As he sat on a beach in the Cook Islands in October, Enrico Gasparotto must have felt that his career was, well, all at sea. The Italian had left on his honeymoon midway through the month with no contract on the horizon for 2015. By the time he returned to his home in Lugano, he had braced himself for the likelihood that he might simply be cast adrift at the age of 32.
"The honeymoon wasn't as relaxing as it should have been because I hadn't had any response from anybody before I left," Gasparotto told Cyclingnews. "When I came home, I was 99 percent certain that instead of celebrating an end of year party with my fan club I'd be marking the end of my career."
Gasparotto was eventually hauled ashore by Pro Continental outfit Wanty-Groupe Gobert late last month, bringing an end to three months where he began to form the distinct impression that he was not waving, but drowning.
Very early in the year, he had tested the waters of the transfer market by speaking at length to Paolo Bettini about Fernando Alonso's abortive project. "We talked and talked, but I began to realise that the idea wasn't going to get off the ground," he said. By the time he was informed by Astana that he would not be kept aboard for 2015, the situation was rather more urgent, particularly given that it was by now late August.
"I only started reaching out to make real contacts after the GP Plouay, because I only got the definitive ‘'no' from [Alexandre] Vinokourov there," he said. "If Astana really didn't want to not renew my contract, they could have told me a lot sooner, because the WorldTour teams all negotiate their transfer campaigns very early. Even when they close deals in September, there's usually been contact from March, April or May."
Although he won Amstel Gold Race in 2012 and performed consistently at the Ardennes Classics in the two years since, Gasparotto was deemed surplus to requirements at Astana mainly, he says, because the team has decided to place its emphasis entirely on the stage racing aspirations of Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru and build what he calls a "dream team."
Yet despite the manner of his departure from Astana, Gasparotto seems to bear little rancour towards the Kazakh team. He was, however, rather more disappointed that no other WorldTour outfits saw fit to reel him in once he was dropped into the deep pool of free agents seeking passage for 2015.
"I always thought that if I was in difficulty, Vino would have kept a place for me. But that was probably my own error," he said. "What I didn't really expect was to have general 'no' from so many teams. That left a bad feeling alright."
His cause was surely not helped by the testimony provided by Leonardo Bertagnolli to the Padova-based doping inquiry in 2011, in which he named Gasparotto among the crew of former Liquigas riders who had been coached by Dr. Michele Ferrari in 2007. The testimony reached the public domain in the Autumn of 2012 and it was reported in the Italian press that Gasparotto was himself under investigation. Gasparotto diffused the bomb by reportedly procuring a document from investigators stating that he was not formally involved in the inquiry but the tension, it seems, remains.
"I believe that many people used that thing to say that they wouldn't take me," he said. "But I think the doubts are removed by talking about it. So, if somebody is truly interested in Gasparotto Enrico, we'll talk about it and I'll them how things how are. It's something from years ago – I won before, I won after and while I haven't won in the past two years, I had a very good season last year and only slightly less good this time around.
"If somebody is interested in Gasparotto Enrico, they can go and look into it fully like Wanty did, and any doubts can be removed by talking to the doctors and all the people who worked with me in various teams over the years."
Shortly after Gasparotto was deemed surplus to requirements, Astana also entered troubled waters, as news of the positive tests of Maxim and Valentin Iglinkskiy emerged, later followed by a troika of doping cases on the Astana Continental set-up. He echoed Nibali's assertion that riders on the WorldTour squad had no contact with the feeder team.
"In all my time at Astana, I never once met a rider from Astana Continental at any training camp. They were two completely separate entities but of course for the image of Kazakhstan it's not a good thing because they're all Kazakh riders," he said. "Obviously Vino, as manager, is an important figurehead, and I imagine he's had to offer explanations to the UCI about it."
Gasparotto had a somewhat closer perspective on Maxim Iglinskiy. They finished together on the podium of Liège-Bastogne-Liège the week after Gasparotto's Amstel win in 2012 and, as Astana's leaders for the Ardennes classics, they would often have been dispatched to train at Mount Teide and stay at the Hotel Parador at the same time. Was he surprised by the positive case?
"The only thing I can say is that I can't understand it," Gasparotto said. "It was always just a professional relationship with him. I got on fine with the Kazakhs but it wasn't a close rapport, it's not easy to have a close rapport because of the cultural differences. So I never spoke with him outside of cycling, and I just can't get my head around something like that."
2015 will also bring its share of cultural differences for Gasparotto, as he makes the move to a Belgian team, even if, as was the case at Astana, there is a strong Italian core at Wanty-Groupe Gobert, where the roster already includes Marco Marcato, Simone Antonini, Mirko Selvaggi and Danilo Napolitano.
"I had positive feedback from the Italians who are already there, and everybody told me that it's more of a familiar atmosphere than at Astana," he said. "I'm happy that after ten years as a professional I'm ending up in a Belgian team, in a country where the one-day race is the most important thing. It might be the ideal team for me at this point."
As a Pro Continental outfit, Wanty must rely on wildcards to ride the Classics but in its previous iterations it has usually found a place on the biggest Sundays of the Spring. As ever, the week of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be the centre-point of Gasparotto's campaign, although he keen on the idea of a first Tour of Flanders appearance in five years.
"I'd love to do Flanders again, so I can live all of the emotions that riding in a Belgian team creates in that race," he said, although he acknowledged that he may again be compelled to keep his powder dry for the Ardennes. "They're the races where I've always gone well and I love them, so I'll certainly take responsibility there. In those races, I'd like to have the team for me because I'm convinced I can get a result."
Amstel Gold Race, in particular, has become something of a specialty, even if Gasparotto laments the alteration to the parcours introduced last year, which saw the finish line shifted over a kilometre past its previous location at the summit of the Cauberg. "I was first  and third  on the old course but this suits me a lot less," he said.
Come season's end, Gasparotto's eyes will be trained, as ever, on a berth on the Italian team at the World Championships, a distinction that has so far eluded him, though he demurred when it was put to him that his over-riding ambition will be to re-surface on a top flight team in twelve months' time.
"It's not so much about regaining a WorldTour place because that's no guarantee of having a wage commensurate with your value as an athlete," he said. "The desire is more for me to return to my correct level."
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