Brno: Alex Zanardi newsletter 2009-06-16

DARN IT... THE ROUNDABOUT! Dear Friends, here I am. Two days have passed since the godo sport day I lived on Sunday. Last weekend, at Olgiate Olona - Va, the Italian Cycling Championships reserved to diversly able athletes and chrono races for...


Dear Friends, here I am.

Two days have passed since the godo sport day I lived on Sunday. Last weekend, at Olgiate Olona - Va, the Italian Cycling Championships reserved to diversly able athletes and chrono races for Handbike categories valid for the Italian Championship.

I, with the typic audacity of ignorant people, decided to enter. I did not have any foolish ambition. I was just interested in understanding where I would have been placed, compared to the strongest national athletes at the end of a period in which I devoted the right time to training.

I thought that the chrono race was perfect for the purpose: in in-line races one can get the slipstream of opponents and with a little bit of tactics you can fight your chances out in the final sprint. In a chrono race you are alone against time and you can do it only if you have strength in your arms.

This said, the day started well since when I was going there with my loyal "chief-everything" Luca Zanella, I received a phone call from my friend Fabrizio Macchi who, apart from giving me instructions on how to get to the race place, told me that he just became Italian Champion in his category (cyclists were racing in the morning), a further medal that adds to all the successes he had in his amazing career.

Happy for this good news from my friend, we arrived there and after the unsuccessful seek for a parking in the shade, we went to the canteen-tent where I got to know my strongest opponents. I already met some of them at the Padua marathon while my friend Vittorio Podestà, who would not have been a rival in this occasion since he is in category "B" while I am in category "C" (having a disability type less limiting ... well I'd like to ask why he is faster then!), introduced me to the others.

After chatting a bit and some tensions while assembling Vittorio's handbike that had problems fixing a wheel (luckily Zanella was there!), we set off for a reconnaisance lap. My heart was beating due to the emotion more than due to the request for oxygenated blood from my muscles. Anyway, the track appeared since the beginning very winding: nice, I have to say, but I don't know why I was expecting a straight were one had to sprint throughout without slowing down. Instead I found a very technical track with a lot of hairpins whereby it would have been impossible to be flat out as I thought. Then slight downhills, same number of uphills, blind corners, hillocks and other insidious bits that would have shortly complicated the life of racers.

Just in time to go back to the car, put the bike on the roll for a bit of warm up and while he was giving me some last minute advices, the getaway time for Vittorio arrived.

The starting list had decreasing numbers and my friend Podestà had the 47, while I had the 20 and I would have started about half an hour later.

After saluting him with the classic good luck wishes, I stayed with Luca, my old friend Fumagalli, that came to see me since he lives nearby and with Cesare Maggioni, loyal comrade-in-arms that some of you will recognize as present in the "Back and forth".

While I was pedalling, I remember asking myself, "am I getting this too seriously?" I was feeling observed, examined by anyone. In fact, when I first got acquainted with this discipline, a lot of journalists were interested, as if I had invented everything. Obviously it is not what happened, but I also understand that how hard it is to spend a lot of effort to improve yourself while living under that shadow, from which it is difficult to emerge. Then Zanardi arrives and with just hitting three times the pedals they write about him everywhere exalting whatever he does, calling it a "deed".

This is live and you cannot do much about it. If you cannot have joy from what you do, despite how much other people talk about it you will always be unsatisfied, anyway I do not want to be rethorical and I have to admit that when you are kissed by the good luck as in my case, everything is much easier.

To authenticate my passion towards this sport, that I recently discovered, I desired a lot to show to those knowing about it that I made things properly and that I prepared to my best to honour the importance of the event with the highest possible respect of all the rivals I would have challenge through the chronometer.

While I was running on the roll, just like that came the moment of the start. I went to the starting point, three opponents start in front of me and then five, four, three, two, one... go!

Well I just made a couple of hundreds of meters and my heart was already at 172 beats per minute. Normally, when I train I am on the verge of dying at 165bps, I was running at rhythms that I have never seen and my arms were moving without being affected by the unusual effort that my heart was dealing with.

