'I should be doing my final exams but instead I’m riding the Giro!': The amateur team riding the Giro Donne

Cycling Weekly meets Team Mendelspeck, one of the amateur teams riding the Giro Donne

Team Medelspeck at the 2022 Giro Donne team presentation
(Image credit: Bario Belingheri/Getty)

There’s no bus for Team Mendelspeck. While the WorldTeams shelter from the sun in air conditioned comfort, the six riders of the amateur team get ready for stage six of the Giro Donne under a gazebo, team mechanics woking close by.

Mendelspeck is an Italian cured meats company and their branding is on the outside of the shelter, but the riders get changed almost in the public glare. Team manager, Renato Pirrone gives his pre-race briefing on a camping table using the road book, there are no slide down TV screens in this car park.

Among the six riders who set off from the pretty lake-side town of Sarnico are four students studying subjects like law, art and economics, and two full time workers. They do some UCI races, but most weekends you’ll find them racing on the Italian national circuit and all fit in training for the longest race on the women’s calendar around their real life occupations.

“It should be doing my final exams, but instead I’m riding the Giro!” MIlan University law student Alessia Missiaggia told CW as she prepared herself for the stage. 

Since starting the race her professor emailed about the latest chapter of her thesis, “I replied and said thank you, but I’m at the Giro so won’t be looking at it until July 10th.” Her thesis is on the relationship between Austria and Islam, and a new anti-terrorism law introduced in the country. She hopes to graduate in September.

“I work from 7.30 to one o’clock, and then I go and train,” says dental assistant Eva Maria Gatscher. “Before the Giro I was doing maybe three and four hours, but otherwise between two and a half and four hours.

“It’s lucky because my boss is like a friend, he’s not a sportsman but he really looks at the quality of life for his workers. This is my holiday.”

Pirrone formed the team as a junior squad, initially to help his daughter, Elena. He did a good job, she won both Junior road and time trial world championships in 2017. However, with his daughter moving on, she’s now racing with Valcar Travel and Service, the team has developed, becoming a UCI Continental team last season.

For him and his staff it is a labour of love, he is also using holiday from his job as an officer in the Carabinieri to lead the team. “We want to give the opportunity to young girls to experience professional cycling,” he explains as his wife helps riders with final preparations. But like so many teams in Italy money is a problem.

“The biggest challenge for the team is to find the funds to keep going. We would like to grow a little bit, but the opportunity is limited by financial resources.”

Renato Pirrone briefs Team Mendelspeck ahead of stage six of the 2022 Giro Donne

(Image credit: Owen Rogers)

The Dream

Like so many of us, riding with professionals the likes of Annemiek van Veluten (Movistar) is a dream and all six women on the Giro squad would take the opportunity to ride professionally.

“I would like to be picked up up by a professional team, but also to be able to experience the real cycling,” explains Missiagia. “We we race, national races here in Italy, but they are a completely different thing. The Giro it's not what we do on every Sunday. So being here is a dream and I want to do more and more of this.

“I think after the Giro, I will be looking around to see if there is any opportunity for me. I would really like to try to go outside of Italy, experience what cycling is in other countries.” 

Gatscher is less a dreamer and more practical. “I would sign, but it's not my dream. I don't have a real dream. It's hard to work and train so if I see I have more to give, then I will continue, but I don't want to continue to work and do cycling. It’s too hard.” 

The Reality

The race goes well  for Mendelspeck. Angelo Oro is first home, finishing 51st, 1-27 behind winner Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), and Francesca Pisciali was off the front for a while, showing the jersey on the live coverage.

While Oro is one of the younger riders, at 24 Pisciali is more experienced, and can pass the experience of three previous Giri onto her team mates.

“I like this year,” she says back under the gazebo, but now in the bustle of central Bergamo. “Now that the WorldTour is growing maybe we are in difficulty because we are on a lower level, but at the same time the WorldTour teams are so well organised that they give give us small teams the possibility to escape. In the other years we began full gas and we arrived full gas, there was not so much possibility to do a breakaway. So that's a good thing, I think.”

Pisciali works full time for cycle clothing brand Q36.5 and clearly has a good head on her shoulders. “There is a huge, huge difference between us and the WorldTour. I always say that the WorldTour is like a boat that's sailing away because they are becoming always stronger and richer, and we have to do this jump.” How do you do that working eight hours a day?

“That’s what I try and figure out, but maybe if you work hard and you try to attack. You never know.”

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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.