What’s going on with Amore e Vita?
The twisting tale of a 70-year-old cycling team, and the mystery of whether it still exists.
The twisting tale of a 70-year-old cycling team, and the mystery of whether it still exists.
Are they registered in The Vatican, Iran, Ukraine, the USA, or Switzerland? Are they registered anywhere at all?
Maybe you’ve heard of Amore e Vita. Maybe not. For the purposes of this story, let’s assume you know nothing, which is about all I feel I know after idly looking into the squad for the past month or so.
I’ll drop you into this web at the same point I entered it: with a reader email about six weeks back, pointing out that the long-lived Amore e Vita team seemed to have disappeared from social media.
That turned out to be the case for the team’s main profile, but it quickly got a whole lot more complicated than that.
In the space of just a few months, from late 2021 to present, the Amore e Vita name has been connected to several different teams in several different continents, and apparently linked to no less than five different countries of registration. Websites were updated with conflicting information. Instagram profiles were created and shut.
What was going on with Amore e Vita? It was time to find out.
But first …
Amore e Vita – which sounds quintessentially Italian (but may or may not be, who knows) – claims a history stretching back to 1950. They also sometimes say that they were established in 1948, depending on where you’re looking.
Either way, they are, apparently, “the oldest cycling team in the world”, indelibly tied to the Fanini family of Tuscany, with the team passed down through the generations from patriarch Lorenzo to Ivano, and from Ivano to his son Cristian.
As far as I can tell, the Faninis are wealthy benefactors rather than a traditional sponsorship – in one 2007 interview, Ivano Fanini boasted about having passed on a “crazy” €50 million offer for his family villa, and asked rhetorically if he would still be doing this if he was driven by money.
Over all of those long years of the Fanini’s association with the sport, their team has won a lot of races: “7,000 competitions, including 12 World Championships and 65 national titles [between Italy and other countries]”, according to the team website. (At risk of being sceptical, an average of 100-odd wins a year seems rather … high. But what do I know.)
Over the years, the team has “registered almost 4,000 athletes” – again, an impressive and slightly implausible 54 a year, if you average it out – “hundreds of whom successfully launched in the world of professionalism”.
Riders to pass through the Fanini stables and on to greater success include Michele Bartoli, Andrea Tafi, alleged domestic abuser Mario Cipollini, and Rolf Sorensen. More recent alumni include Daniel Teklehaimanot and Andrew Talansky.
The team has a long and eccentric history of sponsorships, too. Many of them have been food-based: through the years there have been collaborations with Pepsi, Seven-Up, McDonalds, milk and yoghurt titans Parmalat, and organic jam company Rigoni di Asiago.
Some of the team’s most enduring partnerships have, however, set their sights a little higher. How high? All the way up.
Take, for instance, the team name since 1990: Amore e Vita (Love and Life). That appears to have been an evolution from the ever so slightly less catchy “No to Abortion” jersey slogan that the team trialled during an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1989.
As the team itself writes:
“[Ivano] Fanini decided to let everyone know his thoughts on one of the most burning and dramatic issues for every Christian today: abortion. So it was that, wanting to bring his testimony in favor of life also in the sports world, he had the slogan “NO TO ABORTION” written on the jerseys of his riders (and in this case on that of Fanini – Pepsi.)”
For years afterwards, the team had a string of appearances with the Polish Pontiff, who was apparently an avid supporter until his death in 2005. For a full quarter-century, the team held its presentations at the Vatican.
In 2001, the team was pictured with an ailing Pope showing him an American flag-themed jersey: a showcase, Fanini says, of the team’s “ideals of Love and Life (such as the fight against doping, abortion, smoking, the use of mandatory helmets and when from October 2001 after the fall of the Twin Towers until the end of 2002 we ran with the jerseys with the colors of the American flag in accordance with President Bush to raise awareness of peace in the world).”
In 2004, the team even worked with its bike manufacturer to affix aluminium crucifixes to the handlebars.
