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The Giro: In The Chief Commissaire's Car
Photography by Daniel Sharp
Mauro Mondonico has served as the driver for the Chief Commissaire of the Giro d'Italia since 2001. His family hails from Concorezzo, a small town on the outskirts of Milan, and it is a family passionate about bicycles and bicycle racing. His grandfather, Giuseppe, founded a bicycle manufacturing and repair shop in 1929 and, from day one, supplied frames to local racers. Giuseppe's son, Antonio, Mauro's father, took to the craft early and became renowned for fabricating racing frames. Upon the passing of Giuseppe, in 1973, Antonio worked with other builders, namely Gianni Motta and Ernesto Colnago, eventually reopening the family shop in 1979. Mauro, the third generation of Mondonico builders, came of age as a framebuilder in the late 1980s and early 1990s, building custom racing frame sets with his father and using many of his grandfather's tools.
While the names on the downtubes may have been those of more well-known manufacturers, the Mondonicos have built frames for racers who have won Classics, and who have stood on the podiums at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. Sponsorship was a different affair in those days. Sponsorship would change, as would racing and the construction of racing bicycles, and Mondonico produced its last frames, in Concorezzo, in 2006. Antonio went on to retire altogether, while Mauro took a position as International Sales Manager for Columbus tubing. He was the ideal ambassador for the brand as the revival of steel framebuilding swept the United States. In 2011, Mauro moved to a new Italian cycling company, Prologo, where he serves as OEM Sales Manager. Call his office during May and you will only get his voice message; in May, Mauro is behind the wheel of an official Giro d'Italia commissaire's car. Rapha spoke with him in the weeks leading up to this year's highly-anticipated race.
Prologo is a new brand. How difficult is it to promote a new cycling brand in a country whose traditional brands are many decades old?
It’s not easy but I believe we are doing a good job. We are growing worldwide and we are recognized as a technical brand with good quality products. During the races, though, I am neutral.
You began driving in the race caravan in 1995. How did that come about?
I had a friend working in the organisation of the Giro who lived in my town. The third week of 1995 Giro I got a call from him; they were looking for a driver for the remaining stages to drive a group of VIPs as guests of the race. They were the Greek organizers of the start of the 1996 Giro which starts from Athens the year after. I drove them around at the start and at the finish but never in the race. This was my first appearance as a driver in the Giro organization.
From that humble beginning you went on to become the driver for the Chief Commissaire in 2001. What are the steps to moving up in rank among the caravan drivers?
There is no real driving school to start driving in the peloton but, for sure, it takes time to develop the right driving skills to be part of the race. In 1996 I started driving the car with the Giro d'Italia official who checks the road conditions, directions, roundabouts etc. We were always five kilometers in front of the race. It was a great experience but what I really wanted to do was to be involved in the race, to see the riders, stay close to them. From 1997 to 2000 I drove one of the cars of the many UCI commissaires, changing position every day. One day I might be in the front with the breakaways while the next day at the back of the team cars convoy, sometimes a few cars behind the Chief Commissaire's car. By 2001 I earned my spot as the driver of the Chief Commissaire's car. In this car there is also a person which is doing race direction and is linked with the race director in the front.
I also drive two of the Classic Monuments, Milan-Sanremo and Tour of Lombardy, plus Tirreno Adriatico, Tour of Piedmont, Milan-Turin and a few others. Basically, all the races organized by RCS Sport – La Gazzetta dello Sport. I also drove the road UCI World’s Championship in 2008 in Varese, Italy.
What makes the Giro d'Italia so special?
It is, of course, more than a cycling race. The Giro is recognized as a popular national event that gets inside the Italian people. If you visit a stage you immediately have this kind of feeling. Very special… I have always been at the Giro, before driving I was on the side of the road to see the race passing by as many other passionate people do. Now I have the chance to follow the race live in the car and this is very special for me.
Is there a commissaire you like the most?
Yes of course! But I don’t want to tell you who is the best I have worked with.
Do you converse socially with the officials other than to receive race instructions?
Sure, being in the car all day the relationship is very friendly. We can discuss everything but the stage and what happens during the race is always our priority.
Do you have an opinion about race radios for riders?
I will skip this…
You know a great deal about bike design and rider fit, do you find yourself looking at rider positions during the race? Do some riders have positions or bikes that you feel are just not good?
Yes, it happens for me. I see some riders in strange positions and I may think that bike is not the perfect fit for them, but it is rare. Sometimes it is just because riders has very different positions between each other.
What does 'pro style' mean to you?
As pro style I mean something nice, clean with technology that works.
Can you sense what is about to happen in the race?
In some ways, yes. Being behind the bunch I can see team strategies, teamwork and how they are organizing attacks or approaching the climbs.
Then we usually overtake the dropped riders and finish the stage on the leaders, usually the pink jersey.
As a race caravan driver, what are your thoughts of the 2011 Tour de France crash that sent Johnny Hoogerland into a barbed-wire fence?
Of course it surprised me when I saw that incident. I was shocked to see that happen because from my perspective it was an easy overtaking. The mistake is to think that it could be easy for everyone, though. Drivers who are not used to the race environment can be in trouble. All the cars involved in the race close to riders, especially at such high level races like the TDF or Giro, should be driven by experienced drivers who are trained for the conditions. Rider safety comes first.
Why do caravan drivers run over dropped water bottles?
Yes, it happens very often to see a bottle in the road and we flatten them for safety of the riders behind us. Most of the time there is still liquid in the bottles that explodes when I run over with the car. People on side of the road are not happy to get wet with water, Coke or any kind of sweet liquids but this is what I must do for rider safety.
What do you do to prepare for a long day behind the wheel?
Before the stage, double espresso for me in a bar is the best.
Ah, coffee, something special to Portlanders and Italians alike. Where is the best coffee where you live?
I can have good espresso easily everywhere in the Milan area. The coffee brand I like most is Illy.
What makes Italy so good for cycling?
History of the past, passion for bikes and for the competition with bikes.
Tell us about your favorite ride, please.
Close to where I live there is Lake Como and the roads surrounding it; perfect to ride on Sundays. Otherwise, Tuscany! Riding the hills there is amazing!
Is there a special ride you do to gauge how fit you are? A certain climb that when you do it well means you are strong.
Yes, the Ghisallo climb up to the chapel from the town of Bellagio.
Yes, Mauro, that is a beautiful climb. May you cycle it more than you drive it. Enjoy your time at the Giro this year and give us a wave when you see the TV camera. Perhaps a secret thumbs up when Team Sky is in the breakaway?
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