By Gregor Brown
Italy's Michele Bartoli may be back to battle in the Ardennes Classics he ruled only seven years ago. The 38 year-old from Pisa said he is strongly considering a return, similar to that of Lance Armstrong.
"Lance Armstrong helped get this idea going in my head, more than it would have otherwise. He found the courage and the motivation to do it, Bartoli told Cyclingnews. "When I won Amstel Gold he finished fourth, and it would be beautiful to find him in the Classics again – it's a motivator," he added.
Bartoli won the 1996 Ronde van Vlaanderen, 1997 and '98 editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, plus the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Giro di Lombardia. He retired after 13 years as a professional in 2004. His biggest wins came when he rode for MG-Technogym, and Team Mapei from 1996 to 2001. He joined Fassa Bortolo for 2002 and 2003 and left the sport whilst riding for Team CSC.
"I stopped in a hurry; I still had a year in my contract," Bartoli explained. "You have to find the courage to return to the fight and, above all, to be a neo-pro at 38 years old."
Bartoli will discuss the decision with his wife and the effect the situation could have on their two children – daughter, age six, and son, age one and a half. He's had talks with some teams on an unofficial level, but would need to find the right team.
"Maybe it is possible to find a team who is willing to put a bet on me – not completely on me, this would be stupid. If there was a situation today like that and I said 'okay' then I could ride one or two years, with a group of young riders, who I would be able to help grow," he said.
Bartoli maintains his fitness with training rides of three to five hours with some of his ex-teammates that live in the Tuscany area. He maintains that it is a "dream" and "crazy" to return to cycling, but that he is encouraged to do so by his friends and family.