From the sacred to the profane, the team is also proud of its long association with Silvio Berlusconi – the former Italian prime minister who had multiple corruption and prostitution scandals. [For some light reading, here is the standalone Wikipedia page dedicated to a not-particularly Catholic string of “controversies”.] Berlusconi, who was owner of AC Milan football club, inspired a black-and-red striped Amore e Vita team kit, as well as a ‘FORZARCORE’ team name – an apparent reference to Berlusconi’s hometown, site of the infamous ‘bunga bunga’ party that saw Berlusconi convicted of child prostitution.
The religious agenda of the team went hand-in-hand with an anti-doping message. Fanini – who, it appears, gives a good quote – said in a January 2009 team presentation that he “discovered all the evil behind cycling, I knew things to make you shiver, I saw too many deaths, even cheating of past riders in my teams.”
In a 2010 sponsor-pitch document that is a masterpiece of visual communication, the team writes proudly of being “100% DOPING free … this is what we need!” alongside a boring stock picture of a boring plate of pasta:
[Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Amore e Vita rider Luca Benedetti tested positive for dEPO in 2014 and received a lifetime ban.]
That apparently strong anti-doping stance went along with a religiously-informed pursuit of redemption for former dopers. In 2004, Fanini offered contracts to David Millar and Jesus Manzano after they confessed to doping, while the Zimbabwean cyclist Timothy Jones was ousted by the team for a hematocrit violation in 1999, but returned to finish his career with Amore e Vita from 2006. That theme continued until as recently as last year: the 2021 team roster included Italian ex-dopers, Davide Appollonio and Stefano Pirazzi.
Fanini’s rather far-reaching terms specified that he needed to remove all his piercings and a diamond embedded in his tooth as a symbol of a “totally new image”, and also that Ricco, his wife and son must move into the Fanini family compound “so we can check him at any time”. Ricco declined, got handed a 12 year suspension in 2012, and was nonetheless caught in a McDonald’s carpark trying to buy EPO in 2014. As of last year, he was an anti-vax gelati maker.
Over the years, Amore e Vita seems to have become a team on the wane. They were once an Italian institution, racing 15 successive editions of their home Grand Tour. Since those halcyon days, they have become journeymen of the European Continental circuit, shifting country of registration frequently.
In 2021, Amore e Vita – Prodir was registered in Ukraine; the previous two years it was Latvian, and for four years before that it was Albanian. In total, the team has been registered in 13 different countries – something which Fanini claims allows them “to bring our ideals and the principles of Love & Life to the world”.
So with that history, it’s not entirely surprising that at the end of the 2021 season, change seemed to be afoot. But the following few months seemed unusually volatile – around about when I started trying to figure out what was going on.
In late 2021, Ivano Fanini revealed plans to register the team in the Vatican City – a natural evolution of the cycling team’s long association with the Holy See. “Who knows, we could also recruit athletes from among the Swiss Guards,” Fanini told TuttoBiciWeb. “I dream of succeeding because Love and Life is a global message, addressed to everyone and it would be nice to carry it around the world with the Vatican flag.”
A month prior to that announcement, however, an Iranian cycling team posted a jersey design for 2022. At the time, the team name was changed to Amore e Vita-Kibag-DFT-Obor (it has since reverted):
By January 12, 2022, the Fanini family was on the Italian cycling media beat again, with Ivano giving a lengthy interview with InBici Magazine about Amore e Vita’s Vatican plans.
By February 9, 2022, another team called Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor threw its hat in the ring – but this one was registered in Switzerland, not Iran, and DFT appeared to have dropped out as a sponsor:
Complicating matters further was the fact that until last week, ProCyclingStats listed the Iranian team as the definitive Amore e Vita – not the Swiss one – with Ivano’s son Cristian listed as the sports director. Today, PCS lists zero Amore e Vita entities for 2022 – Swiss, Iranian, or otherwise.
