Laid-back perfectionist: Davide Formolo’s path to Giro stardom

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Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome attracted the most media attention in the buildup to the Giro d’Italia but, as is the case with every Grand Tour, there are others who are dark horses for success. One of these is Davide Formolo, the Bora-hansgrohe rider who has been tipped as a future star of the event. Could this be his breakthrough year?

The stereotype of athletes as narrowly-focused and driven individuals was upended by time spent with Davide Formolo in December. Sporting glasses and a mop of curly hair, and appearing laid-back and zany, the Italian seemed more like a potential cast member of the Big Bang Theory rather than a pro bike rider.

Appearances can be deceptive. Formolo won a stage of the Giro d’Italia in 2015, landing success in what was his first-ever Grand Tour. He was just 22 at the time and turned heads with that ride. He then went on to finish fourth overall in the 2016 Tour of Poland and ninth overall in the Vuelta.

Last year, he was sixth on a stage and tenth overall in the Giro d’Italia. And, in the run up to that race, he attacked in the finale of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and was only caught with 500 metres to go. This year, he returned to the Liège and was one of the strongest, finishing seventh.

And so, while he looks like a teenage college student, while he comes across as chilled out and quirky, Formolo is actually one of the most promising Italian cycling talents.

How good is he? “In the future, he will win the Giro d’Italia. No doubt,” his then team manager Jonathan Vaughters told La Gazzetta dello Sport in January 2015.

That’s pretty high praise.

“The pressure is nothing”

Three years on from that prediction, Formolo is back in the Giro and again riding well. He was fifth on stage four to Caltagirone and was sitting 12th overall going into the Mount Etna stage, just 37 seconds off the pink jersey.

He’s got the talent to keep advancing, and he’s learning quickly.

He learned abvout leadership en route to tenth overall in 2017. “I think I did some mistakes in the race,” he told CyclingTips. “It was my first Grand Tour where I started as a leader. Maybe I did some errors. For sure I was too stressed sometimes.

“To do GC in a Grand Tour is not so easy. You must build confidence year by year. Okay, I learned a lot. For sure it will be useful now to have a different point of view.”

A strong climber and solid time trialist, Formolo has, on paper at least, everything he needs to succeed in a three-week race. He’s got the engine, he’s building the experience and he’s got the right racing instinct.

And notwithstanding his statement about letting team leadership get to him in last year’s Giro, he says that he is generally able to keep his feet on the ground. He doesn’t get bogged down with the weight of a situation.

“You know, I don’t feel the pressure,” he said. “I just do my best. I can’t do nothing more. The pressure is nothing.”

But what about the weight of expectation? Given what Vaughters and others have said in the past, does he not feel intimidated when people talk about him and his potential?

“No, no. I think it is not pressure… You just need pressure on the pedal,” he said, laughing loudly.

Having fun with his then Cannondale-Drapac teammates Simon Clarke and Alberto Bettiol in Tenerife, February 2016.

Formolo’s buildup to the Giro started months ago, back in the off-season, when he moved to Bora-hansgrohe and had a training camp in Tirol. Another camp followed in Mallorca, where further analysis and adjustment was made.

He got his racing season underway in the Abu Dhabi Tour in February and performed encouragingly, netting sixth overall. He followed that with seventh in Tirreno-Adriatico, but then suffered in the cold at the Volta a Catalunya and ultimately didn’t finish that race.

Undeterred, he continued to work hard and bounced back almost a month later with a strong ride in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, netting seventh. He then did a short altitude camp prior to starting the Giro.

“I am feeling good,” he told CyclingTips in recent days. “The last few weeks were really important to build up my condition and it worked very well.

“I did Liège and the feeling was good. I think everything is going well. With my new team, we tried also a new training program with my coach Patxi Villa and it looks like it is working. We will see how it will be in the upcoming weeks.”

Formolo’s Giro d’Italia began solidly when he took 26th in the opening time trial in Jerusalem. He covered the 9.7 kilometre distance just 40 seconds behind the defending champion Tom Dumoulin, the world champion in the discipline. To put his performance into perspective, he was just three seconds slower than Chris Froome (Team Sky), and gained time on riders such as Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Mike Woods (EF Education First-Drapac).

He then took fifth on Tuesday’s uphill finish at Catagirone, finishing in the same time as the winner Tim Wellens (Lotto – Fix All) and gaining on most of his rivals. That thrust him up into 12th overall, and showed he is riding strongly.

He’ll hope for another good ride on Mount Etna and in the days ahead, achieving the best possible result at the end of the Grand Tour.

“My goal for this edition of the Giro is to improve my GC results from last year and end in the top ten or better,” he told CyclingTips.

If things go to plan, if he rides to his full potential, he should be higher up than that. Another stage win and a top five GC result are within his capabilities and would set him up strongly for the years ahead.

‘He has everything to be a great leader’

If Vaughters’ prediction is correct, if Formolo is indeed a future winner of the Giro, that should become more apparent this year. He is now 25 years old and is reaching an age where his natural ability should really begin to show.

Bora-hansgrohe directeur sportif Christian Pomer has a lot of faith in him.

“For sure he is a raw talent,” he told CyclingTips. “He is a guy who already proved that he can finish well inside the top ten of a Grand Tour. But we have some bigger goals with him. I think he is one of the future’s great Grand Tour riders.”

So is it his power numbers or his character that gives Pomer such reassurance?

“I think it is a nice mixture of both of those,” he explained. “Concerning his character, also taking into consideration that he is still pretty young, I think he has everything to be a great leader. But also his numbers are impressive and when you saw his best performances so far, I think everybody will agree that he has a great future.”

Sam Bennett is one of the team’s top sprinters and has got to know him since Formolo moved to the team. He has been impressed with what he has seen.

“He is a really fun guy. He is always high energy. I think it is good for the team, especially in the days when the legs are tired,” the Irishman said. “It is good for the morale. He is a good guy, good character, but he works very hard as well. I think he has a healthy balance. He is a good bike rider.”

Like Bennett, Formolo’s character is a little misleading. Off the bike, both riders can seem laid back and quirky. They’ve got a sense of humour and also an ability to relate to people. They are approachable, not aloof.

On the bike, both are driven individuals who want to get the most out of themselves. “For sure Davide has a lot of potential,” Bennett said. “You would see the numbers he would be doing in training – it is incredible. I would say with a strong team around him, he can do some amazing things.”

Moving to Bora-hansgrohe is something that should help him a lot. Cannondale-Drapac was a solid squad, but his new home has a bigger budget, greater resources and also has some big names on board.

Racing alongside competitors such as Peter Sagan will add to Formolo’s experience and will steep him in a winning environment.

Thus far this year Bora-hansgrohe riders have notched up six wins. These include Sagan’s successes in Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem, two major races. In contrast, EF Education First – the new name for Cannondale-Drapac – has taken three.

As the QuickStep Floors squad has shown, wins generate a momentum and group spirit which help other riders also land success. Formolo will hope that this will be the case with this next step of his career.

Pomer will be one of those who will work to shape the Italian’s potential. He described his role as helping riders to get the best out of a given situation and the best out of themselves, and will do what he can to ensure that Formolo has the best possible Giro d’Italia.

He has seen both sides to his character, the laid back, zany aspect and also the driven athlete. The Big Bang Theory cast contender juxtaposed with the Maglia Rosa talent.

“He is a very interesting person,” Pomer said. “He is a very funny guy, always joking, always messing around, but when it comes to his work he has an incredibly high work ethic.

“He is a perfectionist, and this is what he needs to be a great rider for the future.”

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