Monday, December 6, 2021
HomeInterviewsFlavio Zappi - "I don't want my team to settle for average!"

Flavio Zappi – “I don’t want my team to settle for average!”

-

You need to talk that Flavio Zappi boy, his lads are racing all over Europe and getting good results!’

As often happens with VeloVeritas it’s our spiritual guide and fiercest critic, Viktor who gives us inspiration on who we should be speaking to.

But there’s also the aspect that QuickStep new recruit James Knox, who we interviewed earlier in the year was a ‘Zappi Man’ so yes, times we had a word with Sen. Zappi.

Fast-forward a few weeks and Flavio Zappi is on the other end of my mobile phone making use of his ‘free’ time in the team car in the neutralised zone in yet another Italian U23 race.

It’s over 130 kilometres, very hilly at Osimo in the Marche region, not so far from Rimini,’ he explains.

We opened by asking him about his pro days but he was dismissive of that question; ‘a win or two and some top 15 placings, I only raced professionally for five years’ was all he wanted to tell us.

But of course being the stat obsessed anoraks we are, that wouldn’t do us and we had to do a little research.

Flavio Zappi
Flavio Zappi. Photo©supplied

Zappi had some strong amateur results in 1980 including third place in the prestigious GP della Liberazione and a win in the Coppa Bologna.

He was pro with Hoonved-Bottechia for 1981/82 and there was a stage win in Trentino in ’81.

Metauromobili-Pinarello was the sponsor for 1983/84 with his best results coming in ’84 with 12th in La Primavera in the same time as winner Francesco Moser, Kelly and Vanderaerden.

That same year he lead the Mountains competition in the Giro for two weeks, only losing late in the day when he got caught in the crossfire of the Saronni/Fignon feud.

He was with Murella Rossin for 1985 and Veloforma for ’86.

Some nice results – and his racing career had another bonus, he met his wife to be at the Tour of Etna some 30 years ago.

He and his wife ran a hotel in Italy before they moved to England – where his wife is from – and opened the now-famous but dear-departed cycle shop cum café in Oxford.

The café has been let go and Zappi now spends 100% of his time on the road with, ‘his boys.’

He started ‘Zappi racing’ as a cycling club but has developed it into an U23 ‘racing academy’ which competes all over Europe but with a strong leaning towards the Italian scene.

Flavio Zappi
Hero card from Flavio’s Bottecchia days – 1981. Photo©Ed Hood
Flavio Zappi
Flavio’s 1983 Metauromobili hero card. Photo©Ed Hood

We asked if Italy was the best place to learn the craft of professional cycling?

“It’s by far the hardest place to race with most races having those seven to right minute climbs where you learn to climb – but apart from the Giro della Valle d’Aosta you have to go to France if you want to learn to race on the longer climbs.

“You have to come to Europe to learn to race properly, back in England the fields are too small there are a lot of older guys in the peloton and too many politics.

“But it’s not just Italy, we race all over Europe – Belgium, Spain, Portugal…”

Travel, accommodation, entry fees, equipment and food doesn’t come cheap for a cosmopolitan programme like that – Zappi explains.

“I have sponsors of course but money comes too from the family of the riders.

“We spend 10 months abroad; we race in different countries so there’s accommodation, fuel, supermarkets, entries to pay.

“But the guys are learning the skills of how to live a self sufficient, professional life – training, cooking, cleaning, bike maintenance and how to race.

“For the riders’ families it’s money well spent; for a season, to join the academy it’s £8,000 – but that’s everything, accommodation, food, bikes, travel and entry fees.

“When we’re training rather than travelling or racing I motorpace them twice each week and several times each week I’ll follow their training runs in the team car and assess what specific sessions need to be done – speed work, time trial practice, climbing, it’s a full time job for me.”

Flavio Zappi
Flavio takes the win at Trentino for Hoonved. Photo©supplied

And what about James Knox, the academy’s biggest success?

“I could tell five years ago that James has what it takes, he’s determined, lives a stable life, trains well and looks after his equipment.

“He doesn’t focus on the stuff that’s not really important, fancy over-shoes or the latest carbon wheels; he wanted to learn about training and racing.

“He was with Wiggins this year and they have a good calendar.

“But when Rapha Condor, now JLT, asked him to join them on his second year u23, he decided to stay with me, they had the glitter and glamour but not the programme.

“It was me who made the connection for him at QuickStep, I’m lucky because I know many of the guys in the teams, they’re the same age as me.

“It wasn’t just QuickStep; BMC and Cannondale were interested too – but QuickStep tested him and they have belief in him.”

Flavio Zappi
Flavio got some very good results as a pro and rode most of the monuments. Photo©supplied

But for every James Knox headed for the World Tour there are many who don’t make it, one day here at VeloVeritas we’ll have to trawl through all the interviews we’ve done over the years with young men trying to ‘break through’ in Flanders, France and Italy – I’ve a feeling at final reckoning it’ll be ‘precious few.’

We asked for Zappi’s take on ‘the ones that got away.’

“Unfortunately, that’s cycling, for every James Know there are a thousand who don’t make it.

“The trouble with many it that they’re brainwashed to think they are better than they really are and when they came to the continent things don’t work out for them.

“My job is to prepare them for the World Tour; some people criticise me because I work my boys hard but it’s a big step up going to U23, you could be racing against guys who are four years older than you, many of them are already signed for pro teams.

“You have to take it a step at a time, first you have to finish the races then you have to look for progression, going from 30th to 28th in the next race – that’s where they need mental support, encouragement.

