Aldo Sassi was remembered by his riders, former members of the Mapei team and cycling friends during an emotional funeral in his home town of Valmorea near Como.
Sassi died on Monday after fighting a brain tumour and many of his riders took time out from training to attend the funeral. Cadel Evans was unable to make it because he is in Australia but Ivan Basso, Riccardo Riccò, Damiano Cunego, Dario Cioni, Kjell Carlström, Charly Wegelius and Oscar Freire all attended. As did Francesco Moser, who Sassi worked with the early eighties when he broke the hour record.
“He told us that the family was the most important thing, he said ‘You’ve got to stay united and love each other, everything else will follow on from that,” Riccò confided to Gazzetta dello Sport, confirming the way Sassi worked on his rider’s character as much as their training.
Sassi played a fundamental part in the creation and management of the Mapei team and many of the riders paid their last respects, including Paolo Bettini, Andrea Tafi, Gianni Bugno, Daniele Nardello, Stefano Zanini, directeur sportif Roberto Damiani and Mapei owner Giorgio Squinzi.
The Italian businessman closed down the team after a taking a stance against doping but then funded the Mapei centre and remained a close friend and occasional riding partner.
“We first met in 1993 and we immediately clicked,” Squinzi said. “We were both passionate about cycling and consider it the best sport in the world because it is the most humane. Aldo started coaching the Mapei riders in 1996 and he took it as mission because we both believed in clean cycling. Basso proved that you can win the Giro clean. Aldo has asked Basso to win the Tour clean and then put the yellow jersey on his grave.”
Roberto Damiani created the Mapei development team that helped riders of the calibre of Fabian Cancellara, Michael Rogers, Filippo Pozzato, Dario Cioni and Charly Wegelius develop into such skilled professionals. The day Sassi died, Damiani was at Rome University, talking about the impact and subsequent influence of the Mapei development squad.
“He was a little sceptical at first but then he totally threw himself into the project,” Damiani said.
“He wanted me to be involved in the Lampre team and their work at the Mapei Centre this year. He knew how his illness was going to develop and so it’s a terrible loss. I don’t think we’ve yet realised how much we will all miss him.”