Photo: Maurizio Fondriest (Italy) wins the 1988 World Championship road race head of Steve Bauer (Canada) before he was subsequently disqualified for his part in Claude Criquielion's (Belgium) crash into the barriers.
Join respected author & journalist Herbie Sykes who explains the curious story of the Alfa Lum cycling team in a four-part blog that we'll publish over the next couple of weeks. Part one starts with Maurizio Fondriest's win at the 1988 World Championships that shaped the future of the team.
Have you heard the one about the 1988 World Championship road race?
The one at Ronse, where the ugly sister Steve Bauer shoulder barged boy-next-door Claude Criquielion into the guardrail as they sprinted for the line? Where Italy’s Maurizio Fondriest, disbelieving of his outrageous good fortune, needed only to avoid a prostrated Claudy to pull on the rainbow jersey? Where Criquielion sued Bauer for over a million dollars and came away empty-handed? Have you heard that story a thousand times already, and do you know it like the back of your hand?
Of course you have - everyone has.
The 1987 line up of the Ecoflam Alfa Lum pro team including new-pro Maurizio Fondriest.
He loved a rainbow jersey, Ernesto Colnago. Freddy Maertens had been as mad as a doughnut, but it hadn’t stopped him and his Colnago from galloping home in Prague. ‘Beppe Saronni’s “shotgun” at Goodwood in ’82 had been a thing of cycling genius, and Ernesto had shifted thousands of those blood-red Mexicos off the back of it. Nobody had expected lovely old Joop Zoetemelk to wander off the front at Treviso in 1985, but it had done wonders for the Dutch market.
The maglia iridata was beautiful, it was iconic, and you got to show it off for a full season. The Italians, in particular, were nuts about it, and now its chief beneficiaries would be a double-glazing company from San Marino and a frame builder from Milan. Alfa Lum rode Legnano bikes, and they had Fondriest under contract. What’s more, his father had told Primo Franchini, the team manager, that he’d be riding for them again in 1989. Everyone in cycling knew that Fondriests’s word was good, just as they knew that Franchini’s word was good. Drat and double drat...
Ernesto, who’s word was mostly good, desperately wanted another rainbow jersey. So did the Del Tongo brothers, and their money bankrolled Ernesto’s team. Saronni’s in win in England (and subsequent annus mirabilius) had made their chain of furniture shops ubiquitous, but like everyone in cycling, they were searching for the next big thing.
He's a young professional with the exact mentality to get himself to the very top and he is surely on his way to becoming the new hero in Italy. I'm not surprised that Maurizio took the world title.
Ernesto and Saronni went back a long way. ‘Beppe had ridden his first Colnago as a teenage track sensation at the Vigorelli, and the Tour aside they’d won just about everything together. For seven years he’d been Del Tongo’s leader, and they’d won dozens of races together. ‘Beppe’s winning days were all but behind him now though, and he his cadre were in their thirties. Del Tongo were still paying them a big slug of the marketing budget, but they were starting to dribble a bit, and Fondriest was a superstar in the making.
Ernesto figured he’d nothing much to lose, so he dialled Primo Franchini’s number.
What he proposed was an exchange of sorts. He’d do Primo a favour by taking Fondriest’s salary off his hands, and the net result would be that Alfa Lum would have money enough for Saronni, the Polish diesels Piasecki and Lang, and three more of the Del Tongo gregari. Franchini would get six old riders for the price of one young ‘un, and ‘Beppe’s presence would guarantee column inches and invites to all the big races. The old guard would be off Del Tongo’s books, and Fondriest would sprinkle gold dust on their sofas and Colnago’s framesets. Primo said he was good with that, and Fondriest was good with it. Saronni had no choice but to be good with it, and both Del Tongo and Alfa Lum saw the value in it. Everyone a winner…
The 1988 Alfa Lum/Legnano team jersey and Fondriest's World Champion jersey that Sportful made before he made his big-money move to Del Tongo for 1989.
Primo Franchini was a cycling man to his very marrow. He was also an extremely resourceful guy, and his journey through the sport bore eloquent testimony to the fact. He’d been a teenage prodigy, and in 1959 Coppi had told him he was a shoo-in. Then, however, Fausto had gone and caught malaria. He’d popped his clogs, Primo hadn’t turned pro’ after all, and they’d packed him off to the military for three years.
What with one thing and another he’d been 26 when he’d ridden his first Giro, and the following year he’d been clinically dead after a horrific crash on the stage to San Remo. They’d flung a blanket over him, but Primo never was one for the easy option. He’d sat back up and climbed back on, and made himself useful to Vito Taccone, his captain.
He’d signed for Bartali’s team, Cosatto, but with Italian cycling contracting he’d found himself out of a job. Anxious to stay in the game, he’d reinvented himself as a soigneur, as they tended to back then. He’d helped Gösta Pettersson win the 1971 Giro, and then Magniflex had persuaded him to try his hand as a DS. He’d thought about it for a month or so, and then signed up for a life of stress, of endless travelling and of chronic insecurity. It had been the very opposite of a career, but for fifteen years it had been the only job he’d known. Primo Franchini was a very popular figure, but like the majority of cycling people he was clinging on. The “lifestyle” had seen to it that he’d never married and never truly settled, but days like Ronse enabled him to delude himself that it was (almost) worthwhile.
Now, six weeks on, Primo finished up his breakfast and called Colnago. He told him they needed to meet up to finalize the contractual nuts and bolts, but then Colnago threw him a curveball. He told him he wouldn’t be joining Fondriest at Del Tongo after all, because there’d been developments. The Malvor cosmetics people were coming back into cycling, and the budget was astronomical. He and team Saronni had decided to stay together after all, and to go with them. Fondriest was going to Del Tongo as agreed, but now they were talking to Pinarello about bikes.
I want to make it in cycling. I want to prove that my rainbow jersey wasn't a present. I know that's going to be very hard and a difficult task to fulfil, but I'll be ready. I'm very confident.
I'm joining Del Tongo in January, so there will be a strong team behind me to back me up and that's very important.
Maurizio Fondriest in Winning Magazine, 1988.
Primo Franchini listened carefully to all of this but, as you can imagine, he was very far from happy about it. He knew to his cost that Ernesto had previous for this sort of thing, so he told him he’d best sort it out pronto. He told him that if he didn’t he was coming over to his place straight away, and he was going to smash his face in.
Ernesto, whom we’re assuming probably wasn’t much of a scrapper, told him to not to do that. He told him to hold his horses, and that he’d make a few calls. He’d see what he could do, and come straight back to him. Primo said he’d be waiting by the ‘phone, and that Ernesto would do well to come back to him sharpish.
Ernesto rang back ten minutes later and told Primo he needn’t come over and smash his face in after all.
He told him he had a plan…
If you have enjoyed reading Herbie's latest blog, we have a selection of previously published stories for you to enjoy.
Steven Rooks (PDM) leads Luca Rota (Del Tongo) and Maurizio Fondriest (Alfa Lum) in his new world champion jersey at the Giro del Lazio in 1988. You'll note that all three riders are using Campagnolo's Delta brakes on their Colnago, Concorde and Legnano bikes, however, Rota is enjoying the delights of a Colnago-club branded set.
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