In the first flat straight I find I speed I like and I cannot almost believe what my eyes see on the speedometer of my Evro: 41.3 Km/h!

"Bl**dy hell! Am I exaggerating?", I ask myself. But the heat of the moment forces me not to give up, I just made three kilometres and I already made the first "mess": In a left hander (that with the road close to the traffic I could have done on the other side of the road), I keep the right and I get into the narrow roundabout as a driver respectful of the driving code... what an idiot! I had to make a much longer way and to slow down a lot to avoid the pavement while turning. I laugh at myself and I think: "Well if there is a thing that I should not have to learn is to cut corners and instead...". If I did already understood the high price of that mistake I would not have taken things with the same philosophy. I wasted a lot of seconds before getting back to the speed I had earlier...

Anyway, I will pass on the rest: people cheering me, Macchi shouting from the van following me, opponents started before me that I get and overtake so easily, in a little while the 9Km and 55 of the track are almost finished. I pay attention to the last corner and then I sprint to get to the finish line that I cross at almost 40Km/h.

16' 40'' and 06 hundreds is my final time at an average speed of 34.38 km/h. I was expecting to be faster before the race, but in reality I did not know at that point how many times I would have had to slow down throughout the track, often using the brakes as well and these are things that shatter the average speed.

I finished the race, I did not crash and I just had to wait for the others to finish to evaluate my performance and compare it against theirs. I was satisfied, apart from the mistake at the roundabout, I knew I was close to my best in the first chrono of my life. While the others were arriving, people's comments ranged from "Well you made a good time" to "Well, you made a really great time, you know?"

When all racers arrived, the classification was published. Outcome: second in the final classification at 7'' and 30 hundreds from the nice Giovanni Achenza that has been the fastest one! "Holy cow! I really made a good time then!" I tell myself, but soon after: "Bl**dy hell, without that mess I could have won!"

I had some time to think about it and I promise you that I am happy this way.

Yes, I could have won but I was not the strongest one since, despite efforts spent in training were quite a lot, it is still connected to a too recent history.

Giovanni Achenza won with full merit but no one would have probably have said anything against my almost neighbour Pierino Dainese that was really flying and at 3Km to the end missed the right way due to marshals that did not signal the corner. Maybe even the legenday Ronald Ruepp, a legend in diversly able sports, would have been able to win should he have not made some mistakes along the track...

Truth is that my friend Vittorio Podestà won his category and gave me 1' and 22'' beating for a whisker another amazing athlete as Paolo Cecchetto.

They are the real reference point and the great Pierino Dainese was probably the one that could have got closer to their time. Another really strong racer like Roberto Brigo, third in the category "B" had to give up, accusing a delay of almost a minute.

On a track that, in my opinion, was advantaging "C" athletes like myself, that can get faster out of corners and on slopes thanks to the trunk muscles, that they do not have instead, these two amazing guys literally flew and it is getting bigger and bigger the hope that the selection system will give to both these great athletes a chance to get the right amount of medals in the next Paralympic Games of London.

This said, I am really happy guys. This is just the beginning even if I know that getting closer to the limit is always more and more difficult to find something at the bottom of the barrel to take out. I am nevertheless convinced that I can find something more and I can't wait to do it.

You will probably hear my name associated to the next World championships in September or to my participation to the Paralympics Games of London and obviously, when you face a sport with passion, as I am doing now, the hope is always to do this kind of things but even if I cannot control these rumors, I have the duty not to follow them or to lose control of the situation and to keep them as an objective.

As a kid I was dreaming about driving a Formula One car, well I realized that dream even not in the way I hoped for. I had to patiently wait to achieve a lot of intermediate goals which I obtained not only due to talent and merit but also due to a lot of good luck.

This is different, good luck is less important, what counts now is to be fast more than dreaming Paralympics, and what I desire is to be as fast with my Evro or with a newer sister as to merit at the right time a call for that.

This is just a dream, therefore I pinch myself, I get up and on Sunday I go to Brno to do well what I showed I can do, racing on four wheels!


-credit: alex zanardi

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Drivers Alex Zanardi