By Kirsten Robbins
Reigning Italian national cyclo-cross champion Marco Aurelio Fontana recently signed a hefty contract with the Cannondale Mountain Bike squad. The US-based bike manufacture presented him with the offer after he placed fifth at the Beijing Olympic Games this past summer. After returning from a meet and greet with his new teammates, he told Cyclingnews he was impressed with the professionalism of the Cannondale crew.
"We just had a training camp and it was amazing," Fontana said regarding the week-long meeting in the city of Brunico, nestled in the Italian Dolomites. "There was a very good feeling between us guys. We were skiing together in the mountains."
"Joining Cannondale was a big step for me. The main change is how official the team is. I'm very happy and very concentrated on the future."
His future looks bright since he will be riding with full team support and two professional teammates, Swiss talent Martin Gujan and Belgian World Cup veteran Roel Paulissen. For 2009, the Cannondale Factory Racing team is merging with the former SoBe-Cannondale team. In the US, Gunnar Shogren and Matthew Lee, along with several dozen more riders, will round out the roster, racing in regional events.
Fontana, 23, spent his short but stellar mountain bike career racing for Hard Rock, a team that groomed him into a young Olympian and World Cup contender. "My heart will be forever Hard Rock," Fontana said. "They were good guys, and they supported me for so many years. They reached a point that they had to change their careers and it was difficult for them to do everything for me. I have to say thank you to Hard Rock because they did a good job with me and my cycling career."
Fontana's season with Cannondale will begin with the first set of Internazionali d'Italia events in March followed by the first World Cup in South Africa in April. "The World Cup series is my big goal because these are very important for Cannondale," Fontana said. "The first goal is to try to do the same as last year and be top ten in the World Cup events. The next main goal is to do well in the World Championships."
Other races for Fontana will include the Maremma Cup, GP Inverno Es-Al, European Championships and a few rounds of the Bundesliga series, French Cup and Swiss series.