However, while neither the Swiss or Iranian appears to be registered on the UCI website, a Ukrainian-registered team does:
Throughout all of this registration turmoil, the Amore e Vita website has been completely silent. There have been no updates since October 2021, with the single exception of a recent statement from Cristian Fanini addressing the team’s close ties to Ukraine, and his personal support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.
“Amore e Vita was born with the intention of also being a NO To War message, so seeing what unfortunately is happening leaves us indignant and shocked. I can only express my dissent and virtually hug my dear Ukrainian brothers. So come on Ukraine, stay strong and don’t give up!”
Meanwhile, the Swiss-registered Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor has made a series of Instagram posts with details of its planned calendar, and further pictures of its new team kit. It has also launched an Android app (🤷♂) and a website with the intriguingly spammy-sounding URL, newcyclingteam.tk.
That website reveals that Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor is not actually a Swiss team at all, but American. Which isn’t so much of an answer, as an invitation to more questions.
According to USAC regulations that team would be required to have at least five US riders in its lineup, and a minimum of 10 riders in total. The roster listed on the team website shows a grand total of just seven riders – four Swiss, two German, and one Spanish – with Cristian Fanini as the team representative. Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor is not one of the seven US-registered Continental squads listed on the UCI website.
Here’s the part where I’d tell you what is actually going on here, but as I flagged up the top, I don’t have the answers. Amore e Vita might be registered in Ukraine, or Iran, or Switzerland, or the Vatican City, or the USA. It might exist in some transcontinental flux-state combination of all five. It might not exist at all.
I have no clue, because despite repeated requests for comment since early February, nobody has responded.
The UCI doesn’t list any combination of these teams on its website. It did not respond to specific questions about how the Vatican registration process was going, or whether the Iranian team existed – despite follow-ups on three occasions. (It is kinda their schtick)
The Iranian team didn’t respond to an email, either, and has only posted on social media once since it revealed its new Amore e Vita kit. In a series of pictures in mid-February, one of the cyclists was seen wearing that kit – of a team that apparently does not exist.
I contacted two of the riders listed on the squad’s roster per ProCyclingStats. Neither of them answered, and both are now riding elsewhere.
The Swiss (or US, who knows any more) team didn’t respond to questions. Presumably they were busy with their app.
Most notably, I didn’t hear back from the Faninis, despite repeated attempts via the contact details listed on the Amore e Vita website – which is, I should note, a totally different website to newcyclingteam.tk.
From what I can piece together, NewCyclingTeam.TK – AKA Kibag Cycling, AKA Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor – now appears to be the most likely candidate to have taken the Amore e Vita name onwards. On social media, it claims UCI Continental status despite no apparent evidence to support that fact.
In a string of emojis on recent posts and its bio, a link is implied to the Vatican, the USA, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany.
Strangely, the most compelling evidence to suggest that this is the real Amore e Vita comes from an Instagram post. The Faninis – devout Catholics to their core, complete with all the anti-abortion, anti-piercing, anti-smoking trappings of that – take their association with the Vatican seriously. I don’t for a second get the impression they would risk that.
And sure enough, as of four days ago, there it was: the Papal Blessing.
In an Instagram post written in German, the apparently American team posted a composite shot of ten pictures of the Polish Pope John Paul II with various incarnations of Italian squad Amore e Vita throughout the years:
Love and life lives on. Maybe.
Update 16 March: Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor has reached out with clarification that the team is now registered at club level with USA Cycling – not Continental level – via co-sponsor Obor, a tyre brand. Hence why it does not appear on the UCI or USAC team databases.
An initial plan to register as a Continental squad in Iran fell through. The Swiss team has history stretching back to 1950, whereas the Fanini set-up stretches back to 1948. Amore e Vita-Kibag-Obor says that they “present the message ‘Amore e Vita’ with support from Family Fanini”, and hope to register in the Vatican as a Continental team next year.
“We see forward and present the important Message ‘Amore e Vita’ in this difficult Time with Covid and War,” a team representative wrote.