Journal Ghisallo


Passion and Business

Words: Miriam Terruzzi
Images: Miriam Terruzzi

Journal Ghisallo

Reinterpreting tradition to open up new possibilities for the future. Cycling, passion and business according to Giuliano Ragazzi and Tomas Van Den Spiegel.

Giuliano Ragazzi and Tomas Van Den Spiegel - respectively CEO of La Passione and Flanders Classics - met at the Sanctuary of Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of cyclists. An iconic place where you can really take in the history of cycling and where every year, since 1919, ‘il Lombardia’ passes through, where champions have often gone solo, as they wrote the history of this sport. Inside the Ghisallo Museum, in front of the bicycle on which Fiorenzo Magni won his three Flanders Tours, they recalled memories and shared visions of the future.

G - From basketball star to CEO of Flanders Classics: Tomas, can you tell us your story? How did you get into cycling?

T - I can't say exactly how it happened. I was a professional basketball player for eighteen years, I played in the big leagues and I've always been very passionate about the business side of sports. During my career, I also spent some time studying and once I stopped, I became a sports marketing consultant and had the opportunity to work in my field from the very beginning, meeting a lot of people from the cycling world, including the former CEO of the Flanders Classics. He was the one who told me that he had an ambitious project for the race that included a radical change to be able to broaden the horizons at an international level. I like challenges and I accepted his proposal, so in 2018 my adventure began.

T - And where exactly does your passion for being inspired by fashion to create cycling apparel come from?

G - We are in a place where you can really get a feel for history and clearly see the evolution of clothing. In recent years, we - and other brands - have felt the need to conceive cycling as something that is not only useful and performing but also aesthetically beautiful, capable of expressing the style of a sportsman. Trying to be innovators, we approached the world of fashion, but not the fast fashion world, rather the world of garments created to last, to dictate a certain style and embody the mantra of "less is more".

Journal Ghisallo
G - What do you think about the Tour de France 2021? Which stage are you most excited about?

T- Without a doubt the Mont Ventoux. We are always thrilled whenever the route includes the passage on this climb because it is considered the most Belgian of all the climbs of the Tour de France. If a Belgian walks into one of the tourist places around the Ventoux, they feel at home, they even have our beers. The return of this legendary place was special but Wout Van Aert made it unforgettable. What fascinates you about this race?

G - The Pyrenees. They are now iconic places and represent the true essence of this race. Especially in editions like this one - in which the route of the Grande Boucle moves clockwise - these climbs are particularly decisive and exciting. As for the action, I like it when the fight for the jersey goes on until the very end, keeping that adrenaline rush intact, reminiscent of the days of LeMond and Fignon. I've loved the sport since I was a kid, and I hope that racing in the future will give us back more flair and less science. We desperately need romance.

T - When and why did you decide to invest in a cycling event? Why is this type of partnership important to a brand?

G - I am convinced that the word "sponsorship" has outlived its usefulness, today we are talking about a commercial partnership that manages to generate a positive synergy between brand and organization. I believe that it is fundamental for La Passione to have this kind of relationship with such an important event, a brand like ours can only have a profound connection with racing - which is the real beating heart of this sport - it has to breathe it, it has to live it. Otherwise, everything would be so static and fake that it wouldn't even remotely resemble cycling and what we want to convey. I'm happy with this partnership with the Flanders Classics because in the race circuits you organize, you can feel the passion everywhere and this is the magic we want to preserve.

T - We got along very well with La Passione because we immediately tried to find connections that made sense. Up until a few years ago, the relationship with a sponsor was mostly bureaucratic and cold, but today we strive to create long-term partnerships where both parties are comfortable and can get the best out of each other to pursue their projects.

Journal Ghisallo
G - The 2021 World Championship will be held in Flanders and this is a historic moment for you. What's the mood with just under three months to go until the event?

