Mapei. One of cycling’s superteams, sporting one of the most iconic jerseys. Through the 1990’s the team would dominate the monuments and classics, with legendary riders such as Bartoli, Museeuw, Tafi, Ballerini and Rominger and finished top of the UCI rankings every year from 1994-2000. Their palmares is a long list of famous races, and features four World Championships and eighteen National Championships. Yet despite all this success, the evolution of Mapei is a strange and murky tale – featuring non-payments and false promises. And Parentini were involved right in the middle of all this.
In 1992, Marco Giovannetti, (the ex 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Team Time Trial Champion and winner of the Vuelta in 1990), won the prestigious and much coveted Italian National Championships. The tricolore jersey brings a lot of cache, and receives increased media exposure – so with this in mind Giovannetti had the idea of founding a new team. This new team would not only have him as the star rider, but he would also be the owner. Giovannetti was at the twilight of his career and his vision was for a team that he could develop and eventually manage when he hung his wheels up.
After some networking, a friend of Giovannetti’s eventually found an ideal sponsor in Eldor, an Italian electronics and communications company who are still going strong today – and they seemed the ideal partner. With Eldor as main sponsor, Parentini were approached to supply the clothing and fellow Tuscan company, Viner, as the bike sponsor. Everything was set up for the start of the 1993 season, riders signed and backup staff in place.
So it was, on the 17th February, Eldor-Viner lined up at the then traditional Italian season opener, Trofeo Laigueglia, in their striking orange and black Parentini kit. 163kms later, one of the squad’s undoubted stars, Stefano Della Santa, came across the line in 2nd place, behind a certain Lance Armstrong. It was a fantastic start for the new team, everyone involved sensing that this could be the beginning of a great season.
Over the first three months of 1993, the team featured strongly, nearly bagging one of cycling’s monuments. Luca Gelfi escaping the group chasing the winner Maurizio Fondriest and getting 2nd place at Milan San Remo. Della Santa continued his good form as well, coming 3rd overall at Tirreno Adriatico and managing to get on the top step of the podium at the Giro di Campania and bring Eldor’s first win. A few weeks later the team got their second win through their Kazhak rider, Andrei Teteriouk, on the 8th Stage of the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda.
However during April and the lead up to the Giro d’Italia, it was apparent things weren’t going well in the background. The squad still hadn’t received any money from Eldor, just managing to pay bills from the money Viner had given as part of their sponsorship package. And then towards the end of April, Giovannetti was hit with a bombshell. In a similar story to the Linda McCartney and Jaguar sponsorship fiasco, it turned out Eldor had never signed any contract. They weren’t a sponsor and there certainly wouldn’t be any money from the company forthcoming. The fledgling team, with a solid start to their season, now looked on the brink of folding, and people losing their jobs with no chance of new contracts with other squads, now that the season was well underway.
With Italy’s biggest race on the horizon, Giovannetti put the feelers out to see if anyone would take over and be interested in getting hold of a complete team and package.
News of Eldor’s demise reached 1958 Giro Champion Ercole Baldini. He then phoned a friend, Giorgio Squinzi, owner of the massive Mapei adhesives company. Squinzi comes from a passionate cycling family and didn’t need to think long before agreeing to take over. Buying the squad from Giovannetti. ‘Dottore’ Squinzi couldn’t have dreamt of how successful and ground breaking his decision would turn out to be.
With days to go before the 1993 Giro d’Italia, the Eldor jerseys were binned and replaced with the now iconic Mapei kit. Based on the design of the companies adhesive packaging, Parentini worked all hours to get the jerseys ready in time for the start in Porto Azzuro on the 23rd May. This first, lighter jersey would be re-designed later in the season, featuring a much darker blue. This colour would follow through onto every subsequent jersey, as the design got gaudier and busier.
Mapei’s first Giro was a tough baptism, with the stresses leading up to the three week stage race, a lot of the riders naturally struggled – the highlight being Della Santa’s 2nd place on Stage 6 and eventual 21st place overall. In stark contrast to the start of the season, after the Giro, Mapei’s performances didn’t give any inkling of how successful the team would go on to be. Meagre results up until October were only punctuated by Mapei’s first ever victory. The Trofeo Melinda, where again Della Santa showed his class, beating Mauro Gianetti and Wladimir Belli.
For some strange reason, at the end of the 1993 season, Squinzi decided to turn his back on the sponsors who’d helped and supported the squad through the lean times, opting to go to Colnago for frames and dropping Parentini as clothing supplier. For 1994 Mapei merged with the Spanish CLAS squad, picking up riders such as Tony Rominger, who went onto win that year’s Vuelta d’Espana. Mapei would then go onto dominate cycling into the new millennium, even setting up a Development Centre (which brought up youngsters such as Michael Rogers, Fabian Cancellara and Fillipo Pozzato) under the tutelage of Aldo Sassi, until Squinzi pulled the plug in 2002, fed up of the doping prevalent in the sport at that time.
1993 was a strange season for Parentini. It started out full of promise with an exciting new squad, looking like they might get some big results, helping promote the brand across the world. By December, Parentini were no longer part of Mapei, and could only look on as the squad became the dominant force for years to come. But at least they could hold their heads high, and be proud of supplying Mapei’s first ever jerseys. Their logo will forever be on the jersey of Della Santa, his arms in the air, crossing the line for Mapei’s historic first win.