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Mapei and The Lost Glory Days

Mapei Stadium

Today’s stage of the Giro doesn’t look like a thriller but ride the route and there are plenty of tales along the way, especially at the finish in Reggio Emilia where the city’s sports arena, the Mapei stadium, is a reminder of Italian cycling’s last glory days.

In the 1930s Rodolofo Squinzi founded Materiali Ausiliari Per Edilizia e Industria, “auxillary materials for construction and industry”, better known by its initials MAPEI. It sold paint, primarily for large construction projects like factories and airports. It grew and expanded into adhesives, especially to stick linoleum to the ground, all the rage back then. Italy then went through a ceramic boom which brings us to the start of today’s stage, the riders will pedal up the Lamone valley from Faenza and past huge deposits of clay which had been used since ancient times for pottery. In Italy’s post-war boom industrial techniques allowed mass production of ceramic tiling and flooring. So what? Well this manufacturing generated wealth and brands and cycling teams like Ariostea and Panaria thrived from this clay.

Ariostea ran from 1984 to 1993, later with a distinctive jersey with a rooftile pattern on the jersey, one of the earliest cycling jerseys to depict the sponsor’s product. The team did well although a lot of its success was probably down to surfing the rising tide of EPO abuse and it was among the first squads to catch the wave in the 1990s. Sponsorship by the likes of Ariostea and Panaria tells a tale of mid-size Italian firms able to back a top flight cycling team, something that is almost impossible today given the way the costs of team sponsorship have soared.

Back to ceramics because at Mapei Rodolofo’s son Giorgio took over the firm in the 1970s after finishing his studies as a chemical engineer. He expanded the firm to produce chemical additives for the ceramics industry and other products for like grouting, mortar and waterproofing agents which let people stick the tiles to the wall or ground. It boomed and expanded around the world. Giorgio Squinzi was a cycling fan and backed a cycling team in the early 1990s, rescuing the Eldor-Viner team in 1993 and then Mapei-Clas was launched for 1994, the merger of the Italian squad with a Spanish outfit. This then merged with parts of the GB-MG Maglificio to become an Italo-Belgian squad and the forerunner of today’s Quick Step team, or at least some of Mapei’s DNA was merged into the Quick Step team. Like Quick Step it thrived in the spring classics but also won the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia with Swiss rider Toni Rominger and was the dominant team of the late 1990s, topping the rankings regularly and packed with stars like Tony Rominger, Johan Museeuw, Franco Ballerini, Andrea Tafi and Paolo Bettini.

In 2000 they had a big roster with 41 riders that year if we include the stagiaires – this was before the UCI capped the team size at 30 – and was hoovering up the cream of the U23 talent. The budget back then was €10-12 million a year, a sum that would get you into the World Tour today and 15 years ago this was colossal. There’s a great feature from Pro Cycling magazine on the team over at cyclingnews.com.

The jersey itself was notable or rather the kit as an ensemble. This was one of the first times that the shorts and jersey went together and had matching patterns: partly because they could. New textile manufacturing meant cycling shorts could have patterned prints and so Mapei’s cubes appeared. They live on today with friends Prendas Ciclismo selling the retro kit. They rode Colnago C40 bikes, a carbon frame arguably years ahead of its time.

So far so good but the glory turned gory. It all came crashing down in 2002 when Stefano Garzelli tested positive during the Giro for probenicid, a masking agent. He was leading the race at the time, there was talk of spiked samples but whatever it was, Giorgio Squinzi decided to pull his money out of the sport, fed up with its inability to tackle doping. Squinzi wanted a clean team and a clean sport but given the mess of the sport in this era it seems hard to imagine everyone on Mapei was riding on bread and water to put it mildly but Squinzi did at least try to draw a line in the sand and his mere act of speaking out in favour of a clean sport was, as odd as it sounds today, outrageous and subversive at the time. He feuded with the UCI, then under the presidency of Hein Verbruggen. Squinzi told the Italian media that Verbruggen threatened to scrap Mapei’s team licence because he once said that it was hard to get in the top five of a grand tour without blood doping. On what grounds Verbruggen could have followed through is unknown but the point is that Squinzi felt he was raising an alarm but was told to shut up or face consequences. Squinzi walked out the sport but the team continued.

Squinzi gave up on cycling but not sport. Mapei had a factory in Sassuolo, near today’s stage route, and the company had sponsored the local soccer club since the 1980s. In 2004 Squizi bought control of U.S. Sassuolo Calcio as it languished in Italy’s Serie C2, its fourth division. The “miracolo Sassuolo” began as the team rose up the ranks, to Serie C1 in 2006, Serie B in 2008 and Serie A in 2013, and along the way moving into the Mapei stadium with plenty of politics too but that’s another story. Sassuolo have just finished sixth in Serie A after beating Inter Milan in the final game of the season to qualify for the Europa League. In the meantime Squinzi wasn’t just making chemicals and funding a football team, in 2012 he became the head of Confindustria, Italy’s powerful federation of employers and held the post for five years.

