Dario Cioni, 35, has seen a lot in his 10 years as a professional with teams Mapei, Fassa Bortolo and Lotto, but British Team Sky is a notch above the rest.
"Life is wonderful at Sky," Cioni explained Saturday morning at the GP Insubria in Italy. "Everything at the team has been going very good so far."
The new Sky team of David Brailsford, financed by Rupert Murdoch's broadcasting empire, took shape through 2008 and 2009, signing riders Simon Gerrans, Juan Antonio Flecha, Edvald Boasson Hagen and cumulating with Bradley Wiggins in December.
But Sky has also brought in specialised support staff and put emphasis on detail, which makes it appear like Cioni's former team, Mapei. Cioni and his 25 team-mates gathered for the first time last December in Manchester, where the team asked the riders what races they want to ride, asked them what the internal rules should be and gifted them all iPhones and MacBook Pro computers. The telephone and computers serve a purpose and are not just perks.
"They have put a lot of emphasis on our communication with the staff," continued Cioni.
Part of the staff is Steve Peters, who worked with police in criminal cases as a psychiatrist. "A psychologist can teach you how to drive a car," explained Peters in the past, "but the psychiatrist lifts the bonnet, looks at the machine, takes it to pieces and reconstructs it. And then I teach them to drive the car."
Cioni's first bridge of communication, though, came via Max Sciandri, head coach at the British Cycling Academy and Sky sports director. Sciandri lives at the British base in Quarrata in Tuscany, just 25 kilometres down the road from Cioni, and he opened the door for Cioni's one-year contract.
"That was back in 2008, a long time ago. I kept in contact with him because I don't live far away from the British base in Quarrata. Then, at the Giro d'Italia I finally met Dave Brailsford and signed my contract.
"I am an 'expert' or 'experienced' rider. If the 'experienced' rider is still doing well then he goes on! Also, if the team likes what I am doing, then I will find motivation to continue."
He finished fourth at the 2004 Giro d'Italia, where this year he will ride alongside Wiggins. It could be at the Giro d'Italia where Cioni will pick up his first win since 2007.
"From what I know Bradley is interested in stages. I am going to try to race for the classification, but I would rather first have the legs and then say I am going for classification. I just want to have the condition to race a good Giro and if I am in the condition to race for the classification then team will help me.
"The last week will be very tough. We will have a very good chance, though, in the team time trial [in the first week], but then you have to be careful in the first stages so you don't lose time."
The next step, though, is Paris-Nice, March 7 to 14. Cioni will race with Sylvain Calzati, Kjell Carlström, Steve Cummings, Simon Gerrans, Greg Henderson, Serge Pauwels and Geraint Thomas.
Team Sky publish March race line-ups
Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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