TeamSky.com sat down with Gianni Moscon and those close to him to chat about his rapid rise in the pro ranks.
Gianni Moscon was destined to be an apple farmer. Born and raised on the family farm in Livo, Italy, he spent his formative years learning the ropes and helping out. Even now Gianni will muck in during the off season, contributing to his nickname, ‘Il Trattore’ - The Tractor.
But the farming career will have to wait. Gianni has enjoyed a whirlwind 12 months: expecting a quiet first season in the professional ranks here at Team Sky, he excelled, surpassing his and the team’s expectations. His win at the Arctic Race will live long in the memory, but superb rides at Coppi Bartali, Paris-Roubaix, and the Tour de Yorkshire gave a glimpse of the 22 year old’s vast potential.
There had been some impressive results in his under 23 days too: 2015 Italian U23 champion, winner of the U23 Il Lombardia, second in the U23 Tour of Flanders; the list goes on and on.
But it was a ride in the 2014 U23 world championship road race that first brought him to the team’s attention. Gianni crashed when well placed in the final stages but Fausto Pinarello, watching on in Ponferrada, Spain, had seen enough. Pinarello’s CEO got on the phone to Sport Director Dario Cioni: “You should sign this guy…”
A year later Gianni finished fourth in the worlds, but by then he’d penned a professional deal with the team.
In his first interview with TeamSky.com, he was asked what he likes most about cycling: “I like that if you work hard, you get good results,” he said. He’s gone on to prove that; not that he was expecting to. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he admits, speaking after the recent Tirreno-Adriatico. “Everything was new to me: I’d never raced professionally before and I didn’t know anything. I had to discover it all.”
Cioni is effusive with praise for his young Italian charge and explained his journey to the team: “His name had come up, and then Fausto came to us with the same name. I started to ask around and the feedback was all positive. So we invited Gianni to a training camp in Mallorca and from then on I followed him from afar.”
Dario liked what he saw: “The previous few years he had been studying so hadn’t committed 100% to his riding, but in 2015 he really stepped up. He won quite a few races early on - a couple of big ones too - and it was obvious that if we were going to sign an Italian, he had a good chance.”
A development training camp in Sestriere confirmed the team’s decision. “We went with a group of development riders - Scott Davies, Alex Peters, Keagan Girdlestone and Gianni - and I was particularly impressed with how Gianni did on the longer climbs,” Dario continues. “I didn’t expect him to do that well.”
At the moment I’m an all rounder, and I’m happy. I’ll keep going like this. I don’t have too much focus on one discipline.
It’s that all-round ability that has seen Gianni stand out in several forms of racing in the early part of his career and he’s more than happy to continue like that for the time being: “At the moment I’m an all rounder, and I’m happy,” he says. “I’ll keep going like this. I don’t have too much focus on one discipline.”
Despite that, his eyes light up when the Classics are mentioned, particularly after his encouraging ride in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix. After a late call up to the team due to his excellent early-season form, Gianni had made the front group, but crashed on the cobbles with around 25km to go. He remounted and battled home to finish a reputable 38th. “It was a nice race for me,” he opines. “I did well until the crash, and I thought it would be possible to get a good result. But just to be there with the strongest guys was big for me.”
Previewing this year’s race, he adds: “We have a strong team, even stronger than last year because everybody is one year more experienced. Luke and Ian [Rowe and Stannard], are our leaders and we will support them, but if any of us have the legs in the final it’s good for them if we attack. And anything can happen then - maybe we would get our chance.”
The young Italian has been compared with Geraint Thomas for his ability to play a key role in races of differing characteristics, and G is quick to acknowledge the impact his team-mate has made in his first fifteen months with the team: “He’s a quality bike rider. He’s aggressive; he has respect for guys, but he also holds his own, fights for the team, and holds his position. He’s a massive talent, who will only get better as he gets older.
“Of course he did well as an amateur, but just to slot straight in, especially in our team, is very impressive. He’s improving all the time and it won’t be long until he’s winning some big bike races.”
Of course he did well as an amateur, but just to slot straight in, especially in our team, is very impressive.
Of course Moscon is keen to claim another win soon and he’ll be given plenty of opportunities in 2017: “I feel very good in the team and this year I have the opportunity to do a lot of big races - last year was the same, but this year more so: Tirreno, all the Classics…”
It was at the halfway point of the 2016 season that the team sat Gianni down and set him the simple yet tough target of winning a race. He did that in style at the Arctic Race, blasting away to win the queen stage before sealing the overall crown, but this year’s target could be even tougher.
“This year his programme is a bit more focused around what he would like,” explains Cioni. “He wanted to do some stage racing, the Classics, and he wanted to try the Ardennes. Then, his big objective for the second half of the season is to be selected for the Vuelta team.”
If he does indeed ride his first Grand Tour this year then it will cap a remarkable rise to the top for the young Italian, who laughs when asked if his parents expected him to become a cyclist.
“Growing up I was always on the farm and I don’t think they expected this! Even as I grew older I always kept up my education - in my first year as an Under 23 I was still at school.
“Then in 2015 I really concentrated on my cycling. I tried to do all the training I could and I would see what happened – maybe I could be a professional, maybe not. If not, I could have found something else to do – maybe I would have worked on the farm.
“But in the end… Well, here I am.” Farming will have to wait a few more years for 'the Tractor'.