Born on 24th August 1972 in Fivizzano in Lunigiana, Tuscany, Francesco Secchiari turned professional in 1995 with Bruno Reverberi’s Navigare Blue Storm after arriving 3rd in the Giro d’Italia amateurs.

During his long cycling career, Francesco won a Giro di Toscana, a GP Industria e Commercio Carnago, the Giro dell’Abruzzo, 2 stages at the Volta a Portugal and 1 stage at the Tour de Suisse, which he done serving for captains: Pantani, Petacchi and Cipollini. He retired from the sport in 2004 and lives in Lavaiano di Lari in the province of Pisa. 

Francesco always had many fans and was certainly loved by his captains. His admiration continues to grow thanks to his ironic, pungent and politically incorrect outbursts on social media. 

Cycling Digest (CD): Francesco, you were professional from 1995 to 2004. They were definitely years full of great champions but also many turbulent problems. 

Francesco Secchiari (FS): Absolutely! I was called as a whiteness for three symbolic trials during that period. One was for Pantani after the Milan Turin incident in 1995 because they wanted to know what was happening to him at the hospital. Then for Cipollini, when they questioned his residency in Monte Carlo when he was accused of tax evasion and for Simeoni and Armstrong because I was there when the incident happened. 

CD: This period reminds me of some very strong statements made by Frigo in 2019 on the accusations made against him and his trial. You raced with him…

FS: Yes, he was my teammate, he’s a fantastic, honest and a good person. After we changed team, I lost touch with him and tried to contact him recently to say hello but even after trying to track him down, I couldn’t find him. After I retired, my life inevitably changed and I lost touch with cycling for a while. I was a bricklayer and a gardener and these jobs consumed me all day. Today, I’m not working, and I have more time to follow cycling. I started having fun on social media, writing bullshit on Instagram. Now I have re-entered the world of cycling and I have found many of my old friends and colleagues but with Frigo, I have not been able to find him.

CD: Frigo has completely disappeared. It seems to me that he doesn’t want to answer to anyone. I imagine that he’s a very sensitive person and wanted to isolate himself from everyone but especially those involved in cycling. 

FS: I do not want to, nor am I anyone to judge, but in my opinion, Frigo was one of the most honest, best and sweetest people in the group and having been involved in this scandal he was probably a bit ashamed but mostly disappointed and disgusted by those who didn’t help him and just tossed him aside. Some people don’t care. They wait for the disqualification to end so they can return and compete with a clean slate, but he didn’t react this way. One of the jobs I had when I retired was a security guard and I saw petty theft happening all the time and I realised that there are two kinds of people who steal. There are those who steal and don’t give a fuck about the consequences, they’ll come and steal the next day without shame. Then there are those who steal, maybe even the same thing, but once they get caught, they’ll disappear, they’ll hide in shame, cry, and you’ll never see them again. I am saying this because for me, Frigo is a good person. He was not afraid to tell the truth about what he done and by doing so, he ultimately repented his sins. 

CD: I was touched by this story, and when I found out that he was your teammate I wanted to talk to you about him.

FS: I remain of the idea that Dario is a special person. He motivated me and had a profound effect on my life as a professional. I would be very happy to see him again.

CD: Let’s get back to us. You finished third in the amateur Giro d’Italia the year before turning PRO

FS: Yes, I also kept the leader’s jersey for five or six days, but on the penultimate day of the race I lost it for 20 seconds and finished third. I came very close to winning it, but Leonardo Piepoli won in the end. That was a very difficult Giro and was more suitable for pure climbers rather than a rouleur/climber like me. I was doing well uphill, I mean not like a great champion, so I attacked in advance and went on the run in the beginning so that I would be the first to breakaway which happened in races I’d won. Even in that particular Giro, I went to look for an opportunity to breakaway in the first stages, especially during the hardest ones, and then I was able to get the leader’s jersey for a few days. It’s just that on the Passo Giau I had a crisis, and I lost the Giro there.

CD: In addition to Piepoli, there were other important riders like Mazzoleni and Simeoni in that Giro.

