Over the coming weeks this blog will be taking a closer look at Italian cycling and cycling in Italy. To start, a quick piece on Filippo Pozzato. Why? Because he seems to be a media darling despite few results these days and a controversial past. His profile is bigger than his palmarès and here’s a suggestion why…

Background: “Pippo” Pozzato started his career with the Mapei team in 2000. This was the sport’s super team of the era, a big budget and a big roster with 41 riders that year if we include the stagiaires, it was before the UCI capped the team size at 30. After a slow start, to be expected given he turned pro aged 18, Pozzato took a Tour de France stage in 2004 and then his biggest career win was Milan-Sanremo in 2006, still aged 24.

The Wire: At some point from 2009 onwards his phone was being tapped by Italian police as an investigation branched out and to cut a long story short he was linked to working with banned doctor Michele Ferrari. Pozzato was eventually sanctioned with a three month ban where the brevity owed itself to some classic Italian bureaucracy because if Ferrari had been banned in 2002 by the Italian authorities Ferrari’s name wasn’t on a readily available list. Pozzato just said he was getting training plans. Many here just see a cheat. Or maybe you’ve seen the tattoos, the hair and the self-adoration from his Instagram account and see a vain side.

Crowd pleaser: visit the Giro and you’ll see someone else. Visiting last year’s Giro it was remarkable how visible Pozzato was before the race started. While most riders emerge as late as possible from the team bus to sign on, Pozzato could be found doing what the Italian call a bagno di folla, literally bathing in the crowd. He’ll stop for a selfie with fans and seems always ready with a smile and a handshake with the race organisation or staff from other teams. He’s there for the media too and when it’s a journalist’s job to find someone with something interesting to say he’ll supply quotes and always seems ready for RAI. It’s similar to the late Michele Scarponi, although Scarponi was more the comedian and Pozzato more the playboy.

Pozzato adds a touch of glamour in an sterile world of power meters and altitude training camps. The Peacock of Sandrigo lives in Monaco, drives a Ferrari and has dated celebrities. “So what?” you may say but this means a reach beyond the sports pages making him a celebrity, albeit a minor one.

There’s a self-deprecating side too. Last year he almost won a stage of the Giro in Cassano d’Adda. He jumped clear with one kilometre to go and took the sprint trains by surprise, only for Roger Kluge to latch onto the move and surge past to take the stage win. It led to this memorable quote…

Pozzato doesn’t win and has skeletons in the cupboard so why so popular? Readers have asked this by email and here’s a blog post reply saved up for the Giro. It’s because there’s a friendly and approachable side to Pozzato that can be hard to see see if you just check the results, watch Eurosport or read his Wikipedia page. Go to an Italian race like the Giro and he’ll be out greeting the crowds and chatting to the media when many are sitting tight in the team bus.

31 thoughts on “Pozzato”

  1. The celebs self-fulfilling prophecy… they need to speak about you because you’re a celeb and you’re a celeb because they need to speak about you. Pozzato’s case is really a mix of factors. Note that inrng is now writing about him, because readers asked, because they saw him on TV, and now he’s got a blog entry dedicated to him alone 🙂

    (not blaming inrng or the readers, it’s an entertaining phenomenon, up to a point it even becomes a self-referential game, even if one I wouldn’t take part in… oh wait, I just did it!)

  2. Surely journalist Daniel Friebe’s obsession with “Pippo”, so frequently aired on the Cycling Podcast that it’s become a running joke (see tweet above), has a lot to do with Pozzato’s recent high (social) media profile, at least amongst Anglophones. On last night’s edition, Friebe was berated for turning it into the Cycling Pozzatocast…

    • One of the reasons that make the character quite much less likeable (others below).

      All the same, the career resumé presented by inrng looks slightly biased by the article’s angle. An understatement, at least. Sure, a Monument is going to be your biggest win if you’re a cyclist more often than not, whenever you win it during your career.

