Letter from Alex Zanardi
As usual here I am to apologize for my silence, but by now you should know me...
If nothing is new on the cars side, there is quite a lot to tell on my new sportive passion, the hand-bike.
I left you the day after Rome's marathon. Since then I run three important races and took part in the "collegiale" of Castiglion della Pescaia, but first things first:
The Milan marathon has been my third seasonal race and my second victory.
In a cold and windy day, sting in the tail of this winter, together with Paolo Cecchetto and Mauro Cratassa (my rival in Rome and second there), we pulled away from the peloton and started a challenge between the three of us that would have last until the arrive should it have not been for Cratassa's bad luck.
A problem to his anti-intrusion bar and consequent puncture took him out of the scene leaving Cecchetto and myself with the duty to fight for the victory.
Pulling away from a strong opponent on your slipstream is difficult, but when you also have a strong contrary wind things get even more complicated.
For this reason we run exchanging the lead regularly and, honestly, I know that arriving together at the finish avoiding silly things that unavoidably drain your forces, would have played my side.
My pushing position is in fact less efficacious from an aerodynamic viewpoint but immensely more profitable while sprinting due to the peak power I can produce. Things went actually this way. With 300metres to the finish line I sprinted and Paolo could not do anything against it.
With the second seasonal victory in my pocket, I went together with the guys having the Azure shirt at Castiglion della Pescaia for the "collegiale" organized by the C.T. Mario Valentini.
My contribution to organize this successful retreat has been to introduce to Mario some of the dearest friends, Sergio Campo and particularly David Boschi.
If the name of the first might ring a bell to some of you, since Sergio is the creator and factotum of the "Onlus Niccolò Campo" and of the project "Bimbingamba", David Boschi is a generous entrepreneur that put at our disposal his structure, the Hotel Residence Corallo to stay in a more than comfortable way at Castiglion della Pescaia.
It has been a good week during which I learnt a lot of things from Mario Valentini as well as from my friend Vittorio Podestà with whom, despite working trying to absorb a bit of his experience, I also share the trainer Fabrizio Tacchino.
Vittorio, has the merit, if it can be called so, to allow me to jump a stage in an incredible way. If I am where I am today is thanks to him and spending some days with him is really "educative" for me.
During the retreat we stopped at Marina di Massa on Sunday 18 for a chrono-race that would have been a good test.
I won my category even if I have to admit that Fabrizio Caselli, the only one that in Italy could contend with me for every record, is still far from his best shame that I think I have nearly reached and therefore that has been a result quite foreseen.
The reference point was Vittorio Podestà who is not an opponent to me since he runs in a different category, but he is a first class athlete and in a race flat and fast like the one at Marina di Massa has what is needed to compete against those athletes theoretically stronger in my category.
In fact. in a race of 18km he was 25'' faster than me..
Anyway, believe me, I am happy and not longer than one year ago on a similar circuit Vittorio would have inflicted me a huge gap measurable in minutes, therefore I can be very satisfied.
The confirmation of my progresses is arrived last Sunday too at Padova.
On my "home" streets I run the latest of my fatigues and believe me I could not use a more appropriate word.
I did not feel well since the before the start since I was coming from a week full of commitments, a muscle strain that continued to annoy me despite the painkillers and a hay allergy that in this period is as strong as ever, I was definitely weak even before setting off from the start at Vadelago. The racing adrenaline partially eased all the pain.
It was easy to imagine that the race would have been very fast. With more than 140 racers at the start and several foreign athletes of International level, Padua marathon confirmed to be the most competitive round in the country in terms of Hand-bike races and I was there to play my part. The first few kilometers were devoted to the mutual study and, even if the speed of the peloton was constantly around 40 km/h, up to Castelfranco Veneto and therefore for the first ten km of race, I could see more than 50 athletes behind me.
Then, at the overpass at the end of the town the first sprint occurred. The first selection originated there and took out of the way a lot of people and weakened some other bikers that managed to stay close to the frontrunners.
