Before joining the team as sport director in 2010, Lithuanian Diana Ziliute was one of Diadora-Pasta Zara’s (then Safi-Pasta Zara) most accomplished and celebrated riders, racing with the team from 1996-2009. A prolific sprinter, Diana rose to the top of women’s cycling in 1998 when she won two World Cup races, the overall World Cup points title, and the World Road Race Championship, finishing the season in first on the UCI points list. The following year, Diana won the Grande Boucle, one of the hardest stage races in women’s cycling, and in 2001, she won a bronze medal at the Summer Olympics. Throughout her professional career, Diana also claimed stage victories at the Tour of the Ardeche, Giro della Toscana and La Route de France, as well as multiple stage wins at the women’s Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia Femminile. Diana was awarded the Order of Gediminas, a Lithuanian state honor, for her cycling achievements.
Fuji sat down with Diana to discuss her thoughts on the upcoming season.
FUJI: How is training and preparation for the season going so far?
DIANA: So far, our preparation is in the quiet phase, providing a solid foundation to be able to work and proceed with high intensity in the upcoming months. So far, the athletes are still at their homes, gearing up energy for this season in their own environments, where they are most comfortable and can train best.
FUJI: Where do you see your team excelling most in 2011?
DIANA: I think our team will be competitive and successful on all levels: individual time trial, sprint, and mountain. If I were to identify a point of weakness, it might be climbing.
FUJI: What races are you most looking forward to this season?
DIANA: We are looking forward to competing in every race this season, but our main objective is the Tour of Italy.
FUJI: Which riders do you think will grow the most this season?
DIANA: The young athletes like Eleanor Patuzzo, Alona Andruk, Amber Rice-Pierce, and Shelley Olds. And we have a lot of athletes that are already so strong.
FUJI: Who are your other staff members? Have you worked with them before?
DIANA: Some of those in our main group include Manel Lacambra, Flavio Alex Longhi, and Nadia Zuccherelli Antognioti. I think anyone interested in the women’s cycling world knows Manel Lacambra. I’ve never worked with him before, but we are very happy to have him with us. Flavio Alex Longhi is our mechanic. He’s a very good, young man. We worked together last season. And Nadia Zuccherelli Antognioti is our masseuse – very professional.
FUJI: Of the women on the team, who have you previously raced against?
DIANA: I raced against Claudia Hauesler, Mara Abbott, Zabelinskaya Olga, and Oxana Kozonchuk during my career.