Oscar Gatto: A Classics rider with nine lives

Italian talks about surviving in cycling and his special relationship with Peter Sagan

Gatto is the Italian word for cat and new Astana signing Oscar Gatto admits he has used up many of his nine lives in order survive in professional cycling for a decade.

Gatto has endured the highs and lows of the sport, winning 14 races, including a stage at the Giro d'Italia and the 2013 Dwars Door Vlaanderen, but has often been forced to step down from WorldTour level and fight to keep his career alive. He has joined Astana for 2017, ending his ties with Monaco neighbour and training partner Peter Sagan but reveals he has a special relationship with the double world champion.

"For sure I've survived the tough times and bounced back to find the good times again. Life is like that but I think I've used up a few of my nine lives," Gatto told Cyclingnews at the recent Astana get together.

"I turned professional with Gerolsteiner in 2007, which I think was a good team despite its problems and eventual demise. I then had five good years with Scinto and Citracca at ISD and Farnese Vini. We were a small team but we were a family. In 2014 went up to WorldTour level with Cannondale and then down to Androni Giocattoli, then back up to WorldTour with Tinkoff, where I teamed up with Sagan. Now I'm at Astana for 2017 and 2018."

Gatto was a consistent presence with Sagan in 2016, giving some much-needed support in the Spring Classics, the Tour of California and the Tour de France. The two raced together at Cannondale in 2014 and remain close. Gatto reveals he could have stayed with the double world champion in 2017 but an offer from Astana was just too good an opportunity to turn down. Astana also pursued Sagan in the late spring but he and Specialized eventually preferred the Bora-hansgrohe project.

"I'm sorry that I'm not with Peter anymore because we've become good friends," Gatto said.

"Unfortunately when I received a really good offer from Astana, Peter wasn't able decide his future. There was perhaps a chance he would have been able to take me with him but I didn't want to risk things and Astana made me a great offer. I couldn't turn them down after they offered a good contract and some great opportunities."

Astana's new Classics squad

Gatto is part of Astana's Classics squad. Team manager Alexandre Vinokourov let Lars Boom move on and invested wisely, signing Michael Valgren, Matti Breschel, Pello Bilbao, Moreno Moser and Gatto. Alexey Lutsenko could also be a Classics contender.

"The Grand Tour group at Astana is pretty solid and well established around Aru, while the Classics group is pretty new. But we're a group of good riders who can do great things together," Gatto suggested.

"Michael Valgren is strong but he's perhaps better for the Ardennes. Though he's young and talented and so could also emerge in the cobbled Classics. Second place at the Amstel Gold Race is a huge result and is proof of his ability. I'm sure Moser will be strong this year and both Matti and I have lots of experience. We've got all the ingredients to do well."

Gatto's full race programme for 2017 is still being put together but he is ready to travel to Australia early in January and race heavily in the spring.

"I'll start my season at the Tour Down Under to quickly get up to form. I like riding in Australia," he explained.

"I'll then ride the Italian calendar in March to be at my best for the Classics in Belgium. April is a big month for me, while the team and I have still to decide things for the Grand Tours. It's likely I won't ride the Giro d'Italia because the team will probably be built for Aru. I could ride the Tour de France or the Vuelta."

Sagan is special

Despite not riding on the same team as Sagan in 2017, the two remains friends and training partners in Monaco. Gatto is convinced that Sagan will continue to win despite being the highest paid rider in the peloton, a double world champion and riding for newly promoted Bora-hansgrohe, which may struggle to support his Classic ambitions.

"Peter's shown he can win alone, he's that super strong. Of course if any rider has a strong team to help him, then they can win even more, that's logical. If Peter's new teammates are able to help him then great but I'm sure he'll do well anyway," Gatto said.

"We're on different teams now but we keep in touch. I don't like to hassle him when he's somewhere else in the world but we often swap messages. When were both at Monaco we often train together. I think were good friends and more than just training partners.

"Peter was always grateful when we raced together and I helped him in some wins. He's a special person, and pretty unique considering his importance in the sport now. I know he gets bored with some aspects of the sport like press conferences and stuff but he's great for the sport.

"He can perhaps seen a little aloof sometimes but he's not really like that. He's sincere and honest, he's not interested in such talking crap just to keep people happy. He says what he thinks and that he really feels. I think that's the best way to be and hopefully he won't change even as a double world champion and Classics winner. I don't think he will."

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