay concentrated…

PEZ: What do you think you’re going to miss the most about racing?

Max: The COMPETITION! It’s real competition – trying to prove for yourself how good you are and to measure yourself with other people. It’s like when you feel really really strong, and the condition is there – and there’s a little drag when the road goes up, and you can go really hard and you’re sweating, and you look behind and everybody is … BOOM ! dropping off! I’m gonna miss that, yeah that’s something I’m gonna really miss…

PEZ: What is one of your favorite memories from racing, a day when you had a really great ride?

Max: Oh – when I was I a breakaway with Greg Lemond, and I won a stage in ’90 or ’91, at Savona in the Giro. It was a rainy day, and there was 3 of us in the break, and the bunch was closing up on us. And actually, the 3rd guy who was in the break – Coppolillo – he got caught. And we started the sprint – me and Greg – and he got 2 meters at the beginning – he jumped really hard… And you know when you get out if the saddle when it’s raining, and your legs are so hard after a long day? – and I thought “fuck I’m not gonna get it”, but then I got onto his wheel – and then I started to get next to him – and then I won! That was a great feeling that day.

PEZ: What was your favorite big Tour?

Max: I liked the Giro. I think the Tour doesn’t have a lot of respect for the riders, it’s more the …whole business, but the single rider – they didn’t really have a lot of respect for us. It’s just getting too much, too big…

PEZ: What about something you won’t miss so much?

Max: …I won’t missssss… uh – some shitty races like 3 Days of de Panne in the cold rain. Stuff like that I won’t miss…

PEZ: Will you stay involved in cycling in the future?

Max: Well I want to keep my doors open, that’s for sure. I don’t know if I see myself as a directeur, but I really like to organize something for people from around the world, using Tuscany as a resource, you know something so special – Tuscany, food and bicycles, all put together. That’s why I think your website and the internet is a very good vehicle for letting people know what I’d like to do… something different for couples, with things to do for wives who don’t cycle – shopping trips to Prada, a lesson in local cuisine…

Contact us at [email protected] if you’re interested in more info on a Tuscan vacation with Max.

PEZ: You and I first met at the start line for the Tour of Flanders. How were you feeling for the Classics this year?

Max: We had a training camp before Paris-Nice and Tirreno, and I was riding really really well, one of the best riders in the team. We were timing ourselves up the hill, sand I was doing really well. And then it happened that we didn’t do Tirreno. Because we didn’t do the Giro this year – Castellano, the organizer – at the last moment said “CSC is not doing Tirrreno” – and I was on the program for Tirreno. But for me, missing out on that race, at my age [37- ed.] I really needed a 7-8 day race. I paid by not doing that race. My form went down because I needed a stage race to finish off all the work I did in the winter. You can train as much as you want, but you come to a certain point and you really need to put it into speed. So I’d say all my Classics were really below how I was riding the 20 days before that.

I love the Classics – Flanders, Roubaix – all of them. I’d get especially motivated. They’re the races what kept me going actually (for the last couple of years)…

PEZ: Okay – well thanks so much for talking to us – our readers are going to love this – a great interview!

Max: No problem – just call me anytime… it was a pleasure!

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