Back to competing

Business was good and the Gastaldello brothers decided to supply their bikes to some performing teams. It was Dino Zandegù, a good racer in the 1950s and 1960s, then sporting director, to convince them to gradually attempt the adventure of professional competition. In 1979 Zandegù put Mecap Hoonved together, a team with no great expectations which had Mario Beccia, Luciano Rossignoli and Sergio Santimaria as it most representative racers. Beccia, a climber born in Apulia but raised in Trevigiano, was 24 years old at the time and had risen to stardom by winning the first stage of the Giro d’Italia of that year, the Florence-Perugia, while Santimaria’s greatest achievement was the 600 kilometre Granfondo from Milan to Rome. In 1981 the Selle San Marco from Rossano owned by the unforgettable commander Luigi Girardi proposed his team of professionals, which was equipped with Wilier Triestina bikes. Carlino Menicagli sat in the team car. The promising young Tuscan Enrico Maestrelli was there with Santimaria and Alfio Vandi, the climber with the blue eyes who was the captain. Thanks to Vandi, Wilier won the Gran Premio di Reggio Calabria and the Placci Cup. Also Giuseppe Martinelli was on the team, who 15 years later would become the manager of Marco Pantani. Girardi and the Gastaldellos followed their professional progress side by side the year after. For Wilier Triestina the time had come to regain the former glory on the jerseys of a first class team. However it was a dark year, at least in terms of racing results. Gianluigi Stanga, who had cooperated with Wilier when he managed amateur teams, in 1983 put together the Grandi Cucine Mareno, whose second name was Wilier Triestina. The team, which boasted various Venetian racers, had a limited potential and results equalled the modest expectations. It was the first step of a three-year project which began to provide results from the following year, when Stanga, with the support of Lino and Antonio Gastaldello, gave life to Supermercati Brianzoli. In 1984 Chinetti won the Gran Premio di Reggio Calabria, while in 1985 the Supermercati Brianzoli, which had already chosen a three-colour scheme, won the Italian road championship thanks to Claudio Corti, first alone on the Montello track. That year Corti won the Giro dell’Umbria and the Giro di Romagna. Whereas the racer Giovanni Mantovani came first in the Tre Valli Varesine and in the fourth stage of the Giro di Puglia (Tour of Apulia). Gianbattista Baronchelli was also in the team, who above all had an uneventful year. In 1986 the Gastaldello brothers decided to interrupt their commitment as technical sponsor of professional teams to focus on the structural development of the company. In recent years, business volume had significantly increased, the headcount had doubled but the good growth rates that Wilier had ahead of it risked being choked by an historically based organisation. It was time to move forward, no more playing it by ear, make some brave choices and focus on specific targets. Having successfully managed the brand together for a long time, in 1989 Lino and Antonio Gastaldello decided to go their separate ways, though in the same field. Antonio remained in the workshop in via Stazione, while Lino started the Wilier Triestina business branch, with offices in via Aldo Moro in Rossano. Wilier Triestina we know today was developed from this company branch. Time confirmed the value of that choice. Wilier Triestina managed by Lino Gastaldello grew by the day, improving the quality of the product while expanding and finding new niches in the market. Thus in the middle of the 1990s Lino was asked to get back on the professional bandwagon to support Brescialat, a team with a desire to grow and assert itself as much as the company from Rossano. In 1995 Brescialat’s organisation featured high performing figures, such as Casagrande, Podenzana, Piccoli, Leoni, Lanfranchi and Missaglia. Among the most important successes of that year was the Giro di Toscana won by Podenzana and the 15th stage of the Giro d’Italia, Val Senales-Lenzerheide, won by Piccoli. In the meantime, the new office was completed in via Fratel Venzo, a factory designed with an eye to the future, with a great amount of available space and highly functional logistic solutions in light of the company’s additional growth. In those years, aluminium gradually replaced steel and Wilier rushed to proposed state-of-the-art models with lighter frames. The weight issue represented a huge advantage but there was still a lot of work to do concerning stiffness, which at the beginning was the main defect of aluminium.

1997 was the year of Mercatone Uno and Pantani. The man from Romagna had already made Italian sports fans fall in love with him on the great climbs of the Giro d’Italia but the serious accident during the Milan-Turin the year before had placed many questions on his future. A gamble full of risks that Wilier, involved in the project of the technician Giuseppe Martinelli, decided to take by combining his brand with Mercatone’s. The late Luciano Pezzi, the father of the Italian sporting directors and Pantani’s mentor, went to Rossano to define the details of the agreement with Lino Gastaldello, and shortly afterwards an understanding was reached. Mercatone Uno had an excellent formation. Pantani was supported by racers of the calibre of Stefano Garzelli, Roberto Conti, Massimo Podenzana, Beat Zberg, winner of that year’s Placci Cup. Marco Pantani carefully prepared his return, only thinking about the Giro d’Italia. He rode hard and already in the first stages showed everyone that he was back. Until in the final of the stage of 24 May, when a cat crossed the road while the group approached and some riders fell. He was one of them. In pain, Pantani got back on the saddle and managed to reach the final line but had to take the number off and go home. A curse. Pantani’s spirit as well as that of the team and the entire entourage was grounded but there were other challenges to tackle, firstly the Tour de France. On the second day he gave his fans another scare by tumbling again, which fortunately did not put his race at risk.

1995: Mariano Piccoli wins the Lenzerheide stage of the Giro d’Italia.

1994: Wilier Triestina moves into a bigger and more modern establishment in Via Fratel Venzo, Rossano Veneto.

Also on the initial ascents, you could not see a dazzling Pantani, due to bronchitis, which really was not helpful. Things changed every day. The closer they got to the legendary Alpine and Pyrenean peaks, the more Pantani improved. At the Alpe d’Huez, which he had already stormed two years before, he offered Italian sports fans some real excitement. Pantani was charged up because the climb intoxicated him to the point of announcing any strategy. At the first slope he sprinted away, aware of his superiority. He did the same that day. Virenque and Ullrich were in his wake but he was uncontrollable. Ten kilometres from the finish line the Frenchman dropped back; shortly after Ullrich did the same.

In the most famous stage race in the world the climber that Italy had its hopes on was off to a slow start. As often happens. He was triumphant. A dream came true. Two days later he raced from Courchevel to Morzine. During the climbs the best were all together; they had a common snare to face. Five kilometres from the pass Pantani repeated his ritual: hands low on the handlebar of his Wilier and off without delay. Once again he was solo, his legend had definitively taken off. The relationship between Marco Pantani and the anufacturers of his bicycles was not just professional.

Tour de France 1997: Marco Pantani wins the Alpe d’Huez stage.

Tour de France 1997: Marco Pantani wins solo in Morzine’s stage.

2000: Individual time-trail world champion Sergey Gonchar.

In preparing the bike, he was meticulous though never obsessed and knew how to work with the mechanics. A great friendship arose with Lino Gastaldello, with no pretences. They were often in touch, possibly to remark on the latest race result. As a sign of gratitude Marco signed his jersey and gave it to him. The paths of Pantani and Wilier Triestina crossed again in 2002. After the whirlwind which had overwhelmed the racer three years before, few still believed in him, too many ups and downs had undermined his career, now reaching the last days. In any case Gastaldello decided to renew the agreement with Mercatone Uno, but the rebirth of the “Pirate” everybody hoped for, including the most skeptical, did not take place.

Marco Pantani in 2002.

Next issue 

22nd October 2013