When the Giro reaches Reggio Emilia today and finishes a short distance away from the Mapei stadium it’s hard not to wonder what Italian pro cycling would look like if such an influential and wealthy person could have stayed in the sport or be tempted to return. Squinzi’s success in football suggests he’ll stay in the stadium.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • gabriele Thursday, 18 May 2017, 12:47 pm

    The Squinzi vs. doping agiography is a little one-sided (while the Garzelli positive test was a whole spy story in itself), but I won’t further tackle the subject… better if it stays buried and Squinzi enjoys football.

    • CA Thursday, 18 May 2017, 8:11 pm

      Exactly, and a little short-sighted to think that the only Italian athletes who doped were cyclists…

      Football has more money than cycling and had poorer testing… exact same temptations to dope

      Anyways, I’ll let this go.

      Inrng, another excellent piece to make my thursday lunch break fly by

      thanks

      • Larry T Thursday, 18 May 2017, 9:35 pm

        “the only Italian athletes who doped were cyclists…” Really? Seriously?
        What I find more sad is this – “…mid-size Italian firms able to back a top flight cycling team, something that is almost impossible today given the way the costs of team sponsorship have soared.” which can’t be blamed on Italians, doping or their economy. And fans wonder why only corrupt regimes, gambling interests and the bike industry (with a few exceptions) are all that’s left to sponsor cycling?
        Thanks Heinie!

        • CA Thursday, 18 May 2017, 10:29 pm

          Totally agree – if the UCI was to be an effective oversight body it would have made significant moves to stabilise the sport’s business model (which can be likened to a “charity-hand’s-out-for-spare-change from rich people” instead of an actual business model).

          One major step IMHO would have been to limit budgets. I don’t want to go overboard, but I think a reasonable budget cap would have had a few positive effects.

  • CoDrvr Thursday, 18 May 2017, 1:48 pm

    Typo: ‘ Italian cycling’s last glory days’ ought to be ‘ Italian cycling’s lost glory days’. 😉

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 18 May 2017, 1:59 pm

      That’s a correction I’d like to be able to make but without a team in the World Tour any more you wonder if Squinzi could help arrange things given his contracts.

      • Ecky Thump Thursday, 18 May 2017, 2:50 pm

        Mapei are still a sponsor of the UCI and the World Championships though?

        • The Inner Ring Thursday, 18 May 2017, 3:16 pm

          We’re talking small sums though. They also have a sports performance center in their name, essentially the late Aldo Sassi’s operation.

  • Max Thursday, 18 May 2017, 2:07 pm

    Pretty sure I read something about blogger’s rest days, this Thursday and Friday somewhere here.
    Glad you´ve changed your mind.

  • Matt W Thursday, 18 May 2017, 4:21 pm

    Iconic kit, Tafis win at Flanders etc. Also great tile adhesive, I got a free Mapei T shirt once from the builders merchants, meant more to me than most who got one though I imagine?

    • Chris Friday, 19 May 2017, 2:04 am

      I wear a tattered Mapei hi-vis vest at work though I work in an industrial setting where no Mapei products are used. The tiler I got it from couldn’t fathom why I would want it.

  • One Man Grupetto Thursday, 18 May 2017, 4:53 pm

    Really interesting. I thought I knew a lot about this but turns out there were serious gaps. And very sensible not to delve into the issues of the Sassuolo/Reggiana stadium politics.

    Interestingly, not the only Italian bike sponsor to turn to the round ball after a doping scandal. Acqua e Sapone went off to sponsor Pescara for a season and now have a futsal team with the company title in Serie A.

    • Ronin Wednesday, 24 May 2017, 8:44 pm

      Well, you’ve got me intrigued now, about the “stadium politics”. . . . from Wiki.

      “Sassuolo’s move and MAPEI’s acquisition and subsequent renaming of the stadium has caused much outrage from supporters of Reggiana.[4] The protests included demonstrations at the 2015 TIM Trophy and during some Sassuolo’s Serie A games and the formation of a group called “Via il Sassuolo da Reggio Emilia” (Sassuolo out of Reggio Emilia), but also marches through the city centre to raise the attention on the topic. In September 2016, Luca Vecchi, Mayor of Reggio Emilia, was heavily booed by the fans during the club’s presentation due to the Municipality position on the dispute.”

      That’s it? Am I missing something. I was hoping for something more seedy.

  • Kjetil Thursday, 18 May 2017, 6:31 pm

    That 2002 sans Quick Step-logos “Prendas” kit (IMO one of the best kits ever) is the company club kit ’round my parts. And Norwegian TV2’s cycling content (the stuff with Dag Otto in it) is “Presented by Mapei”.

    Coming to the sport in the nineties, Mapei IS cycling to me. My wife has a Colnago Technos in AD10, the Mapei colour. She really likes blue.

