Tim Maloney, European Editor in Lamporecchio
On Saturday evening at an elegant Tuscan villa high in the hills above Lamporecchio, Andrea Tafi said good bye to his career as a pro cyclist. Hundreds of friends and fans gathered at Villa Rospigliosi for "TifoTafi Forever", a unique talk-show style format party conceived by Italian PR maestro Gabriele Sola and hosted by RAI Sport TV broadcaster Alessandra Di Stefano.
To honor Tafi, one of the most popular Italian riders in recent memory were a host of "i big" of cycling, including: UCI prexy Hein Verbruggen; Tafi's Tuscan neighbor, former Mapei team-mate and current technical director for the Italian pro federation Franco Ballerini; newly elected Italian federation president Di Rocco; two-time world champion Gianni Bugno; RAI Sport TV's Davide Cassani; and former pros like Roberto Conti, Saunier Duval-Prodir manager Mauro Gianetti, Tafi's last boss.
Legendary Tuscan sprinter of the 1950s, Lorenzo Petrucci, was also present and Tafi's longtime DS Fabrizio "Mayday" Fabbri was there as well as former Giro boss Avv. Carmine Castellano. "I'm really honored by this evening... it's a great way to leave cycling as a rider, but I'm not going far," joked the ever-ebullient Tafi, who will open an agriturismo hotel dedicated to cyclists in Lamporecchio this summer.
Born May 7, 1966 in Fucecchio, Italy, Tafi was a classic model of the rider the Italians call a "passista". In his prime, Andrea was a steamroller of a rider, a powerhouse pro, who could go incredibly hard on flat and rolling terrain and ride well on short climbs of 5-10km. He turned pro in 1989 and earned 30 wins in his pro career, but his last two seasons in 2003-4 at CSC and then Alessio were beset with injury and disappointment after his brilliant solo win at the Tour of Flanders in 2002 for Mapei.
Although Tafi didn't win often, he often won big, with monuments like Paris-Roubaix, Flanders, Paris-Tours, Giro di Lombardia and major races like Italian Pro Championship (1998), Giro del Lazio, Giro del Piemonte and Rochester World Cup (1997) among his palmares. Tafi was a rider of the "circolo popolo", a man for the common man, an incredibly generous rider who might have won more if he had been more selfish. But on his day, Andrea Tafi could ride any rider in the world off his wheel to win, or make one of his devastating counter-attacks like the one that propelled him to his last major win in Flanders three years ago.
For his final half-season, a healthy Tafi had a respectable spring campaign for Saunier Duval-Prodir and rode his last race in Georgia last month. Tafi always enjoyed racing in America, where he made his pro debut in the 1989 Tour de Trump and won two stages of the long-defunct Tour of Americas in 1990. Tafi told Cyclingnews that he has especially fond memories of the 1998 USPRO Championships in Philadelphia, where a warm reception from his American tifosi provoked him to ride an especially aggressive race that June Sunday. "Please tell all my American tifosi thanks for everything," Tafi made a point of telling Cyclingnews at his TifoTafi Forever farewell.
Arrivederci Tafi! Grazie per tutto! Sei un grande!