Since that point, every time I turned back to check my followers, I was seeing fewer and fewer people because our rhythm was definitely changed.
We started to run at speeds always higher than 40 and only pebbles in the city center during the last three km imposed a slightly slower rhythm.
Anyway, before arriving there, almost all of the 42km plus of the course were one single sprint in which athletes were exchanging at the lead and others smartly were exploiting the slipstream.
The more generous was certainly Vittorio.
Showing a shape that I sportively envy him, he sacrificed himself a lot even if I should also say that Janneot, final winner, worked quite a lot regularly "exchanging" at the lead.
I did my bit with long and regular exchanges I pushed as much as I could, despite of this, when I was in the lead our speed oscillated between 40 and 41 km/h, while when Podestà was in the lead the speedometer was going up to 42 or 43 km/h.
That was not strategy, it was my limit.
As I said, I did not feel at my best even if I should also say that it was not just that I was not running as I would have wanted but also the others were literally flying!
With four km to the finish line the race exploded.
Arrived into town, we arrived in a section whereby tram's tracks delineate lanes difficult to change. Paolo Cecchetto, alone on the left and apparently out of slipstreams used that apparently disadvantaged position to change things in his favor and attempted to pull away.
Everyone of us tried to respond as he could (we were seven) but the chase was not very coordinated because of the tracks on the road and it was difficult to change lane to help each other.
I swear, this is not an exaggeration, a minute before that sprint and at that rhythm (we were running at more than 45 km/h) the fatigue was so much it turned into pain. I thought to stop, park on the pavement and start crying regretting my racing car!
Then, forcing myself to resist just a few more seconds, I continued and ordered myself "five more seconds" and repeated the same order at the end of such a short interval.
While opening the eyes again in the effort of those crazy attempts to resist, I saw that the gap was magically decreasing. "It hurts them too!" I told myself getting more courage.
With two km and half to the end we arrived in the city center where pebbles made it more difficult to advance.
I saw my gap decrease, then I overtook one, two opponents. then a third one, a fourth a fifth.
I am at the lead! First with just a bit more than a km to go.
I knew that the tight corners of the last bit could be favorable to me and to exploit them at best I was exactly where I had to be, in front of everyone.
Sprinting from 40 km/h and more implies a lot of things that do not only have to do with shear force, but getting away from a tight corner run at less than 20 km/h is an exercise that suits me due to the pushing position that I have on the bike and not to carry with me the useless weight of the legs in a vehicle that one pushes with the arms. This is something that makes the difference while accelerating.
Despite the sensation of exhaustion in which I had fallen, I managed to get some meters at the exit of corners. Perhaps 5, then 10, 15. Out of the last corner, when there were only 400m to the finish line I turned to evaluate the situation and I saw I had thirty meters on the second.
That is were I messed it up! Should I have kept pushing I would have kept gaining, I should have done it. I sinned of arrogance and I thought that the distance I put between myself and the others could have been enough but I allowed in this way my rivals to get back on to me when I could have produced the definitive sprint.
When I heard the noise of their wheels at my back I reacted, proving that one can always find something at the bottom of the barrel, but it was too late.
Both Joel Janneot and Paolo Cecchetto overtook me before that finish line that, like in a nightmare, seemed not to arrive when you see it.
To my partial consolation, I have the awareness that I have been beaten by first class rivals, people that sweated a lot in training and that, qualitatively does not have anything less than what produced by top athletes.
Great consolation is also the fact that, on Sunday, I got a second from one that set the world record on the distance of 42km and 195meters. My new personal best, my business card is now a 1ho3' e 42'' that a week ago would have been the fastest time ever.
Perhaps I could have been the one to set this record, to score a time even better that now would have waited to be beaten, but thinking about where I was a year ago and where I dream to be in two years time is enough for now.
End now.. Let's keep going with the rest!
Ciaooooooo Alex Zanardi