      But truth is that Pozzato was one of the main contenders in “heavy guys” Monuments during the 2008-2012 period (arguably, those five years are the most logical age peak in his career, from 27 to 31 years old – right what you’d expect from a precocious pro): he collected three Monument runner-up spots, one each in Sanremo, Flanders and Roubaix, plus some five top ten spread through the three races.

      He wasn’t exactly a winning type, but perhaps we might excuse him if we consider that he was *always* runner-up to… Cancellara *or* Boonen in the above mentioned occasions – and that couple of guys sweeped 7 out of the 15 Monuments available to Pozzato in his best years.
      During those five years, he was probably the strongest athlete in those three Monuments, behind Tom and Fabian, along with Ballan, clearly superior to, say, Flecha, Hushovd (limited to Classics, I mean), Hoste, Haussler or Nuyens.

      The idea of an athlete which wins big when he’s young and then fades is just false, not only because in 2006 technically his best years were yet to come, as I explained above, but also because he was a rare winner, not just a second placer. The sentence about “his biggest victory” stands only because the Sanremo is really big: in 2007 he won Het Volk and another Tour stage (not bad), in 2009 he won E3 Harelbeke and the National Championship (which in Italy can be quite selective), in 2010 he won a Giro stage, then went on winning minor Classics like Laigueglia, Agostoni, Plouay and a couple of the likes. Note that he was decently fast but he never had a true sprint, like, say, Hushovd.

      Let’s say that you don’t have anymore a top dog like Bartoli or Bettini, yet you’ve got a great second-tier in the big Spring Monuments, who’s losing, by the way, against some of the strongest *ever* in that discipline. It looks just logical that he becomes famous – in sportive terms – even if he doesn’t end up actually grabbing that big victory. Flecha is famous in Spain (and beyond), Aussies celebrated O’Grady or Hayman (and we still receive constant updates about Haussler!), same went for Chavanel in France and so on.

      The sporting factor is one of the main factors which made him famous in the first place, it’s far from being not-existing.
      And his notoriety at the time was proportional.
      Paradoxically (or not), it’s in the following years that he grew his celeb status while his results dropped.

      • Good example of how we polarise the peloton into heroes and villains and ignore the more complex human underneath- highlighted by the c podcast recently when discussing Scarponi. He mugs it for the crowds and, who knows, mat have regret for actions in the past. Most of us do. – Good on him

    • Assume ‘cheat’ refers to him traning with Michele Ferrari – interesting that an the same badge is never applied to an Anglosaxon rider whos training with Michele Ferrari is well documented.

      Yet, ‘everyone’ belives when that rider claims he only did some ‘tests’ and doping was never discussed with Ferrari.

      Its like when Zabel claims he only took one dose of EPO in his career…

      (Cadel Evans)

      • I thought you meant Michael Rogers for a moment who did work with Ferrari for a while before his T-Mobile team asked him to stop, presumably because they had in house coaching.

        With Evans there’s never been much to link to Ferrari, you say it’s “well documented” but I haven’t seen those documents, just the one reference to that meeting in 2000, so please share more info or email it.

  3. There was an interesting insight a few years ago in a Pro Cycling magazine interview with Enrico Gasparotto when he had just signed for Wanty. He was musing over having to drop down to Pro-Conti level and was acknowledging that Italian riders of his age were generally viewed with suspicion and struggled to get interest. Except for Pozzato who played up to a characature of himself, that wasn’t really him, but which he was savvy enough to know would keep people and teams interested in him.

  4. I have to say I have a bit of a soft spot for Pippo. If you just say you don’t like him because he’s a cheat or whatever then that leaves nobody to like in cycling between (at least) 1990 and 2009. Everybody was happy when Contador livened up Paris-Nice for example..! He’s an interesting character which sets him apart from nearly every other cyclist around now that Wiggins and Boonen have retired.

    • I agree with both parts of your argument, as fans we need to separate the riders from their pasts as dopers of else we’ll a) have no one to cheer about for the post-WW2 period and b) it’s not healthy!

      Secondly, I agree, Pippo’s been a very interesting rider and a character. Someone for fans to be interested in is really important for cycling because so many of the top athletes are very difficult to follow or get attached to because they are as dry as toast! All they talk about is form and weight, etc.

