I caught up with Charly in the Chateau de Namur hotel after a wet Giro stage two that ended with Australia’s Robbie McEwen keeping Ale Jet Petacchi out of the Gazzetta headlines.
It was after 10.00 pm when we met and my first concern was that I was I keeping him out of bed; “No, we‚ve just finished dinner and I can never sleep with my stomach out to here”‚ and he gestures a swollen stomach with his hands.
One of the first things you notice about Pro Tour riders when you get up close to them is how skinny they are, but even by pro standards, Charly isn’t carrying any excess weight and it’s hard to imagine him ever having a paunch.
I open by asking about his Finnish connection which explains his unusual name; “Yes, my dad is Finnish but he and my mother separated and I moved back to England when I was three.”
His career as a pro could hardly have started more auspiciously, gaining a contract with one of the all-time great pro squads – Mapei. I ask how he managed to get such a good contract as a first year pro; “Because I could ride a bike pretty quickly”‚ he laughs.
I asked for that one I guess…
Back In The Day
“I never rode as an amateur in Italy, but I had two good seasons in France and then a good season on the GB amateur squad. I got third in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the story I heard was that Patrick Lefevre (Mapei DS) saw a tape of the race and decided he wanted me for the team. Serge Parsani approached me and a contract was signed.”
He spent three seasons with the “super-team” and I asked if a neo-pro like him is taken under the wing of an older pro? “It was a great education but as far as being taken under the wing, that’s down to individual personalities, some of the older guys don’t share their knowledge but Noe, Lanfranchi and Bramati used to engage in what I thought at the time was busting my balls, but now I realize they were trying to educate me.”
At the end of his third year at Mapei, Senor Squinzi called “time” on his sponsorship and around 40 riders were left looking for a contract; wasn’t it hard to find an opening? “The Mapei coach, Senor Sassi had a word with Stanga who ran the show at De Nardi and I got a deal. It was a smaller squad than Mapei, but it was well organized and we rode a good programme.‚
It’s not until you go to a race like the Giro and see the huge logistical operation behind a Pro Tour squad such as Liquigas that you realise how expensive it all is and how difficult it must be to get a ride. In addition there are many Italian amateurs happy to ride for no wages just to get on the ladder, so how did Charly get his deal? “I was approached by them, so I guess that they thought I could bring certain qualities to the team. It’s a good set-up, there are 60 people on the books and team morale is good, but you have to perform, do the job you are paid to do. You don’t ride for selfishly, you ride for the team, you don’t waste energy riding for yourself to gain a couple of places on GC, it’s not what it’s all
about, that energy should be saved for the team for the next stage.”
I mention that Danilo Di Luca has ridden a different programme this year, aimed at peaking for the Giro, so is the whole team for Danilo this year? “I think that Danilo formed this game plan in his head during last year’s Giro when he did much better in the GC than he had thought possible until then. It’s an Italian squadra and of course everything is aimed at winning the Giro, it’s a very serious attempt and everyone in the team knows exactly what is expected of them.”
I ask how he would define himself as a rider; “I’m a good rider, I can do a job that is useful; that job on occasion can prove decisive and I think I offer a team value.”
Is he “an equipment guy?” “Not really but I find I’m getting a bit more pernickety about my position as I get older, your body changes so you have to change your position, we do tests at the start of each season and I ride a longer stem these days. As for frames I don’t really bother, I’m so light that I don’t stress equipment; I can recognise good wheels when I ride them though.”
I ask about his “sensations” (as the pros say) in the Giro so far; “I’m happy, it’s difficult at the start of a big tour because you have four days where you are not riding nearly as much as usual because of the traveling, presentations and tests; your body wonders what’s happening and reacts to it, but I’ve felt OK. I don’t know my stage positions though; as long as I do my job, that’s all that matters.”
With seven seasons as a pro in top Italian teams, he must be doing that job well.
AND – he’s a fan of “Pez Daily Distractions” to boot!