Roberto Damiani may have agreed to join Lampre-ISD’s management team this autumn but the Italian looks set to be behind the wheel of an Omega-Pharma Lotto team car for at least the opening months of the 2011 season. Damiani still has another year on his contract with the Belgian team and manager Marc Sergeant would like him to honour it.
“We’ll speak with Sergeant again after Milan-San Remo,” Damiani told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Meanwhile from January 6, I’ll be in Australia for the Tour Down Under. Then I’ll do the Strade Bianche, Tirreno and San Remo with the old team.”
Damiani will thus serve as a director at races for Omega Pharma-Lotto in the opening part of the season while also acting as a liaison between Lampe-ISD and the Mapei Centre. The Italian squad recently started testing at the centre, whose head Aldo Sassi previously worked with Damiani on the Mapei team.
“After the Tour, I told Sergeant that I wanted to go away, to go back and work in Italy,” Damiani said. “He seemed to be fine with that, but then he told me that some important riders had asked that I stay.”
Damiani soon found himself rueing not having reviewed the terms of his contract as he discovered that he could not leave without the agreement of the Omega Pharma-Lotto team.
“My contract used to stipulate that it could be rescinded during the first two years without any penalty,” Damiani explained. “In 2008, when I renewed for another three years, this clause was modified unbeknown to me. When I asked the Belgians what it would cost to free me of the contract, they sent me my race programme as a response.”
Damiani is adamant, however, that his unusual dual role will not have any impact on the way he calls races from the team car. “It’s clear that I’m more interested in the new challenge [at Lampre],” he said. “But forget about the idea of Omega Pharma-Lotto pulling for [Lampre’s Alessandro] Petacchi at San Remo. If I get in the team car, it will be to help Gilbert win. It would be dishonest and wrong otherwise.”
The Lampre challenge
In the meantime, Damiani has already started working with Lampre-ISD and was present at the squad’s first training camp at Boario Terme last week. He sees strong parallels between his old and new teams.
“I’ve found the same atmosphere as there was at Omega when I arrived,” he said. “They felt they were the second team in Belgium, behind Quick Step. Instead, with respect to Liquigas, I don’t think Lampre are second to anyone.”
Damiani was also effusive in his praise of the team’s collaboration with the Mapei Centre, a move that he said was born out of the need for a greater transparency in the wake of the some of the doping problems that struck the set-up in 2010. The team was at the centre of a Mantua-based doping investigation in the spring, while sprinter Alessandro Petacchi won the Tour de France points title while under investigation.
“After last year’s problems, Giuseppe Saronni wanted absolute respect of internal rules,” Damiani said. “The centre will be a guarantee, with evaluations and tests on haemoglobin mass.”
The Italian also admitted that he is particularly honoured by the fact that his role at Lampre-ISD had been initially earmarked for the late Franco Ballerini, the former Italian national team coach.
“I was moved to read that this was a project designed for Ballerini,” he said. “It’s a great motivation to continue the work done by friend Franco.”