Giuseppe Saronni has revealed he is stepping back from an important management role at UAE Team Emirates as the WorldTour team bring in a raft of changes to their medical and coaching staff.
UAE Team Emirates signed Fernando Gaviria and have also brought in Allan Peiper and Neil Stephens as new directeurs sportif for 2019. Other new signings include Sergio Henao from Team Sky, Ivo and Rui Oliveira and Jasper Philipsen from Hagens Berman Axeon and Tour de L’Avenir winner Tadej Pogacar. Dan Martin, Fabio Aru, Diego Ulissi, Rui Costa and Alexander Kristoff remain as other team leaders.
South Africa’s Jeroen Swart is the new medical director. New team doctors include Adriano Rotunno and Jarrad Van Zuydam from Dimension Data and Jason Suter. They will work with Italian doctor Michele De Grandi. Swart lead the physiological lab tests into Chris Froome’s ability following the intense scrutiny of his 2015 Tour victory and has often spoken publicly via social media about performances in professional cycling.
Colorado-based Iñigo San Millan is the new head of trainers and is joined by South Africa’s John Wakefield, former professional rider Rubens Bertogliati and Adrie Van Diemen, who worked with Greg LeMond in the final years of his career, with the Rabobank development team and with the Garmin team.
Saronni told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he will remain on the board of the team but wants to step back from the daily stress of running a major team. Mauro Gianetti remains as the team’s managing director, his son Carlo Saronni is operations director and Joxean Matxin is team manager.
Saronni has been involved in cycling all his life. He was one of Italy’s greatest riders between 1977 and 1990, sparking a legendary rivalry with Francesco Moser that divided the Italian tifosi. He won the Giro d’Italia in 1979 and 1983 and the world title in Goodwood, England, in 1982, with a late attack that distanced the rest of the peloton. He managed the Lampre team for many years, with the Italian team becoming far more international with the arrival of funding from the UAE.
“I don’t have the responsibility of the past,” Saronni said. "I need more time for myself and my family after 30 years of stress and tension
“I want to be free of the worries and weight of creating the team. I’ll still be on the board of the teams, but I’m going to stay in the back ground, perhaps being an inspiration, a friend or consultant. But my role in the team doesn’t exist any more.”
Working with true professionals
UAE Team Emirates won just 12 races in 2018. Stage victories by Martin and Kristoff at the Tour de France were the highlights of the season, but Aru struggled at the Giro d’Italia and at the Vuelta a Espana.
“In 2018 we really where below our potential,” Saronni admitted, while being optimistic for the future after the significant changes in the team staff.
“We had to change a lot and we have,” he added. “In our third year we’ve got everything to be one of the best teams in the world.
“We made two important agreements with the Cape Town and Colorado Universities. We knew we needed to have qualified and specific skills in the team. We wanted the best for every sector. There’s no blame on those who where here before, indeed I want to thank them for building the group; this is a natural evolution. Teams have changed; look at Team Sky and others. Now you’ve got to work with professionals, put them together, give them clear roles and responsibility.
Saronni had huge praise for Gaviria but admitted he is still uncertain why Aru performed so badly in 2018.
“[Gaviria] is a real talent and immense potential. He doesn’t know his own limits. He’s got to be carefully managed, but he could be the new Sagan,” Saronni said.
“As well as the Tour, it’s very probable he’ll be at the Giro d’Italia. The average age of the nine new riders is just over 23, and people should remember the name of the young Slovenian rider Pogacar; he won the Tour de L’Avenir.”
“It’s not easy to find an answer to questions about Aru. There are so many different circumstances and there can’t only be one factor. We’ve worked on verifying things and testing. The new medical staff is analysing things and we hope and believe we’ve found a solution or at least identified the biggest problems so we can resolve them.
“Now its up to Fabio. I don’t think his level is that of 2018.”
Competing with Segafredo to sign Nibali, open to new projects
Aru has a contract for 2020, while Martin’s contract ends this year. UAE Tem Emirates will also have to fight for one of the 18 places in the 2020 WorldTour.
Saronni confirmed that UAE Team Emirates could be interested in signing Vincenzo Nibali if he fails to reach a new deal with Bahrain-Merida but also lets slip that Segafredo are very interested in securing the Sicilian’s services for 2020 and beyond.
“The sponsor most interested in Nibali is Segafredo, and that’s normal because they’re Italian and they were close to reaching a deal in the past,” Saronni revealed.
“That’s because they’re both Italian, for them it’d be about more than just the racing. Who wouldn’t like Vincenzo in their team? He’s very interesting to us too, there has been some contact and offers…
At 61, Saronni is ready for a quieter life but admitted that he could also be open to helping a new Italian sponsor if they wanted to back a team. It seems there is some interest.
“Ten years ago I predicted the crisis that has hit the Italian scene," he said. "But now I’m not so pessimistic. Things are starting to move, companies and sponsors are interested in getting involved in cycling. They’ve even come to ask me and to understand things. They’re interested because cycling is a lifestyle, a model for the future and is fashionable. If there’s an Italian sponsor out there for a big project, I’m available.”