Italy’s Bassano-Monte Grappa U23 Classic has been around since 1930 and lists Italian Legend, Gino Bartali as a winner in 1934; with Leonardo Piepoli, Giro winners Ivan Gotti, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego, not to mention Fabio Aru all on the more recent role of honour.
It’s a beast of race, flat then rearing up the feared Monte Grappa climb – of Giro fame – to finish at over 1700 metres.
Exeter’s James Davey was right there in the 2017 edition taking 10th spot behind Belarusian strongman Aliaksandr Riabushenko who won Bassano-Monte Grappa for the second year in succession.
The 21 year-old from the East is a big winner on the Italian U23 scene with a win in the sought after Giro del Belvedere and a stage win in the ‘Baby Giro’ this year among excellent palmares which indicate that the World Tour is next on his agenda.
James is one of Britain’s Zappi squad – named after team founder ex-pro Flavio Zappi a top 12 finisher in Milan-Sanremo and Giro delle Trentino stage winner – but spends most of his year in La Bella Italia, currently in Bergamo but also near Rimini.
We would like to make it clear that James is a Dave Rayner funded rider, a fact he mentioned to us but in the editing process that fact was missed from this interview. VeloVeritas has great respect for the Rayner Fund and it’s objectives, we apologise unreservedly for not mentioning James’ connection to the Fund.
We kicked off by asking him about his roots back in the UK.
“I really only raced for one year back home before I got the opportunity with Flavio Zappi to come here.
“I had a few decent results but nothing major.”
Tell us about the Zappi set up, please.
“We have a team house where all the guys stay, we train together and travel to races as a team, we have a team car and a van – the squad is well supported by a variety of sponsors.
“Flavio Zappi doesn’t have his shop and cafe in the UK anymore, he’s out here with us full time, following us on training runs in the car most days and taking us to races.”
Bassano-Monte Grappa, an Italian Classic.
“Yes, but it’s a really weird race – the first 100 K are flat then you have a 27 kilometre climb which takes an hour to race up!
“It’s a really well respected race on the calendar – the biggest recent name to win it was Fabio Aru.”
Is that old adage, ‘there’s no such thing as a flat race in Italy’ still true?
“Yeah, pretty much, there are some smaller races which have flat percorsos but if you ride the bigger, national races then you have to be able to climb.
“Even if you’re a sprinter you have to be able to get over the hills if you want to win.”
How have the results been going?
“I’ve had quite a few top 20’s and I had a couple of top 10’s on stages in a UCI stage race in Austria.
“I finished 27th in the Valle d’Aosta stage race but that was such a hard race – there were four summit finishes, more than the Tour de France!”
Is Italy still a happy hunting ground for the East Europeans?
“Yes, the Russian national team is based here – and we come across Pavel Sivakov in races (Sivakov is of Russian parentage but was born in Italy and now lives in France. We have an interview with him coming soon too. ed.) but he’s just at a different level; he’s won the Ronde de l’Isard, Giro della Valle d’Aosta and Baby Giro – and he’s still only a second year U23!
“And of course Riabushenko who won on Monte Grappa is Belarusian.”
How’s the lingo?
“I’m trying to learn, I can get by but am by no means fluent, I’m afraid.”
Why did you chose Italy rather than Belgium or France?
“That was due to getting the opportunity with Flavio Zappi, I had a try out her in September two years ago where I got a couple of half decent results and have been here ever since.”
Do you have role models?
“Not as such but I do admire riders who just go out and do it and get the results.
“There’s no one specific but I look at the guys in the Italian Colpak amateur team; Manuel Senni was with them and turned pro with BMC, he’ll be with Bardiani next year; and Umberto Orsini is another Colpack guy who’s going to Bardiani – and then there’s Andrea Toniatti who’s going to Bahrain for 2018.
“You have to admire those riders – they’ve just gone out, worked hard and done it riding themselves into pro contracts.”
Are there still all those older guys who never ‘made it’ but are strong as hell, riding your races?
“Yeah, when you ride Elite 1.2 and 2.2 races there are guys there who were not quite good enough to be full pro but they’re so strong and know how to read a race.
“Then you get guys who have stepped down a level but they’re still very good bike riders.”
What’s coming up next?
“We have two big UCI 1.2U races this month, Poggiana on the 13th and Di Caporarco on 16th, I’m hoping to do well in them.
“We’ve been having the high temperature s which the rest of Southern Europe has been having, 35 to 38 degrees – the heat suits me so I’m looking forward to both races.
“Our season finishes at the start of October with the Piccolo Lomardia which is a nice way to end the year.”
What’s the ultimate goal, James?
“I just want to keep developing as a rider; ultimately I want to make my career as a professional cyclist.
“I’m a decent climber but can do well in all conditions – I’ll even mix it in a bunch sprint!”
VeloVeritas always like to see young men heading into the Heartlands, be it Flanders, Brittany or Lombardy, chasing their dreams.
James Davey has chosen a tough theatre; we wish him well and will try to keep an eye on his results.