  5. Well as an Anglophone I like him. His steel Willier that he potters around on is class, and I really don’t think he takes himself all that seriously, he seems to be in on, and playing up to the joke.

    And +1 comments above, hopefully Scarponi has given pause for thought that people aren’t simple, binary, good or bad. Riders of a certain age who lived and raced through the scandals are likely to come with baggage.

    • Yes, I agree completely. I’m an anglophone as well and am thankful for guys like pippo, scarponi, lance (I will get demolished for this comment), wiggins, david millar, and a handful of others who have made our sport interesting (for good and bad reasons).

      Putting aside the doping choices they made, these men created dialogues between fans and athletes and the general public that made our sport interesting and gave exposure to the sport. Then through their respective doping issues (some more than others), they highlighted some important issues.

    • It’s hardly a secret. He’s a bold character in a sport which has a lot of people as “memorable” as Chris Froome. When you have to interview someone you enjoy the ones who make the process fun.

  6. pure class, sea food platter, on the beach, tattoo’s, sun bathing selfies, sleeves cut off/shorts pulled up for the tan.

  7. Pippo is just a character, a type of it’s own. That’s what people love, they don’t want boring “clean” poster boys l. And they forgive characters their sins way faster, cause they more like them.

  8. It should also be noted that he rides hard and beautifully on the bike …. He also happens to be in pretty strong form this year. He certainly was not at the back of the pack during this years classics. His performances are no joke this year. Only one person can win …. and if he’s a loser, so is everyone else who didn’t take 1st.

  9. Professional athletes are now so PC, media trained and ready with their long list of “cut and paste” quotes – just plain boring. Pippo stands out as a character and a personality – funny, likable, stylish and a classy racer. Add in a bit of bad boy antics and you tick a lot of boxes. I’d go on a sunday ride or to the pub with him over Froome anyday!

    • Exactly, and pippo could even be found in a pub – you’d be more likely to find froome at a monastic retreat than in a pub! Or at least that’s the impression the public gets.

    • I always find it odd that people care about cyclists’s ‘personalities’ (more like the persona they wish to present). I only care what they do on the bike – I’m not in the pub with them – and I don’t listen to interviews (life is too short). It’s a very similar situation to politicians, for me: their ‘personality’ means nothing – it’s what they do that counts.

      • I sometimes find it odd that it is so difficult for some people to understand that appreciating cyclists for what they do on the bike is not at all incompatible with liking or not liking a cyclist on the basis of (also or even nothing else but) how he appears as a person or a character in the media or what kind of persona or image he projects. And it is, in my humble opinion, just as impossible for a human being not to form such a picture of other people – no matter on how fleeting the meeting or how flimsy the grounds for making it are – unless he is a bit of an autistic himself.

        And what is totally impossible for me to understand is that someone truly believes that people who care about cyclists’ personalities must therefore put less value or be unable to have a balanced view of what they do on the bike.

        And life is too short for watching road cycling, period. It is too short for even following road cycling via result lists, newspapers, selected web sites or blogs. (And it is absolutely too short for acquiring an informed opinion on such burning questions of bike tech, road race routes or jersey designs.) But if one does, it really takes a gigantic effort to avoid seeing or reading even glimpses of interviews with riders.

  10. cycling is a weird sport to love. you have it’s dark past and then you have the multi-national personalities which the international audience loves and hates.

    here in nyc, i think pozzato merits the attention because considering his past and his egotistical persona, he is smart enough to take the joke and understand that people take shots at him.

    compare that with bouhanni who comes across as a self-centered bully who no cycling fan can find enduring. if bouhanni took some cues from pozzato…and joked up his issues with demare or his fight that caused him to miss the tdf last year…and he’d find way more supporters.

    scarponi’s death really changed things in my mind. yes, some of these guys have murky pasts but they’re also human…they are fathers and husbands…just trying to compete and avoid working in the local cafe or bakery back wherever they call home.

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