  • marco Thursday, 18 May 2017, 6:38 pm

    If I recall correctly, wasn’t there a Mapei Div III feeder team too? It had Pozzato, Cancellera, Wegelius, and several others who went on to do well.

    and pretty gutsy/stupid for Hein to challenge the one man who had made 1 of the largest investments in cycling!

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 18 May 2017, 7:04 pm

      That was the main team but having 41 riders including this three they could effectively send a youth team to lesser races.

    • gabriele Friday, 19 May 2017, 2:01 am

      I’d say, but that’s surely my imagination, that Hein was protecting his own investments (literally so).

  • Richard S Thursday, 18 May 2017, 11:48 pm

    I’ve just got back from Italy where yesterday afternoon I observed a well fed middle aged man in a Mapei-Quick Step jersey, albeit on a mountain bike. It made my holiday. I wonder who he was in his imagination; Ballerini, Tafi, Musseuw maybe?!

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 18 May 2017, 11:54 pm

      This is quite a common sight across Italy, just as you’ll still see plenty of Festina jerseys in France.

      • Eskerrik Asko Friday, 19 May 2017, 8:09 am

        Not only in Italy. I would say that it is by far the most common retro team jersey in these parts. It is much rarer to see a FDJ or Liquigas jersey in Finland or jerseys of the teams or former teams once worn by Swedish riders in that country.
        Curiously enough, U.S. Postal would probably come second; those diehard Lance fans do seem to like their jerseys…
        PS I’d sugggest that although current pro team jerseys or their replicas are not immensely popular here, either – they are considered a certain sign of a new or a sunny summer Sunday rider or in breach of one Velominati rule or another – but they are a more common sight on the roads than in central Europe.

  • Anonymous Friday, 19 May 2017, 12:17 am

    Perhaps the best ever “in your face” pro team kits ever!

  • Strictly Amateur / The GCW Friday, 19 May 2017, 1:54 am

    I learn a lot here; Thanks Mr. INRNG. -Seriously!
    Seen kit at Prendas Cyclisimo and if I had more pada and gonads I’d have it.

    To be more honest, if I had more pada, I’d get another INRNG jersey; mine may be getting tattered. Backup.

    At least Italy isn’t doing a Germany.

  • J Evans Friday, 19 May 2017, 2:24 am

    This article reminds you of what are still the biggest problems for cycling – tackling ‘controversy’, primarily cheating or at least the perception of cheating; and some sort of budget cap to stop the domination of big teams.
    It also reminds you of how dull the kits are at the moment – and please not another black and white kit (the first one – Garmin’s – was interesting, then the whole world decided to copy).

  • Joe K. Friday, 19 May 2017, 9:20 am

    Every time I see that Mapei jersey, I want to grab that candy jar full of gum drops!

  • PT Friday, 19 May 2017, 12:58 pm

    Every time I see that kit I think of shameless dopers. Industrial sponsor + industrial doping: a lovely match.

    • J Evans Friday, 19 May 2017, 2:14 pm

      Unlike their opposition?

      • PT Sunday, 21 May 2017, 1:22 am

        The article is about Mapei.

  • Richard S Friday, 19 May 2017, 1:02 pm

    It is a shame the way Italian teams have disappeared, especially as a fan of Italian cycling. I always had a soft spot for Fassa Bortolo and Acqua e Sapone. The best Italian riders, barring Nibs and Aru, seem to get whisked away to be donestiqes (or gregari I suppose) at places like Sky, Quick Step and Movistar when maybe if there were a couple of Italian teams around they’d get a chance at leadership themselves. There must be a state lottery in Italy, surely they can be persuaded to invest in the same way they have in Belgium, Holland, France and the UK, based around the national track teams or something?

    • StevhanTI Friday, 19 May 2017, 4:31 pm

      Trentin and Brambilla at Quickstep are offered chances to shine regularily and grabbed those chances nicely I’d say.

      • Richard S Friday, 19 May 2017, 7:20 pm

        I’m not sure, I’d say Trentin is the workhorse of Quick Step. He’s very rarely an outright leader, as you’d expect in that team, but when given a chance as you say his hit rate is pretty high. I think in a smaller team he’s easily good enough to be a leader in the classics and as a stage hunter at Grand Tours, or in a big home grown team. He’s at least on a par with Rowe at Sky, with a better palmares. Brambilla has been more of a slow burner but was showing promise last year to step up a level. Also, Rosa and Moscon are probably already good enough to have a small/medium sized team built around them.

  • AnotherDavid Friday, 19 May 2017, 4:12 pm

    Another enjoyable read, and my cycling history knowledge is expanding thanks to inrng

  • Gazelle CM Friday, 19 May 2017, 4:17 pm

    My iconic Italian s hirt is Brooklyn Chewing Gum, I ride it on my of course Gios bike, but then of course I am older( vintage 1950).