At the start of stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia in Reggio d'Emilia, Team Sky's Swedish rider Thomas Löfkvist met Italian cycling legend Alfredo Martini who passed on his encouragement and wished him to emulate his compatriot Gösta Petterson who won the race exactly 40 years ago.
"In 1971, I was his directeur sportif when he won the Giro," said the 90-year-old Tuscan who directed the Italian national team at the world championships from 1975 to 1997 and led Francesco Moser (1977, San Cristobal), Giuseppe Saronni (1982, Goodwood), Moreno Argentin (1986, Colorado Springs), Maurizio Fondriest (1988, Ronse), Gianni Bugno (1991, Stuttgart, and 1992, Benidorm).
From 1969 to 1972, Martini was the directeur sportif of the Ferretti team in which he had under his orders the four Petterson brothers, Gösta, Erik, Sture and Tomas, who were the pioneers of Swedish cycling.
On March 10, at the start of stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico, Martini donated the pink jersey of the 1971 Giro d'Italia won by Petterson to the cycling museum of the Ghisallo.
"These were years before me but I know that Petterson won the Giro, came third in the Tour de France and was the world champion for team time trial," Löfkvist commented. His passion for the Giro d'Italia was passed on to him by Tommy Prim, who was second to Bernard Hinault in 1982. Prim was Löfkvist's first directeur sportif at Team Bianchi Scandinavia in 2003 before he joined Française des Jeux.
Riding for Columbia, Löfkvist had the pink jersey of the Giro in 2009 and fell in love with the Italian race. Last year, he felt sad not riding it when he saw the race on TV, so he made it his major goal for this season.
"I want to ride a good GC," he told Cyclingnews. "That means to climb well for three weeks and avoid having a bad day like two years ago when I lost position and even the white jersey [to Kevin Seeldraeyers, ed.]. I've become more consistent I think. It comes with the age."
The 27-year-old is well-escorted at Team Sky by the likes of Dario Cioni, Michael Barry and Kjell Carlström who are very experienced in Grand Tours.
"The spirit in the team is important to perform," Löfkvist commented. "We don't have the same quality as last time with Columbia when we won six stages but we are capable of a good GC and some stage wins. I want to do well but honestly, I think I'll have a hard time beating Alberto [Contador] if he doesn't have any problem. [Vincenzo] Nibali and him are the two super favourites. After that, it's very open."
Löfkvist was realistic enough to not promise Martini that he'll be the second Swedish winner of the Giro d'Italia 40 years after Petterson in three weeks' time.