FS: Yes, yes, there were also Borghi and Mosole, all of the strongest amateurs during that period took part. I was also going well, I was strong. But, as a professional, everything is different. The further you go, the harder it gets. You start cycling with people like Bugno, who when I was 15 years old as a junior rider, I struggled to even get an autograph from him. You go from having a poster of him in your room to finding yourself competing against him. How things change!

CD: And now you live in Lavaiano di Lari?

FS: I got married here, I got divorced here, but I stayed here to be close to my two daughters, Noemi and Nadine, one is 20 and the other is 17 years old. I’ve been living here with my partner Valentina for the last six years. She’s Sicilian from Palermo and we live with her two children, Alessio and Daniele, 15 and nine years old respectively. 

CD: As a PRO, you didn’t win a lot, but you did retire with some satisfaction under your belt. You won the Giro della Toscana, the Carnaghese Grand Prix and dominated the Giro dell’Abruzzo.

FS: Yes, I won them really by force. I was the strongest on the climb. It was a moment of grace for me let’s say. In that Giro dell’Abruzzo, I also won 2 stages against formidable cyclists like Ugrumov. I’d just came from a victory at the Giro di Toscana and the Giro dell’Abruzzo came just before the Giro d’Italia where I performed the best in my life. I felt very strong in that period. I had a month and a half of being on great form with great victories. I think that was the best period of my career. When I was great, I really was great.

CD: We are talking about the ’98 Giro d’Italia yes? You were also fourth in the “tappa regina” of Montecampione. Were you in a breakaway?

FS: At the Montecampione stage I finished fourth, I was not on a breakaway. There was a natural selection. That stage was hard and the climb to Montecampione was very tough. With every climb and every kilometre that passed, we lost someone in the group.

CD:  That stage is 243 kilometres...

FS: Yes, and we kept losing people from the group! I struggled a lot, but I held out. There was everything to give, especially when I saw only three people in front of me: Pantani, Tonkov and Guerini. It was a stage where I suffered a lot but at a certain point, I just unleashed and I went for it, also from psychological point of view as well. When I saw Zulle, a great champion, get dropped from our group, I said to myself ok we all human beings, and I built up the courage to try and just hold on. I managed to stay with the best and make a great stage. Anyway, like I said, I just went for it!

CD: A stage where Pantani removed the piercing from his nose if I remember correctly. An unforgettable moment.

FS: I was behind him, I didn’t personally see him, but yes, that’s right. You see, when people ask me what I’ve won, I don’t say I won a particular stage, I automatically say that I finished fourth in the Montecampione stage in the Giro di Pantani, the year of his double with the Tour. Even for those who don’t follow cycling closely, they know that it was one of the best stages in cycling history. 

CD: Did you win two or three stages in the Tour of Portugal?

FS: I won two. One in my first year as a pro in ’95 and we arrived in Porto Alegre and one in ‘97 at Alto da Torre. 

CD:  The year your tuned PRO, you impressed everyone very quickly. You did well in the Basque Country in the Euskal Bizikleta (a race that will later merge with the Tour of the Basque Country). You were always among the best in the stages and also in the general classification. You ended up finishing fifth overall.

FS: Yes, I came behind people like Berzin and Zulle and in front of strong riders like Olano. I went to the Trofeo Matteotti and came fifth, Bugno won that day. The idea was to make myself known in Italy after having performed well in Spain. The Matteotti was also valid for the National Italian Championship. I attacked because I wanted to show off and I took with me Bugno, Tafi, Lanfranchi, Faresin and Simoni. But, having given everything, I lost on the last hill but I managed to catch up on the descent. I ended up in a sprint with six riders,and Bugno gave an unforgettable sprint which is something that I still remember now.

CD: Not bad for a newly turned professional

FS: Yes, but I didn’t do well straight away. As soon as I turned pro, I immediately did badly, I couldn’t even stay in the group. I was a bit overweight; I wasn’t well trained, I was trained like an amateur, not like a professional. Then Reverberi, my manager, started to leave me at home. They didn’t take me to races anymore because if you have to choose between 10 riders, they weren’t going to choose me who wasn’t doing well. That was a wakeup call for me and from then on, I started to take training more seriously and I lost weight. I slowly started gaining some results and then Reverberi reinserted me in the group and I also made the cut for the Giro d’Italia. That was a big lesson for me. Reverberi was not a fool, he knew what he was doing, he saw no way around it than to teach me a lesson.  

