The date it’s 1958, the place is Arcore, Italy and “Sciur” (mister) Pietro Molteni is king of salami in what will soon be Berlusconi’s playground. Villa Certosa is only a couple of miles away as a matter of fact. But this smart meat entrepreneur aims at global glory (now, who are we talking?) so it comes up with the idea of creating a cycling team to promote his brand. It’s the middle of the golden age and Bartali’s victory at 1948 Tour de France not only glued a nation on the brink of civil war but also did put cycling atop any other sport. Everyone in the family seems to like the idea so Pietro put his son Ambrogio in charge of the project. Smart father, the son is no less and in a sport dominated by basic, bright colors (most jerseys are either red, blue or yellow) he decides that the newly formed Molteni team will wear an only apparently nonsense light brown, like on the tarpaulins of their trucks. Brown meat, brown jerseys, et voilà: Italian visual marketing is born. No one thought to decode that peculiar shade until recent times. Looking carefully at a Merckx race-worn jersey on Mario Molteni’s office in Besana (yeah, the company has moved from Arcore through the year and eventually they changed name to Salmilano) with a textile Pantone reference book in hand one can almost surely tell that it’s 16-1432 “Almond”. He waves countless pictures of him as a child, sitting on Eddy’s lap or on a small racing bike pretending to beat the cannibal on a sprint inside the factory warehouse. Also, he shows the original contract in between his father and Merckx. Hard to believe. It’s less than two pages. Doesn’t seem like it comes from a lawyer. It’s probably been typed by the old man himself on a Lettera 22. And here’s the best part: “I agree to pay Lire (…) to Mr. Édouard Louis Joseph Merckx and in exchange he is free to do whatever he wants”. Old school Italian entrepreneurship.
Ambrogio has no experience in how to run a team and he start to call people by first instead of last name, as it was used at the time. Suddenly the riders, managers and anybody who gravitates around the team feel like being part of one big family. The first years are the most romantic ones with Gianni Motta being their first big discover. He was recommended straight by Ernesto Colnago. Gianni Motta was a young boy working at Motta Foods (!) by coincidence, with a passion for bicycles. But he had no money to buy one. “You’ll repay me with victories” Ambrogio told him by taking a big leap of faith. But it was money well spent. Motta won his first Giro d’Italia in 1966 so he soon could afford all bikes he wanted. Then Dancelli. “The Milan-Sanremo he won in 1970 was a blast for all of us” Molteni recalls. Grandpa screamed in Milanese “se vinci te regali el stabiliment!” (if you will I’ll give you the company!)”. And then came, well, the “Cannibal”…
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