Its this blog’s first ever rider interview, and Francesco Manuel Bongiorno of Bardiani – CSF agreed to answer some questions after the Giro. His team won three stages and Bongiorno was in contention for the win on Zoncolan until a push from a fan ruined his challenge. There’s also a look at his career so far for those who aren’t familiar.
Bongiorno was born in the port town of Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy, on September 1 1990. After a knee injury hindered his early progress as a junior, he had great success in 2008 and won 6 races. Among these was a win of the queen stage of the Giro della Lunigiana, a race which featured the likes of Peter Sagan, Moreno Moser and Wilco Kelderman. Another notable victory was at the 3Tre Ciclista Bresciana stage race.
Next up, it was time to make the step up to the U23 ranks. ASD – Futura – Matricardi was the team that he chose, and he had 1991 Giro winner Franco Chioccioli as his directeur sportif for the next two years. Bongiorno took some time to adjust in his first season, but won four races the next year, including the hilly Coppa Placci and Trofeo Alvaro Bacci.
Another impressive result for the 19 year-old was at the tough Giro della Valle d’Aosta stage race, where he beat Fabio Aru and Andrew Talansky to take third place overall.
With 2011 came a change of scenery, and the famous amateur team Zalf – Desirèe – Fior came calling.
The 32 year-old team has a rich history and can count Giro winners (Paolo Savoldelli, Damiano Cunego, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi) and World Champions (Maurizio Fondriest, Alessandro Ballan) among its alumni, as well as many other famous riders such as Mariano Piccoli, Marzio Bruseghin, Emanuele Sella and Domenico Pozzovivo.
No wins came of his year at Zalf, but a tenth placed overall finish at the Girobio was a standout result for the season. Several of Bongiorno’s future Bardiani-CSF teammates rode with him at the team, with 3 of the 4 having already won stages at the Giro.
After one year with Zalf, Bongiorno moved again – his last year as an amateur would be spent at Team Hopplà Wega Truck. He got back to winning ways with his new team, triumphing at the Giro Colline Chiantigiane, the GP Palio de Recioto and Stage 3 of the Toscana – Coppa delle Nazioni.
The 2012 season was full of top ten placings, and an emotional win at the U23 Italian National Championships topped his amateur career off nicely – it was now time to make the step up to the professional ranks.
Bongiorno turned professional in 2013 with Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox, a team which has been running for 32 years in one guise or another under the leadership of Bruno Reverberi. He collected some impressive results in the Spring, with top ten placings at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and the GP Industria & Artigianato Larciano. These results were enough to see him make the squad for the Giro d’Italia, normally something of a rarity for a neo-pro.
In an especially tough (and weather-affected) edition of the race, Bongiorno finished 71st overall, and was in the break on the mountainous Stage 15. In August, he twice came close to his first pro win, finishing runner-up on Stage 3 in the Post Danmark Rundt and also at the Tre Valli Varesine. A podium and fifth place at the Settimana Lombarda and Giro dell’Emilia rounded off a very good debut season.
This season saw Bongiorno start well with a strong showing on Mont Faron at the Tour Méditerranéen in February. Another impressive Settimana Coppi e Bartali followed, finishing fourth overall with Peter Kennaugh only just beating Bongiorno for the win on Stage 2.
A good showing at the Giro del Trentino set him up for a 59th place overall at the Giro d’Italia, with Bardiani – CSF having their most successful race in several years. Were it not for an idiotic spectator we could be looking back on a famous first win, but it was not to be. In any case, remember the name, because Manuel Bongiorno is a very talented young rider.
Hi Manuel, congratulations on a great Giro d’Italia for you and the team. The attacking style of the team is always enjoyable. It was a great performance on Zoncolan – do you still think about that fan or are you looking ahead?
I still have a little regret about the incident. Its in the past now though, and now I am looking to future races with optimism.
What do you have planned for the rest of the season in terms of targets? The Autumn classics?
My first objective will be to do well at the Italian Championships (coming up on June 28th). After that I will rest for a while and then try again at the races I went well in last year (Bongiorno podiumed in Tre Valli Varesine and Settimana Lombarda), and additionally I would like to do well in Giro di Lombardia.
You seem to be strong everytime you go to Settimana Coppi e Bartali. Is that a race you target? What are your favourite races?
Coppi e Bartali is a race that I like and it certainly fits my skills, but it is also a test to prove my condition (Its in March, so useful to build up to the Giro). My favourite race is the Giro d’Italia of course!
What is your favourite climb or favourite route to ride?
Ever since I rode the Zoncolan, I have been fascinated by the climb and I would say that it is my favourite!
Do you see your future as a rider for the classics or someone to challenge in the stage races?
It is still early in my career to talk about, but I think I can express myself well in stage races.
What was it like working with Franco Chioccioli as an amateur? I heard he followed your progress for some years before you joined his team.
Franco taught me a lot of things to help me grow, athletically and otherwise. Tactically-speaking I think he was the greatest coach I have had in my career.
Of course, the fact that I rode with them in the past has really helped us to work better together in races. It allows us to be a great group.
Bardiani is a young team, and you are among the new generation of Italian cyclists with Aru, Moser, Nizzolo and Ulissi. Can this generation bring Italian cycling back to the top again?
I truly think so. Most of all I think the class of 1990 are very strong.
Finally, who is your ultimate cycling idol? Do you think you can emulate him?
My idol is Contador, but he is very very difficult to emulate. For me it is and honour just to race together with him!