CD: Do you define yourself as a climber or as a complete runner?

FS: If you a complete runner, you win as an amateur and you triumph as a junior, but in order to win as a professional, it takes you being good at one specific thing. Either you are a climber, or you are sprinter, or you are a cronoman. If you are a complete rider, you have to deal with champions and if you manage to emerge, you are also a champion too, right? But what if you don’t? So, I played my cards early, like in the two stages I won in Portugal. As I was a rouleur/ climber and quite fast, I was also able to get some satisfaction like I did at the Giro di Toscana. But I had to be clever because if I came face to face with Pantani and Piepoli uphill, I would have lost, in a sprint with Cipollini, Petacchi, Leoni or Minali, I would have lost, in a time trail with specialists, I would have lost. I had to anticipate everybody, and exploit my skills however limited they were. 

CD: You were a puncheur, as the French say. 

FS: I was a bugger [he laughs]. I was trying to rip everyone off in any way I could. Even as an amateur, I knew I was strong, but if I knew I wasn’t winning in the sprint, then I would attack by 2 kilometres and it worked sometimes. 

CD: When you went PRO in 1995, who was your team captain?

FS: It was Coppolillo. Great captain, great friend and a great person. He was my first captain and he remained in my heart, just as Cipollini, Pantani, Scarponi and Petacchi have remained in my heart. 

CD: What was the best victory of your career?

FS: The most beautiful victory was as an amateur and it left a lasting memory. It was Turin – Biella in 1994, an important international race and a very difficult one. That day, I remember it rained all day. The year before, the race was won by a teammate of mine Diego Pellegrini, who that same year died in an accident on the descent of Colle San Carlo during the 1993 Giro della Valle d’Aosta. He was a rising star. The day of the race in 1994 was 25th April, my mum’s birthday. It was a very emotional win for me, not only because it was a tough race but mainly because my teammate who won the year before was no longer there and because at the finish line, I saw my mother waiting for me. An Incredible moment and a memory that I will always cherish.

CD: And among the victories of your captains, which one is most dear to you? 

FS: Those of Mario Cipollini, because Cipollini won races where I worked the hardest. For Mario, I really worked during the race, I knew how to manage the situation and I was able to keep the breakaways under control with my teammates; I worked my ass off and arrived exhausted and sometimes dropped from the group. Seeing Mario on stage felt like a victory for me as well. 

CD: Cipollini always admitted that he is an extremely demanding person and was very hard on his teammates. Were there ever disagreements between you and Mario?

FS: Cipollini was more of a perfectionist than a nuisance. The only problem was one that I created because I was not a perfectionist and I still regret not following his advice because I realise now that I could have been better. He blamed me for how I trained, for what I ate, for how I lived. I trained hard yes, but I was 25 and I deviated from the rules. Now at 48, I realise that if I had followed what he recommended, I would have without a doubt achieved more. He gave 1000% and expected 1000% in return, from everyone. 

CD: But what did you get up to when you were professional? Did you not train? Did you eat a lot and go out?

FS: No, I did train hard, and I was careful to feed myself properly, but yes sometimes I went out to have fun. But I could have forced myself to be thinner and go out even less. If I had done everything more intelligently, maybe I would have gotten more results. If I worked harder, followed the rules more rigorously then I would have done better. But looking back, I don’t regret anything because this is who I am. I’m a bit immature, if you say one thing and I don’t agree, I’ll tell you to fuck off. Mario was always the father figure. He always treated me with respect. He knew my father as well and always treated us both with respect. What he was saying to me, he was saying it for my own good. 

CD: Did you ever receive a call from the Italian National Team?

