|Sassi busy rebuilding fitness and recovering reputations
It’s a stinker of a morning, first the news of Pegasus and now the departure of Aldo Sassi. Sassi was an Italian coach and sports scientist who ran the Mapei Training Centre near Milan in Italy.
For too long in Italian cycling the idea of a sports doctor rhymed with Ferrari and Conconi, names that for a while were associated with genius but in time linked to scandal. Sassi had in fact worked with them for he was involved in Francesco Moser’s 1984 Hour Record attempt.
But if some people didn’t change their ways, Sassi was able to grasp both the changing rules and culture but the primacy of rider health. He recently stated that methods that were possible in the 1980s were simply out of the question today.
It was with ideas like this that he began to forge a path for cleaner cycling along with a few riders from the Mapei squad. But the likes of Charlie Wegelius and Dario Cioni were not exactly household names and Sassi remained firmly in the background, although Cioni’s fourth place in the Giro in 2004 began to change that.
Yet perhaps the biggest changes happened with Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso. Evans was a perpetual runner-up but finally landed the big win in the 2009 Worlds in Mendrisio and more began to ask about his training methods, especially since the win was so emphatic.
Similarly Basso was in search of training plans but also credibility after many Italians were taken down in Operation Puerto and it was to Sassi that he turned. Under Sassi’s instruction, Basso published his blood values online and opened the doors to journalists, allowing reporters to spend days visiting training camps on the track and on the hills, where Sassi would follow his riders on a scooter, armed with a blood lactate monitor. As well as the lab, Sassi knew that the sensations on the tarmac were important. But the emphasis on transparency and communication was Sassi’s too, he was so much more than a coach.
Sassi was a leading sports scientist with published articles in respected journals and a keynote speaker at various conferences. Speaking to French journalist Nicolas Perthuis in Vélo Magazine, Dario Cioni said “He doesn’t do anything special. He just works and works, with an intellectual integrity that we’ve come to know“.
Rather than being a self-proclaimed magician, Sassi was simply a very good sports scientist and an adept coach. He was fast becoming the “go to” man for riders in trouble, notably Riccardo Ricco had agreed to work with Sassi as proof that he’d changed his ways. Battling with brain cancer perhaps Sassi knew this was a risk, indeed he quipped “what have I got to lose?“. Sassi was the future.