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Cycling: Sciandri goes flat out for recognition

Chris Maume reports on an Anglo-Italian's assault on the Rochester Classic on Sunday
For a British Olympic medallist, Max Sciandri cuts a low profile. Despite his road race bronze in Atlanta last year, he is an unknown quantity in the country of his birth outside the cycling fraternity.

Still, he relishes racing over here and should be a serious contender for the Rochester International Classic on Sunday, the seventh of the 10 World Cup races this year.

"They understand the sport in Italy and realise that we are serious and dedicated athletes," he said yesterday from his converted farmhouse in Tuscany, where he was resting before travelling to England today. "You don't get that in the UK - although it seems to have changed in the last few years."

Sciandri was born in Derby in 1967, of a British mother and Italian father, moving to Bournemouth when he was a baby. At the age of nine he moved with his father to Viareggio, on the Tuscan coast, and spent the rest of his childhood moving "backwards and forwards" between England and Italy. But that, he says, was fine: "It's always good to keep another door open."

He began racing almost as soon as he moved to Italy, and had a fair amount of success, but as he got older and developed international aspirations, he found himself being consistently passed over by the Italian selectors, both as an amateur and a professional. So in 1995 he put his British passport to good use, and bringing back a road race medal from Atlanta last year made it worthwhile.

As well as winning the Tour of Britain in 1992, Sciandri is also part of that exalted company of cyclists with a stage win on the Tour de France to their name. He took the sprint into St Etienne in 1995, and finished the race in his highest-ever position, 47th. He had a slightly disappointing 1997 Tour, however, though he finished in a respectable 67th, two hours and 42 minutes behind the winner, the awesome Jan Ullrich.

"I had a few problems with the Tour this year," he says. "I had a problem with a tendon in my leg so it wasn't super for me. I was happy just to get to Paris. I came home after to take care of the problem, and now I can concentrate on racing - the World Championships are my big goal this year."

Sciandri will be doing the road race at the World Championships, in San Sebastian, Spain, in October. In last year's he finished back in 45th place, but to compensate there was the medal in Atlanta - Britain's first Olympic road race medal since 1956.

He also has a good record in the predecessor to the Rochester, the Leeds Classic, winning it in 1995 and coming second last year. He liked the old Leeds course: "It was hard, not too hard, but hard enough to break up the field."

The Rochester course, which is largely flat, will present different problems. "It's got a very large field and the Kent roads are very tight, so we're hoping it's going to be a windy day, because it will split the field up," the race director, Alan Rushton, said.

Flat courses are not entirely to Sciandri's liking, and the Anglo-Italian was not going overboard about his chances of victory on roads unknown to him. "I'm just looking forward to seeing the course," he said. "It's something new, so it's going to be difficult to have a race plan. Because it's a very flat race there'll probably be a field sprint, which won't be too good for me, but we'll see."

His Les Francaises des Jeux team will not be working for him alone tomorrow, unfortunately. "We don't usually work for one person only," he said. "We usually go for a couple of riders, but with it being so flat, maybe they'll help me out - we'll see, we'll see."