All aboard! All aboard! The Sansonetti Express is departing for Whittlesea and surrounding areas. This train won't be stopping and if you miss the start you'll have trouble getting back on.
The Sansonetti Express as it was affectionately known was a Sunday training ride for any one from a club rider to an Olympian or National Champion. At the front you could find the Sansonetti brothers all five of them, Remo ,Arch, Sal, Renato and Maurice. " Riders would travel from interstate just for that Sunday ride" Arch explains. The ride would leave Bundoora Hotel and head north of Melbourne towards townships like Whittlesea, Kinglake and Flowerdale. "Even Phil Anderson would join in " says Arch.
But the training ride would often be turned upside down with a town sprint or an attack on a hill climb, thanks largely to the competitive spirit of the Sansonettis'. " You had to put a number on it was that hard" says Remo.
Growing up in the Italian town of Abruzzo about 160kms' north of Rome. The Sansonettis would not find their competitive nature in cycling until they hit Australian shores around 1960. "We didn't race in Italy" Remo says. That would not hinder Remo's success on the bike as he would go onto win Silver and Bronze medals at Commonwealth Games and three National titles. " I remember one year the Tour of Italy went past and i would walk four hours into the mountains to see it and then i would walk all the way home, it was a long way when you were only ten years old" says Remo. " After school i would carry my bag up the mountains, i was always interested in racing".
The Sansonettis settled in Melbourne and their cycling careers began strangely enough at the Collingwood tip. "Sal found this old frame and built it up for racing" Remo explained. Remo bought an old cheap bike of a friend in Fitzroy and together they started going to the Brunswick track. There they met a bloke who would entice them into sprinting for fun. " We used to beat him so one Saturday we went to the track where they were racing and this bloke was off scratch and would win his race. We thought, we can beat him, so we can win races too" he said his eyes glowing with enthusiasm.
Remo gained inspiration for racing and his attacking style from reading books about legendary Italian riders like Fausto Coppi .His first race was in 1964 a club race and it wasn't long before his brothers followed suit. His first win was a 50 mile handicap at Templestowe, " It was in pouring rain and very windy" Remo recalls. " I was riding for the Preston Cycling Club, i only ever rode for the one club" adds Remo. Arch had his first race in the Echuca to Kerang, a 70 mile handicap, a short time later he was picked in the Victorian team for the team's time trial.
The Sansonettis' cycling path continued in Australia and after several victories in local club races, Remo would become a National Champion in road racing. Although still maintaining their amateur status the brothers would develop their own styles of racing and be as competitive against each other as they would against any other rider. The Herald Sun Tour in Victoria was then and still remains one of the major road races on the Australian cycling calendar. Open only to professional riders the Tour would never see the attacking style of Remo leading the peloton, however younger brother Maurice would later turn professional and ride the Tour.
One of the races that the Sansonettis' loved competing in was the old Tour of the North. Held in Northern Tasmania the race would start and finish in Launceston, usually with two short stages a day. But just because they were short didn't mean the race wasn't difficult. It was arguably the toughest road race going around with steep climbs, bumpy pot-holed roads and windy and cold conditions affecting the riders performances each year. These conditions would not deter Remo however, he would go onto win the Tour three times, in succession. " You had to make sure you were fit when you went over there, if you weren't fit you were stuffed" Remo exclaims. "Not only would you be stuffed but you would be sore too from the deadness of the roads" he adds. The winner of one of these Tours would put his body through the pain barrier every stage of the race. A handsome reward at the end perhaps? Well in those days a brand new TV or record player with storage for fifty lps' would be the prize on offer. " If you accumulated two hundred dollars by the end of the tour, you could go to this warehouse and spend it on whatever you wanted to by" said Arch.
Money was never really an issue for Remo. "I never really raced for the money" says Remo. "If it was a thousand dollars or ten dollars i didn't give a shit, all i wanted to do was win the race" he adds. " You raced because you had a passion to race". Remo won the Tour of the North in 1974, 75 and 76. Arch rode in four, he finished runner-up twice, once to Gary Sutton and again to Michael Wilson. He again finished on the podium with a third place to John Trevorrow when the race combined professionals with amateurs for the first time. In 1975 organisers must have considered naming the tour the Sansonetti Tour when all five brothers lined up for the race start in Launceston!
In 1970 Remo partnered his brother Sal to win the Melbourne six day race before heading to Milan where they duly won the six there. The next year they went back to Italy and spent a season with the Molteni amateur team and made the national Italian team for the World Championships after winning the national teams pursuit title. Back in Australia in the mid seventies, Remo especially was dominating amateur ranks. Apart from the Tour of the North in Tasmania he won Australian road titles in 1973, 75 and 76. This qualified him for the Commonwealth and Olympic Games teams and in 1974 in Christchurch New Zealand he won Bronze in the Commonwealth Games road race. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics he finished thirty-second and then fell at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. He hopped back on his bike and proceeded to help Phil Anderson win the gold medal. At the 1980 Moscow Olympics he was selected to ride in the team's time trial where they finished in eleventh place. Riding again in the team's time trial at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, Remo teamed up with Ricky Flood, John Waters and Michael Lynch to win the silver medal. Arch wasn't too bad in the teams time trial either, winning the national title on two occasions.
In Italy Remo competed against a national favourite in Francesco Moser whom he remembers as being very difficult to beat. Back home he considered Clyde Sefton as always being a tough competitor, "You couldn't unload him and then you would have to beat him in the sprint if you wanted to beat him, he was very tough" Remo remembered. Another rider to make life difficult for Remo at the end of his career was a young rider at the other end of the cycling chain. Phil Anderson was just starting his career in the sport as Remo was winding up, " In the end Phil Anderson was hard to beat too, he was sort of coming up". Remo's last race was in 1982 at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, he was thirty-six. Remo rates his biggest win at the Australian Championships in his home city of Melbourne in 1976. He won three national titles, three Tour of the North's, partnered brother Sal to victories in the Melbourne and Milan six day races and won bronze and silver medals at the Commonwealth Games.
Life after cycling remains hectic for Remo and is brothers. Both Remo and Arch have an engineering business in Eltham, Sal has two sons involved with racing and keeps himself busy working with the BT advanced technology training systems. Working with the Australian track cycling team, Adelaide football club and various other sporting bodies who have benefited from the system. Maurice is working as a plumber and Renato like Remo and Arch works in the engineering business. The Sansonettis' can all be found living close to each other in Melbourne's northern suburbs of Eltham, Bundoora and Greensborough. So when one of them puts out the call for a group training ride, the bikes are on the road and headed for the Bundoora Hotel where the Sansonetti Express will depart from. " Every Saturday you used to go and thrash yourself, then all of a sudden you are doing nothing" Remo says as Arch answers another phone call in their busy workshop. The fitness maybe gone but the memories and stories from days gone by are still fresh in Remo's mind. As far as training is concerned the bike is dusted off on the odd Sunday and will head north into the hills of Kinglake and Flowerdale, and the sound of racing tyres over bumpy bitumen and the clunking of changing gears is alive and well on the Sansonetti Express once more.
Remo and Sal Sansonetti -birthdate: 21/04/1946
Arch Sansonetti - 02/11/1959
Renato Sansonetti - 01/02/1949
Maurice Sansonetti - 15/07/1956.