“It took James Knox three or four months just to finish a race but look at him now.

“It’s natural selection but some who fail have to find someone to blame it on – sometimes that will be me.”

Flavio Zappi
Flavio and his dad at the Giro in 1984. Photo©supplied

We asked Zappi what the future holds for him?

“I want to carry on with the boys continuing to race abroad; with the backing of Paul Quarterman, our sponsor and DS, we want them to understand what’s needed to be a professional.

“And I want to keep working with our boys; getting better, stronger – and just accept that unfortunately Wiggins may steal them away from us.

“I don’t want us to settle for average!”

If only I was 45 years younger…

For more see:  zappiracing.com   Zappi Racing Team Facebook page   Zappi Pro Cycling Twitter

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

“Coppi” by Herbie Sykes

With Xmas rapidly approaching I was recently emailed to ask if I’d like to receive a Hinault, Kuiper, Lemond or Coppi fine bone china mug as a gift. They were all really nice but there’s something magical about that gorgeous Bianchi ‘celeste’ colour, so that’s what I’ll be drinking my Xmas coffee from – maybe with a shot of grappa in there.

David Solari – Australian AND Italian Champion!

National Champion of two different nations at the same time? Is that possible? If your name is David Solari then the answer is ‘yes’ – and the man made six Worlds podiums in four different disciplines to boot.

Ethan Hayter – “I’d love to ride Paris-Roubaix this year”

This season saw Ethan Hayter sign with Ineos and the podium came early with second in the non-too-flat Memorial Pantani and that was despite a crash in the 1.Pro Milano-Torino his second race, the first being the Gran Trittico Lombardo. Then came ‘lockdown’ and his first race back was the European Championships in Plouay, won by Giacomo Nizzolo; Hayter finished a crash-blighted 98th but next up was the Pantani and the podium...

Davide Rebellin – “It is a wonderful opportunity and a privilege to be a professional cyclist”

A few weeks ago I posted on social media a picture of Davide Rebellin in his new Sovac-Natura4ever team strip for 2018; his 27th season as a professional. I commented that he was a ‘remarkable man.’ Immediately I was informed that I was, ‘glorifying a doper.’ When I responded by asking how he was any different to the pundits, TV commentators, self-styled fashion gurus and authors who have all fallen foul of the testers but are now accepted by the cycling community - no one could tell me. Former ‘cross star Barry Davies suggested that I organise an interview with the Italian; ‘good idea,’ I thought to myself.

Tim James

Over the weekend we were shocked and saddened to hear that young English rider Tim James had passed, aged just 23 years.

Callum Johnston – Inside the Baby Giro

The last time we spoke to Callum Johnston he’d just completed his first season in Italy under the tutelage of that colourful gentleman, Flavio Zappi. This year Callum has stepped up a level on squadra Zappi and was Scotland’s sole representative in the ‘Baby’ Giro d’Italia – a race which boasts on it’s role of honour names like Carlos Betancur, Danilo Di Luca, Gilberto Simoni and Marco Pantani. We caught up with Callum after his ride to get the insider story of what is, along with the Tour de L’Avenir, the biggest u23 stage race in the world.

At Random

Dan Fleeman – Moving from Racing to Coaching

'There's a time to come and a time to go,' the words of Danny Stam when he announced that he would retire at the end of this winter season, the Dutchman is 39 years-old. But whilst the former British under 23 road race champion, twice British hill climb champion and Tour of the Pyrenees winner, Dan Fleeman is 10 years younger than the six day man, he's arrived at the same conclusion.

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 17: La Mure – Serre-Chevalier, 183km. Primož Roglič ahead of the ‘Royal’ party

A decisive battle? No. A day of attrition? Absolutely. The ‘Royal’ group at the head of affairs behind winning LottoNL ski jumper turned cyclist Slovenian, Primož Roglič speaks for itself; Christopher Froome ((Sky & GB) is back in his usual position, at the front with a hugely strong team to back him and a time trial ‘buffer’ if he needs it.

Grant Thomas Tribute, Part One; Behind the Winner’s Bouquet

Following the sad passing of former British Amateur Road Race Champion and road track star Grant Thomas in The Netherlands we received many words of tribute to the man who defined ‘cool’ on a racing bike. Mr. Paul Kilbourne has featured on our pages before, reliving his memories of his time with the now legendary ANC team, gave us a lovely tribute to Grant, which we publish with pride.

Alasdair MacLennan – the SC President Looks Back at the Glasgow Games

As the Commonwealth Games fade in our memory to be replaced by The Vuelta and Worlds we thought there should be a ‘last word’ on the biggest week of cycle sport in Scotland’s history. And who better to provide it than Scottish Cycling President, Alasdair MacLennan who kindly agreed to share his thoughts with VeloVeritas.

Kevin Seeldraeyers – “Cycling is a difficult sport to be in”

Naples seafront, May 2009 and in a few days QuickStep’s Kevin Seeldraeyers will be crowned best young rider in the Giro d’Italia. Dave Chapman and I chat to the slim, slight young man from the magnificently named Flemish town of Boom, his English is perfect and he’s on the way up.

Steve Joughin – The Original ‘Pocket Rocket’

The ‘Pocket Rocket’ they called him; British Junior Road Champion, twice winner of the season-long Star Trophy, winner of just about every major amateur race in Britain and twice British Professional Road race Champion – the Isle of Man’s own Mr. Steve Joughin. High time we caught up with him.