T - From the moment we were given the go-ahead to host such an event, we told ourselves that we would like to organize the greatest World Championships of all time. We've been working on this for almost three years and in the last year and a half we thought we would have to organize a World Championship without an audience, which, for the great significance that cycling has in our country, would have been a disaster. Today we are beginning to feel an atmosphere of hope, we know that it will be open to the fans and we are aware that we will have the possibility to do something truly memorable. Everything has been studied to get the best out of an area that loves cycling in a visceral way: we've created routes that are favorable to even the most dynamic of riders, capable of unleashing the show, and then we've chosen to involve all of Flanders including four cities, to be able to excite as many people as possible. In this moment, great efforts are being made but - to paraphrase the claim of La Passione - we are convinced that it will be worth it.

G - Do you think that right now cycling's heritage can help define the new personality of the sport? Can the past and present merge to help cycling grow in popularity?

T - When I come to places like this and I'm surrounded by the memorabilia that has made history, I get excited. In sports in general, respect for tradition is very important. We start off from this value to project ourselves towards innovation. What do you think?

G - I agree. We too, with the brand, always start with historical research. Of course, it is necessary to find a constant balance: looking back and at the same time taking a step forward, combining tradition with contemporaneity. The organizers have a great responsibility in this sense, they have the task of reinterpreting history to open up new possibilities for the future.

T - The best example of this is the change in the route of the Tour of Flanders. Before, it went from point A to point B and ended near the Muur van Geraardsbergen but, with this format, the popularity of the race was progressively waning. So, it was decided to study a more attractive route, giving the public the chance to fully experience the day with more steps and therefore more action. Of course, the organization was criticized for this choice, and it was painful for us but, as important as the tradition was, it was something that had to be changed to save the fate of the competition. The Tour of Flanders must be won by the best of the day, on a selective course that tests the legs, the head and instinct.

G - This also increases the attractiveness for sponsors and it's right that cycling should do some thinking in this sense. We need to work to change certain classic paradigms that no longer work today.

Ghisallo Journal
T - What is your fondest memory of the Flanders Tour?

G - One is related to Gianni Bugno beating Museeuw and winning with his arms raised. I was a big fan of his. The other is a much fuzzier memory, in black and white. I was a kid and was enchanted by Hennie Kuiper at the finish line wearing the Panasonic jersey. In my opinion, that remains one of the most beautiful jerseys of all time. Over the course of my professional career, I then had the pleasure of meeting him and being his guest on the Motorola flagship during a famous stage of the Giro d'Italia. How about yours?

T - For me there are too many, it's very difficult to say. The hero of my youth is Museeuw and I am very attached to the memories of his victories. And then there are all the successes of Boonen. He was probably the first athlete to realize that cycling needed stars.

G - More than three months have passed since the end of the Flanders Tour, what observations can we make today?

T - I'm sorry you couldn't come to Belgium to experience this atmosphere, I'm always very proud to welcome partners - and friends - on race day, especially because going up the Kwaremont in the audience, even by car, is a special experience. If you stop and roll down your window, people offer you beer. Anyone who loves cycling can feel at home there.
Like every year, we have tried everything we could do in terms of partnership, but we couldn't experience it as we would have liked. The Flanders Tour without an audience does not look the same.
Did you feel you were part of the race? What feedback have you had as a brand?

G - La Passione has certainly benefited from this partnership in terms of popularity. Today, a young brand like ours is struggling with the biggest players in the industry and this operation has helped to increase awareness in a market like Belgium, which is very important for us. This year, with Tom Boonen and Flanders Classics we have started to get serious and this is exactly the atmosphere we want to be part of. The atmosphere of Serie A.

Bonenberg Journal

Credits: si ringrazia il Museo del Ciclismo Madonna del Ghisallo per l'immagine e per la gentile ospitalità

Bonenberg Journal
Bonenberg Journal

Credits: thanks to the Madonna del Ghisallo Cycling Museum for the image and for their kind hospitality