(Photo: Yuzuru Sunada)
The hot Australian summer is a big change from training around Lake Como in the winter, but Italian Mauro Santambrogio does not mind. He is joining new BMC Racing team with World Champion Cadel Evans for the racing at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide.
"The people are really passionate and they let you know that they appreciate the Tour Down Under," said Santambrogio. He relaxed in the lobby of the Hilton hotel next to the country's best-known rider, Evans, a day before the race start.
"This year it's even more evident, I am in the same team with the Australian World Champion, Cadel. From what I have seen already, Cadel is very calm and helpful towards me with my English."
Santambrogio is three flights and nine time zones away from his home near Como, and the jet lag still shows. He normally trains with Emanuele Bindi and other local professionals around the lake or in the small mountains leading to the Alps, but BMC Racing asked him to start his season at the Tour Down Under. Last year, he finished eighth overall and 40-seconds behind overall winner Allan Davis.
This year's race begins what should be a promising year for the 25-year-old Santambrogio. He won the Tre Valli Varesine and the Trittico Lombardo overall in the late summer. He kept the good form to be one of the most active riders in the finale of the Giro di Lombardia in October.
On the attack with Alexander Vinokourov
(Photo: Yuzuru Sunada)
He ignited the finale of the race by attacking with escape companion Alexander Vinokourov. The attack signaled him as one of Italy's up and coming stars, but also marked an end to his four years with Lampre.
Before Lombardia, Santambrogio signed a contract to join Swiss-American team BMC Racing. The team's experienced management – Jim Ochowicz, John Lelangue and Andy Rhys – helped him decide to join. He is one of the new riders along with Alessandro Ballan, George Hincapie and, of course, Evans.
"I am rooming with Evans here and often at Lampre I would room with Ballan, who was World Champion last year," continued Santambrogio. "I only know Cadel from this race so far, but I think when he is home near Como we will have a chance to know each other better."
Evans is married to an Italian and has his European base is in Stabio, Switzerland. The town is only a 20 kilometers from the Italian boarder and near where Santambrogio lives.
"I got to know Ballan well at Lampre and we became good friends. He taught me a lot on how to manage myself before, during and after the races. He was truly happy for me when I won Tre Valli. He told me, I always need to remain calm even when the responsibilities arrive."
Santambrogio will have greater responsibilities this year protecting the Evans and living up to his billing as Italy's next star. He and Evans will confront together the Ardennes Classics in April and the Giro d'Italia in May.
"BMC is giving me a lot of trust. I expect to have a more intense season because people are expecting more of me based on what I did last year. I will try to show myself in the big events, like Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, Liége-Bastogne-Liége and, above all, the Giro d'Italia."
Santambrogio hopes to have a chance to win one of the three classics or a stage of the Giro d'Italia. He said he will inspect the various individual stages he wants to target after the Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
"The classics and the stages I want to win in the Giro require me to train on specific types of climbs. I try to train on most of the steep climbs in my zone, like Muro di Sormano. It is a good climb because it is closed off to traffic.
"I will also do a lot of motor-pacing some of those climbs. I need climbs of two to three kilometers, and motor-pacing up those will help me obtain race rhythm."
Sitting in the oversized, purple velvet chair, he paused and added, "I hope I can race for another 10 years to achieve my goals."
His dreams are back home, three flights and nine time zones away from Adelaide. He said that wants to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in Belgium and the two Classics near his home in Como, Milano-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia.