This text was first printed in Difficulty 78 of Bicycle owner journal
On 14th April 1996 the eyes of the biking world had been fastened on Roubaix for the end of the 94th version of the Queen of the Classics.
With 80km to go, a trio of riders left the peloton behind and struck out for victory. Their names had been Andrea Tafi, Gianluca Bortolami and Johan Museeuw.
It was a daring transfer, however the three males laying the whole lot on the road with 11 sectors of cobbles and practically a 3rd of the race nonetheless to go had extra in frequent than simply their boldness.
All of them wore the brightly colored jersey of the Mapei crew.
The trio labored collectively, and when Museeuw punctured the opposite two waited, obeying crew orders.
They powered over the cobbles and entered the well-known Roubaix Velodrome collectively. The biking world held its breath, ready for the dramatic finale.
Which of the Mapei three would prevail? TV commentators talked excitedly of dash techniques.
However there was no ramping up of pace, no sport of cat and mouse. There was no cussed sitting on the wheel.
With round 200m to go, all three riders out of the blue raised their palms within the air. Realisation dawned. There would be no dash.
‘This can be a full lap of honour,’ shouted David Duffield on Eurosport. ‘I’ve by no means seen something like this on this race or in a Traditional of this stature earlier than.’
Seconds later Museeuw rolled over the road in first place, punching the air, with Bortolami and Tafi following in that order.
It later emerged that the results of the ‘dash’ had been determined with 15km nonetheless to race, when the top of Mapei, Giorgio Squinzi, had talked to crew director Patrick Lefevre and instructed that Museeuw ought to cross the road first.
There was outrage in some quarters, with Italian journalist Gianni Ranieri writing that the finale didn’t honour Museeuw’s class, likening the end to a comedy, or a farce ‘staged on the monitor of the previous velodrome’.
It was to be the primary of three Paris-Roubaix titles for Museeuw and the primary of three 1-2-Three finishes for Mapei within the race.
Developing a biking dynasty
Mapei’s dominance of Paris-Roubaix in 1996 got here simply three years after the Italian firm had entered biking.
Based by Rodolofo Squinzi in 1937 to provide paints and masonry restore merchandise to the development business, by the 1990s Mapei was a multinational organisation, having handed into the palms of Rodolofo’s son, Dr Giorgio Squinzi.
Squinzi was, and stays, an enormous biking fan (‘Biking is my nice ardour,’ he has mentioned in firm literature, ‘a metaphor of life and my motto: by no means cease pedalling,’) and so when he was approached in 1993 to come back to assistance from the cash-strapped Eldor-Viner crew earlier than the beginning of the Giro d’Italia, it didn’t take lengthy for him to agree.
Below the Mapei-Viner title the crew recorded only a single win – for Stefano Della Santa on the Trofeo Melinda – however for the 1994 season Mapei merged with the Spanish crew Clas and began their lengthy affiliation with Colnago and the long-lasting C40 bike.
Now the victories got here thick and quick. Tony Rominger gained Paris-Good and the Vuelta within the area of two months, whereas Spaniard Abraham Olano gained the nationwide championships.
One 12 months later Rominger would win the Giro and Olano the rainbow jersey.
Mapei’s id modified once more in 1995 when sports activities director Patrick Lefevre joined from GB-MG Maglificio, bringing fellow Belgians Museeuw, Wilfried Peeters, Ludwig Willems and Carlo Bomans with him.
This was the beginning of the crew’s love affair with the Classics, and over the course of the subsequent eight years Mapei riders would win a number of editions of Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy, in addition to World Championships.
Mapei’s funds dwarfed all others. In his guide Domestique, Charly Wegelius, who rode for the crew for 3 years, writes that ‘Mapei had been beneficiant to its riders, generally overly so… rumours circulated that our riders would ring up the crew journey agent to get them to purchase completely new airplane tickets as a result of they wished to reach house 20 minutes earlier.’
By 2002 there have been 42 riders on Mapei’s roster. A kind of riders was the Spaniard, Óscar Freire. Mapei had a watch for younger expertise – they signed Paolo Bettini, Cadel Evans and Fabian Cancellara early of their careers – and when Freire took a shock win on the World Championships in 1999, a relative unknown on the time, Squinzi acted shortly to safe his signature.
‘I arrived there with good riders like Museeuw, like [Michele] Bartoli, like Bettini,’ Freire mentioned when reflecting on his profession in 2017.
‘Actually huge names. On the first race they mentioned, “Now now we have to work for Oscar.” So it was plenty of stress at 23 [years old].’
The one Monument that had eluded Mapei was Milan-San Remo. ‘From the start of the 12 months they had been all the time talking about Milan-San Remo,’ Freire mentioned.
‘They had been an Italian crew that had gained plenty of races, crucial Classics, however by no means Milan-San Remo. The parcours was good for me and I assumed that on this crew, with Mapei, I’ve to win Milan-San Remo.’
However whereas Freire would go on to win Milan-San Remo thrice, it by no means occurred for him in Mapei colors.
In 2002 Stefano Garzelli examined constructive whereas sporting the pink jersey on the Giro.
Though different former Mapei riders would later be linked with doping – in 2015 Museeuw spoke about his profession to the Belgian newspaper De Zondag, saying that in his time ‘possibly two per cent took no EPO’ – Squinzi, who had been a vocal advocate of fresh biking and had reportedly clashed with the UCI over the difficulty, was outraged and introduced he was pulling his sponsorship on the finish of the season. Their final win was on the Giro di Piemonte, courtesy of Luca Paolini.
In 10 years the Mapei crew recorded greater than 650 victories however Milan-San Remo, the race that they had for therefore lengthy focused, remained elusive.
To rub salt into the wound, six of the subsequent eight editions of the race can be gained by former Mapei riders.