Paolo Savoldelli proved what a great champion he is when he turned from captain to super-domestique for Astana teammate Eddy Mazzoleni. The two-time Giro d'Italia winner crashed on the rain-soaked finale of stage 11 to Pinerolo and suffered in the following days to Briançon and the Oropa TT, however, instead of making the entire team support him 'Savo' asked that 'Mazzo' be given a free-card to play. Subsequently the two lit the Bergamo and Tre Cime di Lavaredo stages on fire.
"18 years ago, in the beginners level, I was in Nembrese, Mazzo at Nuova Palazzago," explained Savoldelli to La Gazzetta dello Sport of the two's early beginning in Bergamo. "I was accompanied by my father, him by his father, in the end our dads became friends." Mazzo added, "Savo, with long hair, who did not know anything about cycling. I was always nuts [for cycling] and one who never won."
"We both were together in Saeco [years 1998 and 1998 - ed.] but with different programs. Savo for the Giro, me for the Classics or for Cipollini," continued Eddy Mazzoleni, who was named after cycling great Eddy Merckx.
The two went their separate ways; Savo rode with T-Mobile and Discovery while Mazzo went to Lampre to help Cunego. The two have been reunited in Alexander Vinokourov's Astana. "We are back together this year, at Astana. I got a call from Vinokourov to be the Giro captain and to help at the Tour; Mazzo got a call from Vinokourov to help me at the Giro and him at the Tour. ... Also outside of the races we see each other. Mazzo and [Ivan] Gotti were the only riders that were invited to my wedding."
Mazzo noted of their winter's preparations, "this year we trained together often." Savo added, "At first, no, because I am from Val Seriana, Mazzo is from the Valle Imagna and Val Brembana, where there is too much traffic for my taste."
The bond between the two Bergamaschi was put on display in two stunning stages. Savoldelli explained how Astana's Giro plan unfolded. "Mazzo was tasked to stay near me, for security, behind me. The only day that he did not stay behind me I crashed, in Pinerolo. The day after there was the Agnello and Izoard."
But three days later they were back. "On the Bergamo stage we did well. On the San Marco I asked to Mazzo 'What do I do?' and he said 'Try.'" The two lit up the descent. One day later, on the mythical stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, they pulled back on the throttle again. Savo proved why he is called Il Falco Bergamasco when he led Mazzo down the Passo Giau and afterwards put Maglia Rosa Di Luca in dire straits.
"At the foot of Giau I asked to Mazzo 'Let's go?' But he said to wait." Savo was distanced near the top but Mazzo explained how they came back together. "Savo slipped off with two and a half kilometres to the top," continued the 33 year-old Mazzoleni. "I waited for him on the descent and we re-departed, and later I took off." He continued and was able to gain 1'24" on Di Luca; he currently sits second in the overall classification, 1'51" back.
"On the Zoncolan I will defend myself and in the crono I will fully commit myself. I am dreaming of the podium," concluded Mazzoleni.