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True old school: Wilier-Triestina

From issue 4 (2011) • Words/images: Jered Gruber

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How many companies can lay claim to a name as unquestionably pure as Long live Italy, liberated and redeemed? Founded and based in Veneto, Wilier-Triestina can.

There’s no question that the Gastaldello family are purveyors of fine bicycles. The Cento1, Imperiale, Granfondo, and Izoard are a foursome of frames that contend with the best from any company.

This isn’t the story of the technology and development behind Wilier’s bikes, though. This is a story about history, family, the rise, fall, and rising again of the bicycle, and how they all come together to create the works of art we see in the sport’s biggest races around the world, specifically under the command of the Lampre-ISD team.

In the town of Bassano del Grappa, Wilier was founded in 1906 by Pietro Dal Molin under the name Ciclomeccanica Dal Molin. It wouldn’t be until later that the startlingly patriotic name would come into use.

The triumphant acronym is derived from letters within the Italian phrase: W (viva) l’Italia liberata e redenta. “Long live Italy, liberated and redeemed.”

For the first part of Wilier’s story, the company operated on the banks of the Brenta River in the direct shadow of one of Italy’s most famed mountains, the Monte Grappa. It hardly seems surprising that a company born at the foot of one of Italian history’s most important battlegrounds would have adopted such a substantial name.

Dal Molin’s simple beginnings turned into a considerable business with the passing of the years. Through two World Wars, the company managed to emerge unscathed and stronger than ever.

The end of World War II opened the door for the company’s finest period. The years following the end of the war were a period of monumental reconstruction for Italy, and in that time, the bicycle became king.

In 1946, one of Dal Molin’s sons, Mario, who had taken over the company from his father following the first world war, decided that he wanted to be a part of his nation’s biggest race, so he formed a professional cycling team for that year’s Giro d’Italia—the first of the post-war period.

The team was led by a cyclist from Trieste, Giordano Cottur, a strong rider who would become a powerful adversary of Italy’s two superstars, Coppi and Bartali, and manage to stand on the final podium of La Corsa Rosa three times (in 3rd place) in 1940, 1948, and 1949.

At that time, Cottur’s hometown, the far eastern Italian city of Trieste, was in a state of limbo. It was neither part of Italy or Tito’s newly formed Yugoslavia. It stood independent, but only just. Dal Molin founded the team with riders all from Veneto alongside Cottur, but added an extra to the name: Triestina. Again, with a name like Wilier, it seems wholly understandable that the founder’s son would want to stress the importance of Trieste’s return to Italy.

That year, there was a stage finish in Trieste, and it’s from here that Andrea Gastaldello, the youngest of three brothers and a sister who run Wilier-Triestina, takes up the story.

“Twenty kilometers before the stage finish, supporters of Tito started to throw stones at the riders, and most of the riders decided to stop the stage and start again the next day. Seventy riders decided to continue, because there were a lot of people waiting for the return of the Giro d’Italia, and they did not want to disappoint the people and make them wait for nothing. They also realized that it was an important moment for Trieste and Italy.”

Within these seventy riders was Wilier-Triestina’s Triestine native, Giordano Cottur.

“Cottur attacked alone and escaped in the last kilometers and arrived solo in the Trieste Hippodrome. The people hoisted him on their shoulders, and there was a great party. For this reason, Mr. Dal Molin left the name Triestina together with the name of Wilier on his bicycles.”

The success of Wilier-Triestina in that year’s Giro d’Italia spurred on the company’s growth. Both the staff and the facility grew to the point where 300 people made 200 bicycles per day.

The following year, Wilier-Triestina added the name of young Italian talent, Fiorenzo Magni, to its roster, and with him, the team and young Magni found more than enough room between the feuding Coppi and Bartali. Magni would go on to win the Giro d’Italia on three separate occasions: 1948, 1950, and 1951. He won the Ronde van Vlaanderen three times in a row from 1949-1951, along with three Italian National Road Race Championships.

Unfortunately, the triumphs and success of the 1940’s and early 1950’s would soon be replaced by a sudden descent into oblivion. The once proud and successful company found itself on the wrong end of another Italian boom—this time, it was the period of il miracolo economico (the Italian Economic Miracle)—as Italy surged forward following the dismal post-war years. Bikes were tossed aside in favor of their motored brethren: scooters and motorcycles.

It was a low point for the Italian cycling industry, and it brought Wilier-Triestina to its knees. In 1952, the company closed its doors and ceased operations.

It would be 17 years before the company would return to cycling.

In 1968, Giovanni Gastaldello and his two sons, Lino and Antonio, purchased the company for the equivalent of about $700.00 Then the real challenge began.  They salvaged what equipment they could from the old factory, and moved operations to their hometown of Rossano Veneto, 10 kilometers to the southeast.

The company started slowly, but began to gain momentum as it returned to the original copper coloring of the company’s heyday. Just over a decade later, in 1979, Wilier-Triestina returned to the professional peloton with the Mecap-Hoonved team. Their continued growth has been on proud display in the professional peloton ever since.

The company has remained in the devoted hands of the Gastaldello family since their purchase of the brand in 1968. Lino presided over Wilier-Triestina until his tragic death two January’s ago, at the age of 71, after being hit by a motorist while out on a group ride.

Like any company based completely around a strong family core, Lino’s death hit Wilier-Triestina hard, but in the loss of its former leader, the children of Lino stepped up to assume control of the company.

“My father was very intelligent to include us in the workings of the company with the same importance and contribution from all of us. Each of us functions within the company in our own complementary role. My father was smart to give a portion to each of us. We all have set functions within the company, so we continue on now without fighting and without problems. We continue to grow through cooperation and discussions to always come to the best choice,” said Gastaldello.

A flowing cooperation between the four siblings (Enrico, Andrea, Michele, and Valeria) seems almost unexpected. It’s absolutely imperative with such a small company.

“We are not a big company. We are a small company with only 33 people. Year after year, we continue to grow in our production, and in our line, we continue to improve our products both in quality and in quantity,” Gastaldello continues.

Even as a smaller player in the cycling industry, the 33-year-old Gastaldello feels there is a definite spot for Wilier-Triestina amongst the sport’s finest names.

“I think we can have a good place in the cycling world. Our brand can assume a good position and feeling with the lovers of cycling all over the world.”

Like every company that hopes to not only defend its position, but to continue to ascend, Gastaldello makes it clear that the customer—whether it be a Lampre-ISD rider or a potential buyer in a bike store anywhere in the world—is the crucial link in Wilier-Triestina’s development, not just from their dollars but from the insight they can bring into their product.

“To continue to improve, we have to focus on our customers and do everything we can to listen to them, learn from them and better our products while pursuing innovation,” said Gastaldello.

Andrea’s voicing of an almost proverb at this point, “Our customer’s satisfaction is our greatest satisfaction,” does not ring as a trite marketing phrase. His voice is soft and firm, his tone serious and truthful. There’s no sensationalism, just the understood fact and the understood mission.

The four Gastaldello’s, at the head of a 105-year-old name that commands attention, are aware of where they stand. The goal of the company is to create great products, but also to “continue its story.”