Gianni Savio is far more than just a team manager; he’s a charismatic man with an unparalleled eye for finding offbeat talent and developing it. Over the years the Italian owner and director of the Selle Italia pro cycling team has built a team from nothing to become one of the finest high mountain specialist squads in the world.
Savio has always had a passion for South and Central America. The focus of his teams has always been riders from that part of the world, and he has hunted out and developed many such riders, taking them to great success in the major grand tours of Europe. Impressively, his team took an unprecedented 7 stage wins in the Tour of Langkawi, despite which his squad was not selected for this year’s Giro d’Italia, its biggest annual target race.
RCUK: For a long time you have been associated with bringing Columbian riders to Europe. Now it looks like you have a number of Venezuelans on the team?
GS: Yes, it was maybe 1989 when I first became interested in the South Americans, when I saw riders like Parra and Herrera, we brought a rider called Leonardo Sierra from Venezuela to Europe, and he won big races. There is a great scene and passion in the region. We worked a lot with Columbia for years, the team was registered there and we did a lot of races there with Columbian and European riders. And last year we won the Americas UCI Tour for both individual and team. For four years I worked with the Columbian federation as technical adviser – including the year when Botero won the World Championship. Now I have a similar role with the Venezuelan federation, and the team is registered there. They have a real passion for the sport, and are really keen to push their athletes forward, so we have a long-term development plan there.
RCUK: What started your passion for the region and its riders?
GS: It’s a beautiful area, fantastic nature, and the people are great. There is such an atmosphere and passion everywhere, and beautiful women. As for the riders, I really like their attitude and style. They are so laid back, yet passionate. They work very well with the Italians, all Latinos together; a great blend.
RCUK: There have been many great Columbian riders who have come to Europe, many with you, and done really well, but then just returned to Colombia – there is a healthy race scene there, but why does that happen?
GS: Yes, I don’t know – maybe they don’t like to be away from home so much, I have had some promising riders who just didn’t have the right mentality to take the European schedule. There are many teams in South America, but the money is not good, very low key. Perhaps the biggest is Orbitel, who have raced in Europe. [Santiago] Botero is with them this year.
RCUK: When most European pro’s are either training or racing in Australia you seem to be racing year round between Europe and South America?
GS:We spend a lot of time there, partly for sponsorship, as the American Tour is very important to us. Usually we have about 4 major stage races each year in South America; Vuelta Chile, Vuelta Venezuela, Vuelta Columbia and Vuelta Tachira, which is just before the European season starts, ideal training too. Just a few weeks back we did a radio program in Columbia to celebrate 120 UCI team victories in five years, for a Columbian registered team.>
RCUK: You have had a traditionally good Tour de Langkawi, have you ever thought of signing Asian riders?
GS: Sure, it’s always a good race for us. Usually we manage a good podium and stage win – usually in the mountains. This year we had 6 sprint stage wins with Loddo and also won on Genting, plus the points and mountains jersey – I am very pleased.
I think there are some very promising Asian riders out there, but I think the thing that works for us is the Latino blend and understanding, which would be difficult with Asian and other nationalities.
RCUK: The Giro d’Italia is always a major focus for you, you have achieved much there, and this year you will not be riding?
GS: It’s always our main target. Over the recent years we have had podium positions, won the mountains jersey and many key mountain stages, so not to be selected does not make sense to me, add to that what we have just done in Langkawi with Loddo…
RCUK: Have you ever considered building for the Tour de France?
GS: No, it’s way beyond us. We do not have the money, resources or interest. It has never been a possibility for our team.
RCUK: What do you think about the Pro Tour concept?
GS: In principle I agree with the idea, but not how it’s run. It should be about sporting performance and not just money. There should not be 20 teams dominating things, maybe 12 or even 14, and the rest of the slots should be open. If it worked like football then it would be on results – why not have 12 teams and drop 3 every year and move the best three Continental teams up the following year. There are 25 pro Continental teams this year, last year there were 44, which speaks for itself about the effect of things.