Blancpain Sprint Series driver Alessandro Zanardi talks about his commitments.
Munich (DE) – Alessandro Zanardi (IT) is preparing to tackle his next big challenge: On 11th October, the BMW works driver and Brand Ambassador will participate in his first ever long-distance triathlon, which will be held in Hawaii.
Forty seven-year-old BMW works driver Zanardi is not only a fast and successful racing driver. He is also one of the best para-cyclists in the world, a fact he has proven by winning two gold medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London (GB) and by being crowned a double para-cycling world champion in 2013. The triathlon on the Hawaiian Island of Big Island though will be another tough challenge for the Italian.
I have my para-cycling commitment next to my driving commitment in the Blancpain Sprint Series with my BMW Z4 GT3.
The competition consists of three parts: First, a 3.86 kilometre swim in the open ocean awaits the competitors. Zanardi, who has had both legs amputated, will be allowed to swim with a wet vest. Then the competitors have to cycle for 180.2 kilometres. Zanardi will tackle this stage with his handcycle, with which he won his Paralympic gold medals. The triathlon will be completed with a 42.195 kilometre marathon, which Zanardi will contest with an Olympic wheelchair. So in total, the 47-year-old will have to complete 226.255 kilometres – solely by the power of his arms.
Over the next weeks and months, Zanardi will regularly alternate between his handcycle, his Olympic wheelchair and his BMW Z4 GT3. From 22nd to 24th August, the BMW works driver will contest the next round of the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series at Slovakia Ring near Bratislava (SK). From there, he will head directly to Greenville, South Carolina (US), where he aims to defend his titles at the Para-Cycling World Championships from 28th August to 1st September. Just one week later, he will race in the Blancpain Sprint Series in Portimao (PT) before he will go into the final preparations for the triathlon.
An interview with Alessandro Zanardi
In October you will tackle the next big challenge in your career, in competing in a triathlon in Hawaii. What does that mean to you? “I have always been attracted by very tough challenges, and this triathlon is probably the toughest of all. To take part there is a dream come true for me. And I have to say, on top of that, I don’t have any triathlon experience, so to have the opportunity to make my debut in such a race makes me proud. We are talking about four kilometres of swimming, 180 kilometres with my handcycle and 42 kilometres with my Olympic wheelchair. So definitely it is going to be a very tough race.”
Can you talk us through the three parts of the race in detail? “Technically speaking the disciplines are swimming first, then cycling and finally it is the running portion. I will be allowed to swim with a wet vest. It will help to keep my body in the right position, which will be a small advantage compensating for my disadvantage of not having legs.
Then I will have to cover the cycling portion with my handcycle, and that will be tough. But at the end of the day it is basically my usual business and daily routine, so I am certainly trained for that part. Finally the last leg will be running and, of course, I cannot run, therefore I will be allowed to use what is called an Olympic wheelchair.
This is a special racing wheelchair which allows you to go at a pretty high and respectable speed. I am looking at a time for this final leg of under 2 hours and 30 minutes. If I can reach that I am sure I will be able to recover a lot of positions compared to normal triathletes.”
What are the biggest challenges that will await you during this triathlon? “It is very difficult now for me to say in advance what will be the toughest part in Hawaii. Because I have no experience; I can only guess. For sure the swimming part will be easy, because it is first and I will be fresh at the beginning of the race.
Then, because the muscles involved in that exercise are pretty much the same as those I use when I push the cranks of my handcycle. if I do not overdo it, if I keep my pace, which I know is right, then I think I will finish that part quite comfortably, and I will be able to start the cycling relatively fresh.
What will happen in the third part is a big question mark, because the Olympic wheelchair is completely different to the handcycle, although they look very similar. It is like comparing an aeroplane with a car. They are both vehicles, but one flies and the other goes on the road. So it is a different game, but once more it will be important to find the right pace, and to keep that pace without overdoing it in order to reach the finish in a condition that can relate to something human.”
What is your goal for Hawaii? “Normally when you start a race you always say: ‘I want to finish knowing I have given it my all’. But Hawaii is a really tough challenge. I am sure you feel that you have given it your all long before you reach the finish. So what I want to do is enjoy myself, to cover the distance in a good time - and to get that finish picture that I will put in my ‘play room’.
Every now and then I will go past it and say: ‘Wow! I did this as well in my life’. So this is mainly my goal: To do something that will go down in my memory as probably one of the best things I have done in my life.”
This 2014 season is very busy for you with your many different activities. How do you combine racing, para-cycling and preparing for the triathlon? “Yes. I have my para-cycling commitment next to my driving commitment in the Blancpain Sprint Series with my BMW Z4 GT3.
The preparation for the two sporting disciplines is quite difficult to combine and, on top of that, I have this third and very important challenge waiting for me October 11th in Hawaii. To prepare for the triathlon, I first adapted to the new vehicle, the wheelchair. At the same time, I worked on developing the right technique to be able to swim four kilometres.
I cannot expect to prepare specifically for the three different disciplines in the time I have, I can only keep myself fit in favour of my activity as a para-cyclist. But at least for this year, my participation at this triathlon will be in order to reach the finish in a respectable time, which I know I am capable of, and not to set the world record for a para-athlete.”
You will also take part in the Para-Cycling World Championships in Greenville at the end of August. With a clear goal: to defend the world titles? “I will be arriving in Greenville as the current world champion, both in the time trial and the road race. Therefore I will do my best to defend my titles. It will not be easy, as everybody is, of course, challenging you because you are the reference point.
But this also makes me very proud. I do respect my opponents a lot, but I don’t fear facing them once more in the world championships. It is such an important event. I am actually very much looking forward to it because this is what keeps me going. Of course, I am aiming to come home with the gold medal, but if I don’t, it would also be okay.”