The Young Italian is experiencing the Vuelta a España as the biggest step in the early part of his career
Here we are at the Vuelta a España, your first Grand Tour. How are you feeling?
It has been a succession of emotion since the moment I knew about my participation – but all positive. In December, when I spotted a Grand Tour on my calendar, I was very happy. I was waiting for it, I wanted it. Month after month, anticipation grew as well as the excitement. For a rider, the first Grand Tour is an important milestone, a key step in growing. In Utrecht, the days before the debut, I literally couldn’t wait to start. It was also a way to shake some insecurity that, I won’t hide, I was starting to feel. Three weeks are long, difficult and unpredictable. Saying I was 100% ready for the challenge is not easy, but I was aware that I have done everything to face it at my best.
What ambitions do you have for the Vuelta a España?
I have my feet firmly planted on the ground and, in my head, the only real goal is to reach Stage 21 in Madrid. We have a competitive team, a captain like Mads to help and a rising star like Juanpe who deserves just as much support. I want to gain experience working for the team. Then, if in the next two weeks there is a chance and the legs to be in front, I will try.
Is it a rollercoaster if It was all positive?
How did you prepare for it, mentally and physically?
In these months, and in the last few weeks in particular, mentally I’ve been focusing on … not thinking about it too much. It may sound like a nonsense, but I think it was the best way to not put pressure and expectations on me; to reach the event fresh and calm. Josu Larrazabal, my coach, always told me the goal is to gain experience. Everything that comes after that is an extra. It’s an approach that has relieved tension.
Physically, the preparation was more focused. I had an altitude camp early in July and then I raced the Tour de Pologne to refine the form. It was a mix of endurance work and specific work to sharpen the legs and, in addition, some specific time trial trainings.
A few months ago came your first pro victory at the Tour of Hungary. How much did you expect it and do you feel something has changed in you?
I was waiting for it and wanted it a lot. My first year as a pro rider, 2021, was a continuum of ups and downs. I was not finding consistency of performance enough to set concrete goals in the race. This year, the feeling was different right from the start. Since January I felt I was improving. Winning became a goal and having achieved it was like a release. The real change was in my self-confidence.
What is your balance compared to the expectations you had when you became pro rider?
I would say pretty good the 2021 season and more than good, so far, in 2022. Last year I approached the competitions with the expectation to live up to the category, to feel equal to my colleagues. At 20 years of age, the comparison with rider who are 5 or 10 years older than you is quite a challenge. Sometimes it was hard to face it, but I also had good memories encouraged by results, such as taking the final podium at Tour of Hungary. This year I feel I have taken a step, growing physically and gaining important experience along the way. I’ve scored the victory I was looking for and now I’m in at the Vuelta. I’m happy with what I’m doing, even in the future perspective.
Let’s talk about something you like, time trials. Do you consider yourself a specialist and how much time do you dedicate to training with the Trek Speed Concept?
Winning the JR ITT World brought my good attitude for the specialty under the spotlight. But I don’t think that the ‘specialist’ label belongs to me all the way, though. I consider myself more of a rider who’s able to perform well in time trials, a good attitude for those who aspire to be competitive in stage races. That’s said, I like to prove myself in time trials. I dedicate enough time to have always a good feeling in saddle, especially for the position. I usually train a couple of days a week with the Speed Concept.
In Italy, many people see you as a rising star of the nation. How do you manage this expectation?
Italy loves cycling and has a long tradition of champions. It is quite normal, when you win in the youth categories, to hear voices pointing to you as the one who should take up the baton. Many riders experienced this. By character and attitude, I try to give the pressures the weight they deserve. I try not to let it get to me, not to think about it too much because that, in my opinion, is what leads to fatigue. I take it for what it is: a compliment. It honors me to hear certain comparisons. Knowing that there are people who believe in me is a boost of confidence.
Who led you to be a cyclist and who inspired you?
I approached cycling on my own, at the age of nine, and there is one fact firmly etched in my memory. My father, who has always loved cycling and even raced, had a mountain bike that he used to train with. Every time I saw it, I thought that if I wanted to race, I should wait until I grew up and could use that. One day, almost by chance, I saw a youth race and there ignited the spark. Racing had become my fixation and I wanted a bike at all costs so I could join a team, but my father was reticent. A few months later my uncle few convinced him and he enrolled me in a youth team near home. From there it all started.
Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans were the first riders to impress me when I was watching races on TV with dad. On my path of growth, my inspiration was Vincenzo Nibali. Being in the same team was a great emotion.
If you could choose one race to win in your career, what would it be?
I have several dreams in my drawer. I think after this Vuelta a España, though, I could better figure out whether to dream more about a Grand Tour or a Classic. Or maybe both!