Dario Cataldo will begin the Tour Down Under on Tuesday in Astana's sky blue colours instead of Team Sky's black. The Italian has no regrets about switching alliance between two of the sport's biggest teams and team their leaders, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali.
The 29-year-old won the Baby Giro in 2006 and seemed destined to be one of the best Italian stage racers of his generation. Instead, after spells at Liquigas, QuickStep and Team Sky, he has largely sacrificed his own chances of success to help his team leaders, becoming a key Grand Tour domestique. Astana recruited him from Team Sky to give much needed support to overall contenders Nibali and Fabio Aru.
"There wasn't one specific reason why I left Team Sky, there were several, and I considered them all carefully. We'd been struggling to reach a new deal to extend my stay at Team Sky, I'd become a bit stale there and the offer from Astana was good, so I decided to make the move," Cataldo told Cyclingnews.
"Team Sky has had the power, including the budget, to make some big steps forward concerning training, mentality, technology and how they are organised. They've always improved year on year and so the other teams have had to work hard to catch up. Now the difference, the margin of improvement, is finer, and so others have been able to close the gap. Now most teams do everything as well as possible, with near perfection."
Despite Astana's problems of 2014, Cataldo, like the other riders in the team, was optimistic that the UCI would give the team a WorldTour licence for 2015. He has no regrets about wanting to move on and find new motivation.
"I've no regrets about leaving Team Sky, despite what happened. I was happy to have ridden for Team Sky but I'm happy to be at Astana," he said. "My two years at Team Sky was a great experience and I learnt a lot. But every rider's career is in perpetual motion and I hope to now use what I learnt at Team Sky at Astana, so I can continue to develop and improve."
Using his experience
Cataldo is his own man, clearly intelligent and sensitive. He is artistic and hinted that he occasionally baulked the robotic regime that reigns at Team Sky.
"Sky is very rigid and disciplined in the way they do things but it's also one of the reasons for their success," he said, revealing he often reached for a jar of Nutella chocolate spread at home even if it was off the menu at Team Sky.
"Perhaps Team Sky somewhat squeeze everything out of the riders but that's understandable. But there are a lot of factors that go into making a team successful and you can't always follow the same system. Each season and each race is different, and I think you also need to be flexible and use your experience to make the right choices. I think Sky still needs to understand that a little bit."
Cataldo won the time trial stage at the Settimana Coppi & Bartali in 2014 and was also 26th overall at the Giro d'Italia. He finished an agonisingly close second to Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF) at Oropa and was the first to the summit of the Stelvio, only to be overtaken by eventual winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) after the Colombian hit out on the descent while much of the peloton thought the descent was neutralised.
"I had my chances at Team Sky but unfortunately I wasn't able to take advantage of them," he conceded. "I was leader at the Giro d'Italia last year after Richie Porte's problems but was affected by a crash. I went close to a stage victory in Oropa and on the Stelvio but going close is not the same as winning. But I won the Giro Baby and was 12th in two editions of the Giro. I think I could have been in the top 10 last year if I hadn't crashed and lost time.
"Perhaps a weakness on my part is that I accepted to sacrifice my chances for other riders and gave my all doing it. That perhaps cost me some success but I have no regrets about my time at Sky."
Riding for Aru at the Giro, comparing Froome and Nibali
Cataldo is set to ride the Giro d'Italia in support of Aru in May but may also get a chance to make a belated debut at the Tour de France alongside Nibali in July. It will depend on how the season evolves and how Cataldo recovers from the efforts of the Giro d'Italia. He has ridden 12 Grand Tours but has been pushed towards the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España.
"I think they're both great riders and good people," he said, avoiding the subject of a possible rivalry within Astana in 2015. "I raced with Vincenzo for two years at Liquigas, Were friends and we often train together in Lugano, where we both live now."
Cataldo knows both Nibali and Froome, and admires them both. He admitted that it is difficult to say who is the better rider and who will do better the 2015 Tour de France.
"I think they're very similar in lots of ways. They're very modest but both two great people. You can really see that when you work with them," he said. "Perhaps in Italy people have learnt to understand and appreciate that quality in Vincenzo but they perhaps haven't gotten to know Chris and understand him. He's a great guy and I have a lot of admiration for him for that reason.
"It's hard to predict who will win the Tour because there is not just a single stage or a single climb, or single section of cobbles. It's 21 days of racing, hard racing. Two years ago Froome won the Tour, three years ago Froome was second behind Wiggins but ahead of Nibali. But then last year Nibali won. Who knows how it will go this year and what will happen. It could go either way. One thing we know for sure is that it's going to be a great race."