The biggest signing of this year was the re-signing of José Rujano, 5 years after he quit the team during the 2006 season. Rujano never managed to get back to his former level, but with Gianni Savio he once again raised and won the big mountain stage to Grossglockner in the Giro.
Gianni, how will you describe the season for your team this year?
I think we had a very good season. We started very well. My philosophy is that it’s always very important to start out well. So we had a good preparation during the winter and we got some very good results in the first part of the season. It’s how we do, we always start out strong and then we defend our position in the second part of the season. It’s important to remember that there is an agreement between the Italian federation and the organizers of the Giro, saying that the best Italian team from the year before will get an invitation to the Giro, so that is what we are trying to obtain.
In the second part of the season there were a lot of rumors about Rujano changing team again in order to do the Vuelta. What was all that about?
No no, that was just rumors. Somebody starts talking about Rujano might want to change team to do the Vuelta, but that was never going to happen. Naturally we had no interest in letting him go, and Rujano never talk with me about it either.
Well it seems like it was the smart move for Rujano as well, since he has never managed to function in any other teams than yours…
Yes that’s true. I was the one discovering him when he was very young in a little village in the Venezuelan hills on the border to Columbia. Then he came to Italy and he had a lot of progress. We actually waited for him for 3 years to progress, without putting any pressure on him. Then he came to the Giro and he finished third. After that I think that he made some mistakes. It’s important to know that Rujano has very particular personality. I think it’s necessary to know him well, follow him and also be able to tell him “No” if it’s needed. I think that in some of the teams he went to the people around him always told him “yes, yes, yes” and made him believe he was the new God of cycling. And also, in the big teams he wasn’t being followed as well as he should have been by the team management. Somebody told him he was a champion, but the problem is that he was not a champion. He had the possibility to be one, but at that time he wasn’t a champion. Then when he came back to us and you saw what happened.
And how did you get him back?
Well, back in November last year, just when we had finished our team budget for our 16 riders, I received a phone call from Hernán Alemán [Politician, in the Venezuelan parliament] a friend of mine who is also the owner of the team Gobernación del Zulia [where Rujano was riding in the second part of the 2010 season]. He told me that he thought it was a shame that Rujano was wasting his talent only riding in Venezuela and that we should take him back to Italy to ride with the bests. I told him that I had to talk with Rujano first myself, because even though we always had a good relationship, the way we parted ways with the team wasn’t good at all. So I talked with Rujano three times and to me his mentality seemed to be changed. After that I talked with Alemán again and told him “okay” and we made a contract with Rujano for 2 years, with a significant payment increase if his results this year were good – which they turned out to be.
And next year, I suppose Rujano once again has the Giro as his big target?
Sure. He is the leader of the team and the plan for him is to prepare well for the Giro and if possible to return to podium.
About the team next year. You re-signed all of the great riders for 2011, but you still need four more riders…
Right now we have 12 riders and I think we will sign two other riders next week [this week]. One Italian rider and the other one right now is a South American. The plan is to end up with 16 riders, but our main goal was to re-sign all of our important riders first. To me it would have been crazy to lose our own riders and bring in new ones from other teams.
There was some talk about Davide Rebellin would return to your team as well…
Well, Davide was one of my riders 3 years ago and I am very sorry for how it turned out for him. It is true I have been talking with him. I tried to present him with the realism of his situation, telling him that no matter what he says then this [the positive test] is the result. So I told him to explain his situation to everybody, make a press release to let the Media know what happened. It’s not good the way he did. You can’t just disappear…
Is there any chance of seeing Davide back at Androni?
I talked with Davide and I told him that if he, right now, came forward and explained his situation and what exactly had happened, there was a possibility [to sign a contract with Androni]. But as the things are right now, it’s not possible.
Did you also fear that bringing Davide back to the team would jeopardize the chances of an invitation for the Giro?
No, that has never been in my consideration. Also the anti doping policy is very strict. UCI works very, very well against doping with the biologic passport which makes it possible for me to follow my riders. In the past that wasn’t possible. I live in Turin and I have riders all over the world, one in Florence Italy, one in Bogota Columbia, one in Caracas in Venezuela and what can I do? How I am supposed to follow every one of them? It was impossible.
What about a rider like Emmanuelle Sella. Do you think he can return to his former level?
Well, to be honest. For him to return to the same level as in 2008, I think it is very, very difficult [read between the lines…]. But he is good rider and I think he will return to a very good position again. Not to win three mountain stages, the jersey and end 5 in the GC, but sure he can return and do great things.
And does Sella know this? Because I read an interview with him before the Giro, when he was talking about aiming for the podium already…
He knows. This season was important for Sella in his way back and to prepare himself for next year as well. I think that he will make a lot better results next season, even though his year wasn’t bad for him at all. The problem with Sella is his mentality. He is very fragile. In the Giro he was too nervous all the time and for that reason he couldn’t make any better results than he did, but I hope it will be better next year.
Roberto Ferrari made a name for himself this season, what can we expect of him next year?
Roberto is a very good rider, but he was stopped by mononucleosis. He managed to finish the Giro, probably the only sprinter who did so, and then afterwards he found out he had mononucleosis. Something he had had since the third week of the race. So after the Giro he stopped and now he is preparing for the next season. He is a good sprinter and even though I hope he can beat Cavendish, I must also be realistic. We have to keep our feet on the ground. We will see…