Already one of the leading Italian Classics riders of his generation, Manuel Quinziato believes that his move from Liquigas to BMC Racing will help him and his team scale new heights in 2011.
Quinziato told Cyclingnews that, with his arrival and also the signing of Belgian finisseur Greg Van Avermaet from Omega Pharma Lotto, BMC's line-up will be the most formidable in the peloton at next year's cobbled Classics. "If you add us two to Marcus Burghardt, Karsten Kroon, George Hincapie and Alessandro Ballan, I think that, collectively, we're stronger than anyone," he said.
After five years at Liquigas, the 31-year-old from Bolzano, close to Italy's border with Austria, said that BMC's ambition was the key factor in his decision to join the Swiss-based team.
Liquigas CEO Paolo Zani hinted recently that his squad had also been forced to bow to the superior spending power of BMC and Astana when trying and failing to renew the contracts of Quinziato and Roman Kreuziger respectively.
"I think, at the moment, BMC is the fastest-growing team in professional cycling," said Quinziato. "I could see evidence of that in the little two-day training camp we had at the team headquarters in Switzerland after the Tour of Lombardy.
"I had offers from around five teams but BMC were the best-equipped for the Classics. Lance [Armstrong] spoke to me about joining RadioShack, which was very flattering, but that's more of a stage-racing team. Quick Step, Katusha and a couple of others were also interested..."
Thirteenth at Paris-Roubaix in 2008 (a performance which prompted the headline: "Quinziato and Roubaix: Love at First Sight" in the following day's Gazzetta dello Sport) and ninth the following year, Quinziato failed to live up to his own expectations in 2010, struggling to 63rd place. He says that the experience nonetheless taught him some valuable lessons.
"I was going well in Tirreno-Adriatico but was tired and empty by the time I got to Flanders and Roubaix. Cancellara was too good for everyone, anyway, but it might be different this year. He's in a new team and he won't be able to count on [Rabobank-bound] Matti Breschel any more. That said, if he's as strong as he was this year, he'll be very hard to beat. That's why our power in numbers could be crucial."
Quinziato is one of the more engaging and educated members of the Italian gruppo. The former Lampre rider juggles cycling with the demands of a part-time law degree, and spends much of the close season revising for exams. On Tuesday, he was browsing legal tomes in a Madrid bookstore when he took our call.
"I've got three exams still to do, and I hope to do one a year for the next three years," he said. "When I was younger, I got some very good advice - a cycling career lasts 15 years and you have to find ways of filling the rest of your life. For me, though, the degree is more than just a piece of paper or a means to an end. It's also a life experience. It'd be good to use what I've learned later while also staying in cycling."
A week ago, Quinziato was in Mexico, lining up alongside Andy Schleck, Samuel Sanchez and Alexandre Vinokourov in the end-of-season criterium won by the Kazakh.
While for most riders such events offer a handsome appearance fee, plus time to unwind and attend to those tan-lines, music fanatic Quinziato left Mexico with an unexpected souvenir.
"I was in the lift one day with a big American fellow who, out of nowhere, just started talking to me," Quinziato said. "He came out with this story about him being the father of the Followill brothers, who of course most people know as the band Kings of Leon.
"He was telling me about how he'd been a preacher and battled alcoholism, and how the band was named after 'Leon', his father. I didn't really believe him, but then I read all about him on the internet. I also looked up photos and, sure enough, it was the guy from the lift...
"It's funny - that's the second time something like that has happened in a few months," Quinziato continued. "A while back, I did an interview with Reuters in which I talked about listening to Rage Against The Machine in my warm up for time-trials.
"Not long later I got a message on Twitter from the guitarist of the band Pendulum saying I should give them a try instead. This guy used to be in Nathalie Imbruglia's backing band. Anyway, he's a cycling fanatic and we've stayed in touch. Now I'm going to see them live in Innsbruck..."