FS: Yes, I was called a few times as a junior. But the problem was that when I was in good shape, I was put in reserve and when I wasn’t fit, they called up and I obviously didn’t do well. Then my eyes lit up when Ballerini called me for the National Team, not for the World Championship but for the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China, where our captain was a very young Damiano Cunego. Damiano was young, and I was strong at that time. Only six riders went to China and Franco needed an experienced man who could help Damiano, one suitable for a stage race and I certainly did my duty. Damiano conquered a stage and the general classification, a fantastic satisfaction for myself and everyone.

CD: Cycling gave you the chance to visit the world. You often travelled outside of Europe.

FS: If I hadn’t been a cyclist, I would never have gotten to see places like the one that I have seen. I have been to Australia, to the United States, Malaysia, Japan, China and I always did well abroad. In Japan, I finished 11th at the Japan Cup, in China we won the Qinghai Lake Tour with the National Team and in the United States, I also did well. In the hardest stage of the DuPont Tour which was won by Armstrong, I finished in the top 10.

CD: Yes [I added checking on ProCycling Stats] in the hardest stage arriving at Beech Mountain and you finished 9th after a tough and long 192km. That Tour was then won by Lance Armstrong, ahead of Ekimov and with Andrea Peron in third. And in America there was also Franco Ballerini, who finished 11th, Angelo Citracca, then your teammate and you finished 34th in the general.

FS: There are races outside of Europe, which are considered in those countries more important than the Giro or the Tour. These races and local cyclists don’t have the same visibility in Europe as they do in their own countries. For example, we were in China and a cyclist from China won. Santoni told me ‘contact that boy, I want to hire him for our team.’ Although there was a language barrier, I managed to him speak with him, but he explained that what we Europeans don’t know is that he is very famous in his home country, there’s even an image of him on the national stamps. This happens all the time, where in their home country they are stars but in Europe, people barely know them. 

CD: How did you get involved in the sport? Was your father passionate about cycling? At what age did it happen?

FS: I lived in a village of 80 inhabitants. There were no opportunities to play team sports, with the exception of football but I was always shit, so if I wanted to play sport it had to be individual. I liked boxing and cycling, and my father was from Gragnano, near Carrara, where there were two great sports schools which were Velo Club of Carrara and La Pugilistica Carrarese (the local boxing club). So, my father one day picked me up and took me to Carrara to see if I would play sport also because I was a bit chubby. He took me to a boxing match. I saw children who were beaten, crying, full of blood. I was 9 years old and then I told him, ‘ok let’s try cycling instead!’ Then he bought me a bicycle and I started running, it was 1981. 

CD: Do you have any siblings or are you an only child?

FS: I have a sister one year older than me. I was the only sportsman in my family.

CD:At what age did you realise you were good, and that cycling would become a career for you?

FS: I understood that I was strong when I was 15 when I was an allievo [a youth sector for sport in Italy], I won nine out ten races that year. But my father already told me at the age of nine that I was strong, he always motivated me. He took me to competitions whenever I asked. He sacrificed a lot, and I can only thank him. Without my father I would not have done what I did. I come from a humble family; my father was a fruit seller, and my mother was a teacher. But they always supported my choices and they helped me. In the meantime, I lost weight and like all children who rode a bicycle, I was beginning to dream of taking part in the Giro d’Italia.

CD: In 2004 your career as a PRO ended, but you still did a few Gran Fondo and the Olimpiadi del Cuore for Pantani that you won. Was it you that decided to get off the saddle? 

FS: After 10 years as a professional, I was ready for my 11th year. I was already training with Naturino-Sapore di Mare, the former Domina, but during the pre-season camp, I had a disagreement with Santoni and my contract wasn’t renewed despite having already participated in the team’s presentation. I was left out in January and finding a team was becoming difficult. But I was hoping for it, and I continued to train to find the motivation to stay in shape, and I started doing the Gran Fondos because I wanted to remain Secchiari ‘the cyclist’. When I realised that there was no room for me among professionals, I lost my motivation. I had done the Giro, the Tour, the Vuelta and I had won. I enjoyed telling my stories at dinner in the evening to cyclists who listened to me with keen eyes, but the professional satisfaction for me was zero, nothing, I lacked the right motivation to go on and so I decided to stop. I could have stayed, but the price I had to pay was too high, especially the fact that I had to be away from my daughters. So, I started looking for a job that would allow me to  come home in the evening to be with my girls, to eat ice cream or have a pizza with them, a job that allowed me to dedicate time to them that I didn’t have as a professional. I am proud to have made a choice to be close to them, just as I am proud to have gone and lived next to them after my separation with their mother. I managed to maintain a decent relationship with my ex and more importantly, I stayed close to my daughters.

