By Gregor Brown
Mapei owner, Giorgio Squinzi is considering a return to sponsor a top-level cycling team after seeing two of his cyclists battle for the Giro d'Italia overall win last month.
"I have to say the stage to Montalcino was beautiful, truly cycling from another era," Squinzi told Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport. "And then the Zoncolan stage, the battle between [Cadel] Evans and [Ivan] Basso was a great day in cycling."
Both Evans and eventual Giro d'Italia winner Basso are connected to Squinzi via Aldo Sassi. Sassi runs the Mapei Sport training centre near Varese and oversees the training programmes of both cyclists.
Mapei Sport is in some part a continuation of the Mapei team that dominated cycling in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Squinzi hired Sassi, who has always had a clear stance against doping, as the general manager in the team's later years to oversee the espoir squad that included Fabian Cancellara, Filippo Pozzato and Evans.
Basso asked to work with Sassi in 2008, as his two-year doping suspension was ending. Squinzi and Sassi noticed a difference between this year's Giro d'Italia and the earlier years, as Basso won by nearly 10 minutes in 2006.
"On the climbs they are going slower, the times are different than those golden years," continued Squinzi. "The performances have returned to a human level, within the physiological limits."
Mapei pulled the plug on sponsorship shortly after Stefano Garzelli tested positive for masking agent Probenecid at the 2002 Giro d'Italia. Now, given cycling's effort get rid of the cheats, Squinzi may be interested in returning.
"Never say never. Before I would have said no, but now I give it some thought. Not before two to three years, though. We are used to planning, and the planning has not yet started," continued Squinzi.
"We miss the person who we would have built the return around, Franco Ballerini. Anyway, I have not closed the door on cycling. My heart is still here. If it were to happen, I would look to those sports directors who grew with Mapei, like Roberto Damiani or Luca Guercilena. I would start a 'green' group, young riders, like I did with Pozzato and Cancellara."
For now, Squinzi will remain as a fan and watch Evans and Basso compete in the Tour de France. Yesterday, Squinzi was with Basso before he left to train on the Tour de France's Alpine stages.
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