For the Eolo-Kometa team, simply participating at the Giro was a dream come true. The first WorldTour stage race for the second-tier UCI ProTeam, arriving was an achievement in itself. Then on stage 14, Lorenzo Fortunato went and solo’d to victory up the brutal slopes of the Monte Zoncolan.
The euphoria of this exceptional victory, captured by a viral video of Alberto Contador losing it in an explosion of emotion over the triumph of his pupil, contrasts with the images of himself and fellow sports director, Ivan Basso at the Giro’s team presentation weeks before.
Here, in the sumptuous Cortile d'Onore of the Castello del Valentino, Contador and Basso cut very different figures. For them, simply being invited to Italy’s Grand Tour was the culmination of a project they’d been building since 2017.
Dressed in blue, the eight Eolo-Kometa riders were called onto the stage to take their places in front of the public. Contador, a winner of all three Grand Tours, and Basso, twice a winner of the Giro, watched as they received the applause due any rider about to begin a three-week effort.
Also watching closely on both occasions was Stefano Zanatta. Eolo-Kometa’s directeur sportif, he’s participated in the Giro d'Italia 28 times, first as an athlete and then in the team car. Yet in 2021 he too was preparing to begin a new adventure at the helm of the team. Before the start of the race, we spoke to him about his hopes for the journey ahead.
Eolo-Kometa DS Stefano Zanatta (middle)
So Stefano, how exciting is this Giro d'Italia?
It's emotional, because things are just beginning. For me, it's not the same as in 1986, when I took part for the first time as a rider, but it's always a big moment. There are twenty-one days of hard work ahead of us and maximum concentration will be needed to make everything work, from relationships between people to logistics. There'll be a lot to do but there's also the special enthusiasm of the first time and the conviction that we've arrived at this race both well prepared and organised.
How has it been approaching this first Grand Tour?
On the one hand, there has been the preparation of equipment, means, material and riders, for us it is the first big Giro, and even if we all have great experience, certain things can only be tested in the field. As far as the riders and preparation are concerned, however, we are happy with what has been done. We've collected good results and we've done well in the races we've taken part in, showing that we're racing actively and with a desire to grow and stand out.
High emotions after the Eolo win on the Zoncolan this week (after our interview took place)
Which preparation stage races did you take part in before the Giro?
Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of the Alps, Tour of Turkey. In the calendar there were few races this year and therefore we have, like everyone else, fewer days of racing in the legs. But we're happy with the work we've done. We've had a couple of top 5s and a lot of top 10s, we took the GPM jersey at Tirreno-Adriatico, we've always been in the breakaways so it's good. We were hoping for a win which would have given us great morale, but that's fine.
What is it like racing against the WorldTour teams?
We're a new team with a smaller workforce than the big teams, so you can't make demands on these giants. You have to be patient and interpret the races with common sense, looking for the right opportunities. It's difficult to get results because all the teams now bring riders who are suited to aim for the victory. There are no longer any 'second tier' races, which, up until a few years ago, would have been the primary objectives for teams like ours. In this context, you have to adapt a bit more to the racing that other teams do and it's more difficult to take the initiative or to stand out.
What is the main aim of your season?
We have the ambition to grow, as a team and with results. We would like to stand out and try to make the race when it is possible, by looking for and creating the right opportunities. Above all, we want to develop our young people well. Eolo-Kometa isn't a team that's content with just having a presence, we have identified some specific goals for this Giro and we will try something that is within our capabilities, within our reach, and suitable for our riders. To achieve this we've put together a team with four young riders and four more experienced men.
Which stages were you be aiming for?
Together with Ivan Basso and Sean Yates we chose a mix of riders who seem best suited to our objectives. Realistically, if I do the maths, there are 10-15 stages to aim for. By exclusion, putting aside the time trials and the important uphill finishes, where we'll give our all with Ravasi, but we can't expect top results from him, we'll concentrate on the mid-mountain stages in the second and third weeks, where there could be important breakaways. In the sprints, Belletti, who has already won a stage at the Giro in the past, will play his cards right.
How important is it to have good equipment at your disposal?
Our riders are undoubtedly in a position to give their best. Alberto and Ivan are two maniacs about the product and materials. We have Aurum bikes that are those of their own production, Enve wheels, Prologo saddles, Kask helmets, Gobik clothing. In short, we have first-class materials available. This also means that we don't have any worries and that we are 100% focused on the quality of the performance. The guys are enthusiastic about this.
Is the Giro a dream come true?
From the foundation of the team, participation in the Grand Tours was the goal of Alberto and his brother Fran. The jump from Continental to Professional is big, but, one step at a time, they got there, thanks to sponsors like Eolo and Kometa and all the other first-class companies we work with who believe in the project. We mustn't forget that behind this team there is also a U23 team and a Junior team, so there are the foundations to continue to grow gradually and get results in the near future. We're going to do our best and give it our all.