CD: Once you stopped your cycling career, you had different jobs. You were a gardener, a bricklayer, a security guard.

FS: Yes, I did normal jobs because I wanted a normal life.

CD: During that time, you also followed a youth cycling team, this meant that you didn’t completely detach yourself from the world of cycling. Was this as an impromptu thing? 

FS: Now that my daughters have grown up, I have much more freedom of movement and I am ready to train young people again. I wouldn’t coach a big team, only to coach a team doesn’t require too much effort, because I need time to devote to my family. I trained allievi until a year ago for the Alta Valdera Cycling Union and before that with the Ciclistica Mobilieri Ponsacco. The problem today is that there are no longer many races for the very young or beginners, there are no more sponsors and there are no more funds. I hope that once we get back to normal, we can start again. I have remained within this team and am ready to get back on the road.

CD: Cipollini, who you are very tight with, recently spoke out about the concerns on youth cycling .

FS: He was very hard. The subject is also concerning for us all. Cipollini had his reasons, he personally got involved in this subject matter and said some very strong words about it. Everyone knows Mario doesn’t talk nonsense, he expressed himself in his usual bashful way because he was worried, especially during the pandemic because the situation got worse for youth cycling. It was inevitable that his words would have created some friction. Mario was certainly tough, but after all he is Mario, and if one collides with Mario, they’ll soon realise that he doesn’t show any mercy. Just to give you an example, in the case of Marco Pantani, if a journalist wrote something negative about him, he felt attacked and upset. With Mario, journalists thought twice about writing something negative about him, because they knew they would get a reaction even a physical confrontation.

CD: Do you believe that the situation of youth cycling in Italy also had an impact on the professional movement?

FS: It is the same world, the transition from youth cycling to professional cycling is very close. When I was training the boys at Ponsacco there was someone who pedalled hard and soon turned professional. Youth cycling is like a reservoir to draw from, it is there that the next potential champion is formed.

CD: How does this fit with the difficulty of finding sponsors and the lack of funds? Are there still enough races at a youth level to support the movement?

FS: Having been out of direct involvement with cycling for a few years, it’s allowed me to see the problems more objectively. I go in and out of cycling and then I’m back in and even on the roads of the same race you find yourself seeing only a dozen people where you used to see thousands of fans and spectators. I’ll give you an example related to a race where I returned after several years. On an uphill stretch of the Foce near Carrara there were 1,500 fans at one point, then I didn’t find anyone when I went back a few years after. Among local teams there were only a handful, where before there were nine. If you didn’t have a break like me, from inside you see a slow evolution, from outside a completely transformed world. I have realised that everything is changing, and that new answers are needed to manage the transformation. Think of the world cycling movement, before it was Italians with a few other European nations who dominated cycling now you find British, Americans, Australians and cyclists of all nationalities, and they’re all good! 

CD: What do you think of the PRO movement in Italy? Are they no longer a leading powerhouse?

FS: We could go back to being great quickly, there are some young talents, but the system penalizes us. In the case of the Giro d’Italia, an Italian team, Gianni Savio’s Androni, was penalised. But sacrificing an Italian team means sacrificing the Italian movement. Androni is an important team for Italy and if they are not given the opportunity to have visibility, then it’s all for nothing. Priority must be given to the Italian teams like they do in the Tour with the French teams. It is not INEOS that feeds the Italian movement, it’s us. If necessary, cut the number of riders per team or let one more team compete, it doesn’t change much. If you start with 200 instead of 190 riders, nothing changes. [Since the interview, Gianni Savio’s Androni was invited to the Giro d’Italia following the withdrawal of Team Vini Zabù].

CD: This year at the Giro they also sacrificed a champion like Nairo Quintana and personally the choice to prefer Scinto to Savio seemed unjust to me.

