Grooming the next Italian star

When Quick.Step-Innergetic's Giovanni Visconti returns to Plouay , it's like a pilgrimage. He...

An interview with Giovanni Visconti, September 2, 2007

As Italian stars like Paolo Bettini are drawing nearer the end of their careers, other racers like Giovanni Visconti are ready to follow in Bettini's footsteps. Visconti is even lucky enough to be tutored by the master himself. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet caught up with this year's Italian national road champion in Plouay just prior to the GP Ouest France-Plouay.

When Quick.Step-Innergetic's Giovanni Visconti returns to Plouay, it's like a pilgrimage. He arrived Friday directly from the Tour of Poitou-Charentes where he skipped the two final stages on the last day in order to save himself for other goals. "I've raced in Plouay twice already in my first two years as a professional with Domina Vacanze and Milram," he said. Visconti finished 55th, riding for Team Milram, in 2006, and 75th, riding for Domina Vacanze, in 2005.

"It's exactly the kind of course that suits me because it's similar to ones where I've been successful as a professional," said an enthusiastic Visconti. "It's got two or three short climbs that make legs hurt as the kilometers pass. Plouay is one of the ProTour races the most adapted to my characteristics. It's a nice place and a spectacular race. When I came here the first time, I'd forgotten that it was the circuit where I had seen Romans Vainsteins become the world champion on TV [in 2000]."

Visconti recalled his experience at another ProTour event earlier this year. "I've been fascinated by Liège-Bastogne-Liège," he said. "I wasn't in good shape, and this race hurt me because I was coming off a glandular fever just two months before. I wasn't able to take part in this race as a contender for the win, but I enjoyed doing everything with Paolo Bettini: going and seeing the course and its crucial points before [the event] and feeling the heat of such a [major] event."

" " -Student Giovanni Visconti talks about working with his mentor, Paolo Bettini.

The name of team-mate "Bettini" is a magic word in the mouth of Visconti, who hails from the Tuscan cycling school of Luca Scinto, the road captain of Michele Bartoli and Bettini in their golden years. "They have taken me onto this team to follow the path of Bettini," said the Sicilian who joined Quick.Step-Innergetic this year upon the request of the world champion. "Bettini is a model rider, particularly for the one-day races."

"As a young rider, I've always been compared to Bartoli, but I have the feeling that my career is similar Bettini's who spent the beginning of his career working for Bartoli and learning his job by doing so," said Visconti. "Even if they had differences later on, Bettini learned everything from Bartoli. I also want to learn everything possible, and I have the best maestro for that. Everybody with the intention of coming to the same achievements as Bettini dreams of having him as a teacher."

Bettini himself went to the Italian national championship earlier this summer as the defending champion, but he made clear before the event that he wasn't at his best and he would put himself at the service of Visconti. "I've learned from him how to focus on precise goals," the young Visconti said. "Last year, I was looking at doing well at every race, but Paolo has taught me how to train for specific races. In fact, I've managed to find the right legs for the right races sometimes. You can miss your goal but if you make it, it's even more beautiful."

Visconti found his summer form on the roads of the Giro d'Italia, where he attacked during the first stage. "It was a very average breakaway (with Tinkoff's Pavel Brutt - ed.), but it took me up, and I started improving from there," Visconti remembered. "The third week was the best for me." He got away with Michael Rasmussen, Stefano Garzelli and Evgeni Petrov and finished second behind Iban Mayo in the rain in the Dolomites.

"I came out of the Giro with good form," he said. "I managed to keep it until the Italian championship. Paolo stayed with me and told me how to move, when and where, who with… . Bettini wasn't [doing] too well himself after the crash he had at the Giro d'Italia. Apart from being a champion, he's a lord and I alway respect what he said. He had announced he would work for me, and he did. I was the youngster he had chosen, so it was satisfying for him that his jersey was transferred onto my shoulders. I was afraid of the sprint, though, but it went perfectly."

Visconti is adamant that he has not changed as a person after winning the tricolore jersey. "If a friend called me before and still calls me, I still answer," he said.

"One month after becoming the Italian champion, I went to the Brixia Tour, and I won a stage," said Visconti. "I've had so much grinta [endurance - ed.] training with that jersey that I never managed to take a break, so at the end of July, I still had decent condition."

That still seems to be the case. Visconti finished 10th in San Sebastian, and he was up there for the win in Hamburg as well. Logically, his next goal is the world championship in Stuttgart, Germany.

"I hope to be there," he said. "I don't want to do it for having one day of glory, I want to do it for my country. I haven't spoken with [national selector] Franco Ballerini yet; I only met him while I was training near my house of San Baronto in Tuscany. He stopped and told me, 'I see you going well.' I'm not the type of guy who will be begging for a spot. I've done the worlds twice as an Under 23 in Hamilton and Verona, and I hope to do it as a pro now."

The Italian champion is determined to carry on racing until the Tour of Lombardy, and he'll defend his title at the Coppa Sabatini later this month. But after his successes already this season, his status is now that of a highly respected rider, not just an up-and-coming youngster anymore.

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