News feature, December 23, 2004
Paolo Savoldelli is ready to fly high once again as a member of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team in 2005. Just back from the team's first camp in Austin, Texas, 31 year-old Savoldelli has found a new lease on life. Cyclingnews' European Editor Tim Maloney reports.
In 2002, Paolo Savoldelli won the Giro d'Italia with a surprise surge in the last few stages to take the maglia rosa home to Milano. Back then, Savoldelli was riding for the small, now defunct Index Alexia team and following his Giro victory, the rider from Bergamo earned the nickname "il Falco" (the Falcon) for his audacious descending and his predatory riding style.
Savoldelli then signed a lucrative two year contract with T-Mobile for 2003, but following a series of accidents and illnesses, il Falco never had the chance to spread his wings after demonstrating his ability the previous June. Although Savoldelli was famous for his daring descending skills, in February 2003 while training in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Savoldelli had a high-speed head-on with a moped on a downhill stretch and smashed his face badly, fracturing his nose which knocked him out of action for months.
Unable to defend his Giro title, Savoldelli's focus switched to the Grand Boucle, but just before the 2003 Tour, he got a virus that knocked him out of action yet again. Savoldelli was hoping for a big comeback in 2004, however a fractured wrist after a crash in the Tour of Cologne in April saw him say arrivederci to both the Giro and Tour. It wasn't until the Tour of Britain in September that Savoldelli showed any form.
"When I won the Giro, I was convinced that I could be a top stage race rider but with my crash in 2003, I've wasted two of the best years of my career," Savoldelli said to La Gazzetta dello Sport's Gigi Perna.
"The experience has made me think... and the birth of my daughter Mariko has helped me too," added the designated team leader for Discovery Channel at 2005 Giro d'Italia. With Yaroslav Popovych focusing on his first Tour de France next July, il Falco will be looking to get in on the Giro's impending Cunego/Basso battle.
"We will have a strong team in the Giro with powerhouse riders like Pavel Padrnos. It's been two years since I've ridden either the Giro or Tour, and I want to get back in there and prove myself. That's a big motivation for me. My program also has the Tour, but only if I've recovered completely from the Giro. First, I still have to see if I can come back to the same level as before."
Just back in Bergamo from his trip Stateside, Savoldelli was very impressed by his first contact with his new Discovery Channel teammates. "We have some communication problems," he said about the camp, "because I'm still learning English. I wanted to see how I would fit in with this new team and it was good. Lance is a charismatic guy; he is still very determined to be the best and is good at transmitting his conviction and motivating others."
Savoldelli joined his teammates in chowing down on Mexican food, road rides in the Texas hill country and even playing some hoops with Dallas Mavericks fan Armstrong. After building his base miles in and around Bergamo, Savoldelli will head to Silver Spring, Maryland on January 10th for the official presentation of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team at Discovery Communications HQ, then hop on a plane to Solvang, California for the first official team training camp.
Certainly 2005 will be a year of re-discovery for the likeable, baby-face Bergamasco and Savoldelli may even have a few surprises in store for his fellow Italians come the Giro.