FS: I am friends with Scinto, Savio, Reverberi, Basso and Andriotto of Eolo, but I also try to be objective. Whatever team you leave out of the Giro d’Italia, after so many years of sacrifices and important investments, it will do them enormous damage. The situation has created arguments, even between the team and this is an even bigger mistake. The responsibility lies solely with those who do the selection of the wild card and who do not invite them. This is my opinion.

CD: The Italian Cycling Federation manages to maintain relationships with former professionals, do you think you are being used correctly by the Federation?

FS: I don’t think so, because as soon as cycling ends, politics begins, and the Federation has to be political and that doesn’t interest me, it’s not part of my world.

CD: You were in the same team as Marco in 2002, did he ask you to join the team?

FS: I spent three years with SAECO, the first two were not bad but the last year was a bit tough because I wasn’t doing great. At the end of 2001, I was still without a contract and I found myself talking to Marco who asked me where I would go the following season. I told him that I still didn’t know what to do and that I was looking for a team and he quickly told me to go with him to Mercatone and I accepted without any hesitation. Marco gave me a telephone number, told me what to say to them, I followed his instructions and I was accepted. Marco is a gentleman, a great man, like Mario, who in 2003, asked me to return to his team. They both took me even when I was in the downward phase of my career.

CD: When you were with Marco, did you have the same role as you did with Mario in SAECO?

FS: With Marco, I had to ensure he was in front of the group and I had to help him at the beginning of climbs even if staying with him was not easy because he was stronger. In 2002, it was a difficult year for us both. During the Giro d’Italia, I had an accident and fell at the first stage and broke three ribs. I tried to hold on but was forced to retire. I couldn’t help Marco during the season. With him I only did the training camp to refine the preparation but there was no satisfaction in relation to race results but only the satisfaction of being next to such a great man and champion.

CD: Even in 1996, the Giro that started from Athens, you were immediately forced to retire.

FS: In Greece, I broke three vertebrae and was almost paralysed. In that season, I never raced again, I was bed bound and I returned in ‘97 where I won in Carnago and a stage in Portugal. 

CD: You had a bit of bad luck in your career. When you become a professional in the first year there was the famous fall.

FS: In ‘95 at Milan Turin I broke my pelvis in three ways, then in ‘96, I broke three vertebrae and then I had other less serious falls. 

CD: And the fall at Milan Turin? Who was in front, you or Marco?

FS: We were not in the first group, there were about thirty cyclists ahead of us, and we were chasing. I had never raced with Marco; it was my first year and having Marco Pantani by my side gave me goosebumps. The descent of the Superga began, he jumped in front and I got right behind him and the descent was fast but we were not taking any major risk. There was a blind left-hand bend, then I saw this Jeep crash into Marco. After Marco the Jeep took me out as well and dall’Oglio immediately after. The rest you know what happened, hospital and so on.

CD: It was such a serious accident, especially for someone who just turned professional, it could have created permanent fears. Did you ever think about quitting after that accident?

FS: No, because that year, after the first difficult spell, I did well in many races and I got my first victory. Good old Reverberi, who was a fox and whom I always have to thank, saw me doing well and made me sign a four-year contract, which saved me. In the midst of the two accidents, in the second year, I practically never raced, but I had peace of mind knowing that I could run the following year thanks to the signed contract.

CD: Were there so-called sheriffs in those years? After the years of Moser and Saronni, did Cipollini become the leader of the group?

FS: No, everything had already changed. I had heard of that system, which was centred on respect and hierarchy, but in my years, there were leaders who did not impose anything but who earned respect by their behaviour rather. I respected Bugno and Cipollini for how they treated me and the other riders, not because I had to. 

CD: With your character did you always feel at ease in the group or were you a bit shy at the beginning?

FS: No, I’ve always been like this. Of course, some people find me annoying. Not everyone likes the jokes I tell; many cyclists need peace of mind. I remember that during the first stage of a Giro, a young German cyclist came to me and he asked me to behave more seriously, to lower my voice because I was making too much noise. It didn’t go down well, and I told him to fuck off back to his own country. During the race, every time he tried to go on a breakaway, he couldn’t. I was always behind him, I picked him up and with my finger told him to go back to the group.

