By Tim Maloney, European Editor
It was a clear, crisp Ash Wednesday morning with snow sprinkled atop the crest of Monte Grappa like confectioner's sugar on Martedi Grasso's fritelle and crostoli. But carnevale was now over and as Lent began, one member of Bassano del Grappa's contingent of pro cyclists was out for a training ride. As Cyclingnews managed a rare mid-day ride at the foot of Monte Grappa, we were passed by a streak of blue on a carbon fibre Time bike, a long, lean riding machine name Filippo Pozzato who said "ciao" as he flew past. Fortuitously, just up ahead was a semaforo rosso (red light) where we caught up the the likeable 24 year-old Quick.Step rider, who agreed to let us try to ride with him for a few kilometres.
Fresh from the front group in Saturday's Het Volk where he made the crucial attack with 40km to go, we asked Pippo, "What was your training program today?", and he related, "I went for an hour ride with (Quick.Step teammate) Guido Trenti, then did a (anaerobic threshold) test by riding six kilometres up Monte Grappa."
We noted that Pozzato had his SRM on his training bike and asked him how his training was going so far this season. "It's great so far; I'm quite fit but just lack some racing in my legs. I started in Mallorca, then did Laigueglia and (Quick.Step) was supposed to do Valencia, but it didn't work out. Last weekend went pretty well and now I'm going to Belgium tomorrow (Thursday) to race the Three Days of West Flanders over the weekend. Then Tirreno-Adriatico and of course Milano-Sanremo."
We noticed that Pozzato was leaner than at this time last year and he confirmed that, saying "Yes I've lost some weight and changed my preparation for this season. Plus I was sick three times last spring with the flu and could never get my fitness to the level I wanted."
He was pleased with his performance last weekend in Belgium, where he finished fifth in Het Volk. "Like I said, I could use more racing, but I was still competitive and the team was really good. In Het Volk I was a little cooked in the finale as we had been away for a long time, but it was good. The next day, (Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne) I was in a break until 30km to go and when we got caught, Boonen and Nuyens went and we won. That was great."
As we were about to part ways, it was Pozzato's time to turn the tables on the journo and ask Cyclingnews a question as he demanded, "Who does the live coverage on Cyclingnews?" and I explained that it was one of my colleagues [People actually read them? - ed.]. Pozzato then told us that "when (you guys) wrote that Wilfried Peeters was shouting at me to ride a bit faster, that's not really what he was saying. He wasn't angry at me at all, just encouraging me. I know the team was happy how I rode..." [Sorry Pippo, that wasn't what I meant to imply - ed.]
We said we would talk it over with the boss and let him know, and Pippo smiled and said, "OK, va bene" as the classy Quick.Step man pedaled off for his pranzo di mezzogiorno and we tried to recover from an extended session of riding over 30km/h for the first time in years.
Look for an in-depth interview with Pozzato on Cyclingnews in the near future.