Androni Giocattoli team manager Gianni Savio celebrated his 70th birthday on Monday, with 20-year-old Ivan Sosa giving him a belated present on Tuesday by finishing ahead of Chris Froome on the steep mountain finish to Alpe di Pampeago on stage 2 of the Tour of the Alps, and taking the overall lead in the process.
Savio is known as the savviest team manager amongst the Professional Continental ranks and has kept his team alive for over two decades by fishing for new young talent and then letting go after helping them develop and win stages at the Giro d’Italia or elsewhere.
In lean years he also signs older riders, perhaps after doping suspensions, securing their services cheaply but also giving them a chance of redemption. His budget may be less than a tenth of the WorldTour super teams but he forgoes expensive marginal gains for simple Italian know-how and experience.
Savio helped Egan Bernal develop in 2016 and 2017, cashing in his investment when Team Sky offered to buy out the Colombian’s contract for 2018. He immediately won the Colombia Oro y Paz stage race in Team Sky colours and was second to Valverde at the Volta a Catalunya before crashing out on the final stage.
Savio was never worried about letting Bernal move to Team Sky for 2018 because he already had other riders in the pipeline that could replace him. Sosa is his next young Colombian rough diamond. Sosa revealed he is a close friend of Bernal, and they seem very similar. He is a 60kg pure climber but also has the steely determination and hunger needed to survive and even strive in Europe.
“It was difficult to move to Italy, to be far from home but I knew I had to do it to build my future in Europe,” Sosa said as he sat alongside Savio in the post-race press conference.
“I never hoped to take the leader’s jersey but I went well yesterday and today went even better at Alpe di Pampeago. On the climb other riders were gradually spat out the back but I was up there and able to race with some of the best riders in the world. That was emotional.”
Savio has helped a long list of Colombian riders over the years. Some have floundered and lost their way but some have flourished. Savio basked in the limelight at Alpe di Pampeago thanks to Sosa, recalling when he won the then Giro del Trentino back in 1991 with Leonardo Sierra, one of his first Colombian discoveries.
He compares Sosa to Nelson Cacaito Rodriguez, who won a stage at the 1994 Tour de France. He is overjoyed to have discovered another young talent that will help carry his team forward and perhaps even win this year’s Tour of the Alps.
“My budget is not that of a major WorldTour team but I think I spend it well by finding talented young riders. My passion for cycling means I’m always happy to head around the world in search of talented young riders for my team. I’m a talent scout as much I am a team manager,” Savio told Cyclingnews.
“I found Ivan because I’m the former Italian national coach and still have excellent links across South America. Ivan raced with the Maltinti amateur team in Tuscany and his agent is Paolo Alberati, who also worked with Egan Bernal when we developed him.
“The secret is to understand the mentality of the Colombian and South American riders. They’re taken away from their roots, their family and friends, so it’s important they don’t spend too much time away from home. They spend two months with us, then go home, recover and then come back and race more.”
Savio has signed Sosa to a two-year contract but knows he will probably now have to increase his salary. However, he will not push the 20-year-old ride the Giro d’Italia.
“I can confirm that he won’t ride the Giro d’Italia this year. That’s perhaps against the interests of the team because he could well in the mountains and in the best young rider’s classification but it would go against his interest,” Savio suggested
“There’s a big difference between riding a three-week Grand Tour with stages over 200km, and the five-day Tour of the Alps with short but hilly stages. Putting Sosa into the Giro would be like throwing him into the lion’s den. It’d be risky for him physically and psychologically. He’d no doubt give his all but he’d go too deep and so affect his future development.”
“I’m just happy he’s shown his ability at the Tour of the Alps. It’s good for him and a nice 70th birthday present for me.”
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