Bicisport article on Andrea Tafi

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January 2003 Bicisport Article by Mariella Barbieri

"I Want to Give Myself a Present- the Last Paris-Roubaix"

Lamporecchio- How would you imagine the entrance to Tafi's house? A path of tiles or a reminder of
the pavé roads? You understand already. Upon opening the gates, you are ushered in by a strip of
pave, held and bonded with cement- it gives the effect of a piece of road from the North, the same
roads that made Andrea Tafi big. The Tuscan went through great extensive lengths to locate these
symbols. He moved mountains and oceans and, by the river Serchio, he found them and picked them
one by one.

This is the villa which Tafi announced right after his 99 Roubaix victory. To build upon that first
block, even that a symbolic gesture, because that particular piece of pavé is proudly standing next
to the bronze trophy from the last Flanders with all his other trophies in his case and it is the
first one visitors see. In these two victories, there is the entire career of the Tuscan: the race
that launched him in the status of the great and the race that cancelled his premature retirement.

If Tafi, at 37, is ready to confront his 15th season with the pros, with the fire, conviction and
countenance of a beginner, the merit goes to exactly these impossible roads, which, for Tafi, are
another call to attack.

Let's turn back to that famous Sunday, the 7th of April 2002. Tafi entered the race, convinced he
would work for the team and in his head thinking ahead to Roubaix. "There were so many teammates
that started that particular race with very serious intentions… but I'll admit, I didn't sport that
same attitude to win Flanders. In the first 100 km., I didn't exactly feel in a winning way. When we
entered the first sections of cobbles, I flatted and I lost a couple of minutes because the team car
was so far behind. But when I got back on the saddle, I caught a winning fever just like I did in
Roubaix. All of a sudden, I was on fire, with an incredible conviction, I felt I could do it. I said
to myself, if I can get up to the front I want to try something."

Tafi proved that it wasn't time to retire yet, as the team politicians encouraged him to do in so
many ways. They hinted to him that he would look good in the second half of the season in a jacket
and tie, indicating a public relations position with Mapei. He says, "But I felt inside that I had
plenty to give, while hints of ‘why are you continuing, why don't you stop' were still coming. No
one would tell me directly, but in reality, they were saying ‘it's time to stop, in good terms,
using the front door, going out with pride and head held up'. On the eve of Flanders, I felt torn,
confused from all of those hints. It did not seem right that my team was saying all of these things.

On September 24th, Tafi rode his last race with the Mapei jersey. But it was to be a premature
closure. During the GP Prato, halfway through the race, in the town of Signa, he hit a manhole cover
that was not sitting correctly. The front wheel went inside the hole, his face hit the ground, and
he ended up with a couple of fractures and a huge cut, the scars of which still remind him of that
race. This last Mapei jersey, ripped and torn, is in the same showcase with his National Champions
jersey, a testimonial of the great love of the Tuscan for the team that welcomed him when there was
no one around.

After almost having placed his career in the showcase, Tafi is ready to start again with the spirit
of a kid. His last big challenge is CSC, the Danish squad who has given him carte blanche in all the
classics. So after so many years of elbows and shoves and the fight for the role of captain, he is
beginning to dream big.

"For me, the San Remo was always forbidden. But I am convinced that if I arrive there with excellent
condition, I could paint a great picture. To race it ‘a la Tafi' could net great results. But if we
limo the sprinters up to 50k left, there will be nothing left to do. But I am one who wants the race
kept hard and I will do everything in my power to make it difficult for all the others. All of the
races I have won, I conquered them by exposing the adversaries in the open- this is my
interpretation of cycling."

"I'm also aware that this type of racing has cost me a lot of wins, but the ones that I've won have
placed burning enthusiasm in the fans…the fans who love old world racing…always fighting, never
holding back! Some asked me…'would you exchange your 5 World Cup wins for Cipo's 200 wins'? Not even
ONE! I have all respect for Mario, he's a great champion, but my cycling is of a different breed".

