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Balducci backed by Acqua & Sapone

An interview with Gabriele Balducci, March 17, 2007

Ten years after turning professional, Gabriele Balducci says he's found his place in Palmiro Masciarelli's Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo Professional Continental squad. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown spoke to Balducci about how he plans to use his experience to teach his younger teammates and add more victories to his palmarès.

Gabriele Balducci hit the professional scene in 1997 with the Refin squad, making his mark at that year's Giro d'Italia where he finished fourth on the second stage. A year later the Italian signed with the Scrigno outfit when he again showed his ability by claiming his first professional stage win on the opening stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico.

A decade has passed since the first time Balducci rolled out with the professional peloton and while he's entering the later stages of his career, there's no plans of retirement just yet. In fact, the 31 year-old believes that after all the years that have passed, he's finally found his true home at Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo.

"I am happy to be in this team," he explained, "after a few bad seasons, after Saeco, I think this is a good group of riders."

"I will ride as long as Masciarelli will keep me! No, I think I have another few years I can race," he added, before pointing out he wouldn't drag his career out as long as Andrei Tchmil. "No, not that long! This year and the next I want to also help out the young guys on our team, like Masciarelli's youngest son, Francesco."

Balducci has already began to convert his comfort within his new squad into results, placing second in Italy's opener GP Costa Etruschi and winning stage five of the Tour Méditerranéen. The early season form in the Northern semi-Classics holds the Italian in good stead for the Milan - Sanremo, a significant race to Balducci.

"I think they will help. I want to make a good impression at the Milano-Sanremo, it would be beautiful," continued Balducci, who has finished seventh and tenth in La Classicissima.

But the Milan - Sanremo isn't the only race that holds a place in Balducci's heart. A decade after taking his first professional win there, the Italian is aiming to add another Tirreno-Adratico stage win to his palmarès this week.

"A stage [win] would be great for me and the team, because in Italy it is really an important event," he explained. "And it is clear that a good Sanremo would be icing on the cake."

When it comes to this month's Milan - Sanremo, Balducci is confident that his squad as all the right ingredients to be a dominate force. While he outlined Filippo Pozzato as his favourite, and named Alessandro Petacchi, Tom Boonen, and Oscar Freire among his picks to watch in the event, he also noted the form of fellow Tuscan Daniele Bennati of Lampre-Fondital

"He is really going great right now: winning against Petacchi in the sprints of Valenciana," he said. "He is very impressive. He will for sure be one to watch in Sanremo. But remember that I won a stage of the Tour Méditerranéen against him last month. So, I think we have a chance for victory in Sanremo."

"We have the men for the job, even Stefano Garzelli will be there to help," continued Balducci. "I think we will also have some surprises, not the young men, because we have really young men, like Francesco Masciarelli, and, according to me, even these other guys will have their chances."

As the nation's largest single day race, Milano-Sanremo holds a particularly special place in most Italian rider's hearts and Balducci is no different.

"It always comes down to the last kilometres," he explained of the race's beauty. "The race always consists of the same danger points (…) the Capo Berta, the Cipressa and Poggio. I think that my move will come on the last capo (summit), or on the lead-up, between the Cipressa and then the Poggio."

When Cyclingnews spoke to Balducci he was fresh from finishing the Omloop Het Volk in 17th place, the second Italian across the line behind winner Filippo Pozzato. Having competed in the race on numerous occasions throughout his career, Balducci commented on its evolution over the years.

"Het Volk is always the first race in Belgium for me, and so, there is always something new," he noted. "This year seemed strange because on the pavé sections everyone seemed scared to make any attacks, being afraid to really open up with real racing.

"And so, this year, we arrived in the last ten kilometres and there were still lots of riders, but soon after came the real racing, but only with attacks," continued Balducci. "It was a big team game, with domestiques working well for their leaders to continually close the race down from behind."

When he's not racing, Balducci spends most of the year in the rolling green hills of Tuscany, where he owns a house in Santa Maria a Monte, in the Pisa province. The area is also home to another former professional cyclist in former Classics king Michele Bartoli, who retired after the 2004 season.

"In fact, I still train with Bartoli," said Balducci with a big smile. "He still goes very, very strong: he is incredible! I also train with [Manuele] Mori, [Fabio] Sabatini and [Paolo] Fornaciari. It is a good group of riders that I train with."

While Balducci hopes to achieve some more big results in this year's Milan-Sanremo and Giro d'Italia he also hints that there could be another milestone on the cards for season 2007. While he's quick to point there's currently no plans of having children for he and his wife, he noted that could soon change for the couple who will soon celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

"Not at this moment! But we would like to, maybe during this year," said a smiling Balducci.

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