Matteo Tosatto is the embodiment of experience in the WorldTour peloton.
The bearded Italian turned professional years before some of his youngest team-mates at Tinkoff-Saxo needed to shave. Some still don’t.
Tosatto has ridden for some of the greatest riders of the last 20 years, from Bettini to Contador, racking up 31 Grand Tours in the process.
Next season, in his 42nd year, he hopes to ride the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France again; the first in service of a leader - Rafal Majka - who was only seven years old when Tosatto turned professional.
“My first year was in 1997,” he remembers. “[Paolo] Bettini was my first team-mate, at MG Maglifico-Technogym.”
He reels off many of the biggest names of the last three decades. The roster provides context to his achievement in having remained in the top-tier for so long. Most of his early rivals have retired, moved into management, or even into team ownership, and while many of his former contemporaries have found refuge in the commentary box, Tosatto has stayed in the fight.
In 2015, he finished three Monument Classics - Milan-Sanremo, De Ronde, and Paris-Roubaix - before tallying Grand Tours number 30 and 31 at the Giro and the Tour.
If Tosatto has things his way, he will ride again in 2016 for Peter Sagan at the Classics and for Alberto Contador at the Tour. A rider who can name Bettini and Johan Museeuw among his former team-mates is unlikely to give praise lightly, but his respect for Tinkoff-Saxo’s leaders is obvious.
He echoes a common refrain in describing Contador as a gentleman, a leader who unfailingly takes the trouble to thank his foot soldiers, whether at the finish, in the bus, or in the hotel. And Sagan?
“Ok, now he’s the world champion, but he’s a fantastic guy,” Tosatto says. “Outside of the race too, he’s perfect. Alberto is the same. It’s a good group, which is very important for difficult races.”
This isn’t to say that the Russian squad was deficient in developing talent. Sagan, still winning young rider classifications in a year capped with the rainbow jersey, Majka, Pawel Poljanski, Michael Valgren, and Jay McCarthy provided a willing audience for Tosatto’s hard won truths.
There have been significant changes since 1997, he says, notably in the quality of the machinery.
“When I started, a good bike was 8.4kg. Now, it’s under 7kg. That’s a big difference.”
He estimates a minute’s advantage for the rider on last season’s bike at the summit of a 10km climb over a rival saddled with the machine on which he turned pro.
Power meters were the preserve of an interested and successful few back in the day, Tosatto continues, where now they are de rigueur, even though he continues to ride on ‘feel’, using the computer only as a reference.
Improvisation is no longer possible in modern cycling, Tosatto says. A rider must know his programme in December if he is to tackle his biggest goals in the best shape.
“Every team sends nine riders to a race in top condition. Many years before, four or five guys were in preparation for the next race. Now, it’s impossible.”
Like Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Hansen, Tosatto has made a specialism of the Grand Tours. It is “no problem” to Tosatto to ride the Giro and the Tour. Naturally, he prefers the former, but not only for reasons of nationality. The roads are wider, and the racing is - usually - less intense.
Note the caveat. The 2015 Giro was one of the hardest Tosatto can remember; conducted almost from the off at a pace that made even taking natural breaks impossible. Not that he was unduly worried. Since his earliest Grand Tours, Tosatto has grown stronger as the race has worn on.
He will begin his sixth consecutive season with the soon-to-be-named Team Tinkoff in 2016: only his fifth employer in a 20-year career and his home since 2011.
“It’s a good team,” he shrugs. “I had the possibility to change, but I like to stay with this team because the group of riders is very important. They are friends.”
Tosatto’s team has big ambitions for 2016. Contador will target the Tour in his final season and Sagan will seek to win Monument Classics as world champion. Tosatto’s support and experience could prove invaluable to both.