Tafi didn't win that many races in his career (30ish in total) but he won with class. Behind his
desk, he arranged the trophies that were of utmost importance. Then, his many jerseys, including a
pink one, from Toni Rominger, with a beautiful dedication. "That '95 Giro", Tafi remembers, "was an
exceptionally beautiful memory. Our group was very unified. We spent 22 days worrying that our
captain would have a bad day. We worried that he would get a good block of sleep at night. We used
to ask ‘did you sleep ok, Toni'." Those were the years of a Tafi as a great gregario, not yet a
champion. The years of a man of hard work who did a great base with two years at Carrera, under the
direction of Roche, Ghirotto, Chiapucci. "I was the darling of the group, and it was great to hear
these great champions come to me and say ‘thank you for the hard work you did for me. Bravo". I
found the role of gregario very fitting, but the leaders used to tell me all the time…'Andrea, if
you have the opportunity, you could easily win'."

Tafi could have easily won his first big Roubaix in 96. "It was my big opportunity, but it was the
wrong moment because I had two great champions near me, Museeuw and Bortolami. If we look at the
halls of fame in cycling, the captain always won…there was Moser and Saronni. There was no room for
the gregario. But after that, things did not change a bit. For me, it was great pain. That finish
was a disaster! Ironed out at the table. But after that, I gained a ton of confidence and it even
changed how others felt about me."

Also on the wall, there is a hand-written note by Alfredo Martini, framed and hung proudly. It
started with ‘Dear Andrea, a nasty crash and all vanishes…' referring to the San Sebastien World
Championships. But Tafi has another World's on his mind, and in his heart.

"Lugano, my first in a blue jersey, I was feeling great. I was sure I was doing all the right things
for the good of the team. If we believed a bit more, we would have never let that group get away. I
arrived 15 seconds from Museeuw but I could not quite catch him. I felt so bad."

It's time to eat and his kids return from school…Great, six years old, dives at daddy and hugs him
snugly. Dodi, a puppy of 1 month who was abandoned. Then arrived Tommasso, 12. You might remember
him on the podium in Roubaix next to Andrea. Tommasso has chosen to play soccer; he is the center in
the Calasanzio of Empoli. He polishes off a fast lunch and runs to his next practice.

Tafi understands, learning from Tomasso, whom accompanies often to games and practices, that we need
to devote so much to the kids. "It's very important to go to the schools and introduce our sport to
the kids, and the life of a racer. I see it in my boy, he loves to go to the games of Empoli, he
adores Di Natale, and he's dying to be near him to meet him. The kids want to see the champions;
this is the way they could get closer to cycling. We can promote our sport. A unique sport whose
fans are not violent, but with a great fraternity. Do you see the families that go to the races? You
even see them on the Pordoi, on a picnic, and then they take in the race. There's no sport as
beautiful as cycling."

This May, Tafi will be 37. But before he hangs up his bike and goes on a trip with his wife Gloria,
the Tuscan has some scores to settle. He'll leave soon for the Tour Down Under, to prepare better
for the new season. And we can bet that with his appointments on the cobbles, he will 100% ready.
As always.

Vist "Io Tifo Tafi" at
[email protected] (Tony) wrote in message
> "I'm also aware that this type of racing has cost me a lot of wins, but the ones that I've won
> have placed burning enthusiasm in the fans…the fans who love old world racing…always fighting,
> never holding back! Some asked me…'would you exchange your 5 World Cup wins for Cipo's 200 wins'?
> Not even ONE! I have all respect for Mario, he's a great champion, but my cycling is of a
> different breed".

Oh yeah!! This is why guys like Tafi are always fan favorites.

I marvel at the guy. The power that he generates. His position on the bike and how he holds it for such long stretches. Amazing. The way he tries to go off the front again and again, sometimes succeeding for unforgettable wins.

I would love to see him claim one more World Cup win.
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