CD: Is it true that in your time, the start of a race tended to be calm and explosions happened at a later stage, not like you see now where attacks start from the first kilometre?

FS: It’s true, but we never went slowly at the Tour de France. Even at the Giro d’Italia things have changed, the Italian teams are fewer, and they do not have the weight they once had. Now, how would you be able to tell the group to slow down so you could stop for pastries and see relatives? I miss that cycling where everything was a little more human. Once during a Giro, I had an argument with a fan because he asked me for an autograph. I didn’t do it because amid the confusion I didn’t even notice him. He said to me ‘do you feel superior that you can’t even give me an autograph’? I ended up exchanging phone numbers with him and at the end of the Giro we ate a steak together at my house.

CD: Do you follow cycling on television? Rai or Eurosport?

FS: I follow Rai, but not for any particular reason, just out of habit. But when I hear Magrini’s comments it does give me satisfaction. Magrini for me is the symbol of cycling. When I was young, I went to see him in local races, then he became one of my sporting directors and my coach. We’re friends and he is one of the best people there is, a man of great culture, a big heart and with a fantastic sense of humour. I really love him.

CD: But tell me, were there any cyclists who gave you a hard time?

FS: I won’t give you names, but there definitely were people who thought they were better than me, who had even achieved less than me. I don’t like arrogance and people who make you feel inferior.

CD: Have you ever raced with Simoni in the same team?

FS: No, I’ve never raced with him, but I’ve always liked Simoni. The people from Trentino are always nice to me, they remind me of people from my town. If you behave well, with fairness and honesty, we give you everything, but don’t try and fool us, we don’t forgive you. It’s the same with people from Trentino. 

CD: You also raced with Petacchi, Evans, Savoldelli, Cipollini, Scarponi, Bennati, Mazzoleni, Luca Mazzanti, are there any of them besides Cipollini, who remained in your heart both on a personal and professional level?

FS: Scarponi remained in my heart. We were friends, Scarponi was the kind of friend who left Le Marche, where he lived, to come and eat fish with me for the weekend. A true friend. Then Alessandro Petacchi, he won everything he could win as a sprinter and it never went to his head. Cadel Evans, I didn’t get to know him that much, but I have only good memories of my teammates.

CD: And with Cunego? The experience you were talking about before with the National Team?

FS: Yes, I worked for him and we won. There’s only good people in cycling, it’s hard to find a bad seed because you need teamwork to succeed. You have to do work hard in cycling, you need humility and humility helps with personal interaction.

CD: Let’s finish on a high note. Why did many former cyclists then find themselves as hoteliers, ice cream makers or restauranteurs people such as Tafi, Chioccioli, Giovannetti, Traversoni, Riccò, Mazzoleni, Pieri among so many others?

FS: I don’t know exactly. For sure you have to make sacrifices as a professional, maybe we’re left with a desire to indulge or to rediscover something you were passionate about. Then I believe that there is a love for one’s country, the fact that cycling and the territory go hand in hand. For example, I love my hometown, and in any way I can, I will do everything to promote it as much as possible.

CD: Have you ever been to Eddy Mazzoleni or Dario Pieri’s restaurants? Both were your former teammates.

FS: No. I went several times to visit Dario at the shooting range he ran, but not to his new restaurant in Volterra. I promised myself I would go but with this pandemic, I haven’t been able to yet.

CD: What do you like to eat?

FS:  I like to eat everything as long as it’s good and healthy, even if it’s simple. I’m very happy with sausages on the barbecue and a cold beer. I love a good Fiorentina steak. I love meat in general but also fish, pasta and pizza. Near me is La Pasta Martelli, one of the best artisan pastas. Then for wine I suggest Bolgheri, you can find an excellent bottle for only 15 Euros.

CD: Thank you Francesco for this amazing chat. A reminder to you all to follow him on his hilarious Instagram account @francescosecchiari, where you will find ideas of reflection, little pearls of wisdom and certainly a lot of laughs. Thanks again Francesco.