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Bruno and Goliath

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May 20, 2016 – Pulling in last at the start of Stage 5 at this year’s Giro d’Italia, team manager Bruno Reverberi sat easily on the hood of his Bardiani team car, far from the fury of the race start or autograph seekers chasing the stars. Reverberi has no stars. But his history in the sport is no less rich.

By James Startt, European Associate to Peloton Magazine

In fact, when it comes to Giro d’Italia team managers, Reverberi, now at his 35th Giro, is the undisputed record man in the race. “Oh yeah, for sure, no other team has a 35-year history in the Giro,” says the 73-year-old Reverberi, who in contrast, has only done one Tour de France. “The Tour is a great race, but the Giro is so much more diverse. It’s more beautiful.”

Reverberi’s success comes from an aging business model, but one that ironically remains competitive in the increasingly international sport of cycling. For decades now Reverberi’s concept of professional cycling remains unchanged. Bring together a small group of sponsors with a small group of riders and focus on well-defined objectives, for maximum results.

Unlike top teams like Astana, BMC or Sky that basically have one title sponsor on their jersey, Reverberi’s team jerseys more often resemble a patchwork quilt. But while he is constantly juggling a variety of minor sponsors, his livelihood is never dependent on a single investor.

With an operating budget hovering around 2.5-million Euros, his teams compete at nearly a tenth the price of the world’s biggest squads. His results, however, are far from meager. “We’ve actually won more stages than any other team here, something like 26 or 27. No other team has done that!”

The secret to Reverberi’s success comes in his eye for young up-and-coming talent. And he spends countless weekends at amateur races in his seemingly eternal search for fresh talent. And each year, his teams have roughly a 30% turnover rate as five or six new riders come on board, while others move on. Some of course, do not make the grade and must return to the amateur ranks or retire. But an impressive amount move on to bigger teams and the list of Reverberi alumni is long. It is a list that is replete with repeating consonants so common in Italian names. Davide Cassani, Stefano Zanini, Alessandro Pettachi and Domenico Pozzovivo all passed through Reverberi’s doors before moving onto the big leagues.

But while Reverberi prides himself on his ability to detect talent, he also knows that, once the talent is confirmed, it will move on. Salaries start at roughly 30,000 Euros, the minimum for a Pro Continental team, and top out at 150,000 Euros, a virtual warm-up pitch in cycling’s big leagues. But Reverberi doesn’t try to compete on a financial level. “If I can’t match a big salary I know I will lose a rider, but that is okay.”

He often cites the recent case of Sacha Modolo, who after a strong 2013 received a big contract from Lampre and soon left. “To keep him would have cost 600,000 Euros and I can’t do that. And if I went to sponsor and ask that kind of money, then I would have the pressure to produce. And what happens if that rider gets sick or injured and you don’t get the same results? This year one of my riders, Sonny Cobrelli, got third in the Amstel Gold Race. He is still under contract with me in 2017, but I told him that if he finds a big team he can go!”

Reverberi insists that growth must be done with calculation and caution. And he fosters overt skepticism when it comes to the World Tour. “Look at IAm. Last year they won races on the Pro Continental level and the World Tour level, so they decided to move up to the World Tour level. But now they are not winning so many races. And now their sponsor is pulling out at the end of the year.”

Indeed Reverberi seems to revel in his role as a minor leaguer. But while he cannot compete with the big leagues on a financial level, he often does at the sporting level.

His team already notched its first stage win here at the Giro when Giulo Ciccone stormed to an impressive solo victory on stage 10. And it is a victory that has not gone unnoticed, as many top teams have already lost their major players in this grueling race.

“Ciccone’s victory reminds us that money is not everything,” Philippe Brunel wrote in the French sports daily L’Equipe, after Team Sky leader Mikel Landa dropped out on stage 11. “It reminds us that cycling is the opposite of an exact science where everything is programed.”

Reverberi of course knows that it will be hard to keep the 21-year old Ciccone as he will be highly solicited by bigger teams after such and impressive victory. But Reverberi also knows that even if he loses his latest prodigy, he will still be back at the Giro next year, as he has been for the past 35 years.