With the approaching of the World Cyclo-cross Championships, we will share with you how the greatest Italian hope as he is getting ready to achieve an important position. How to compete with real high level competitors like Van Der Poel and Van Aert? Gioele Bertolini, of the Selle Italia Guerciotti Elite team, shares his experience and explains how the Italian cyclo-cross movement can evolve to get closer to the Belgian and Dutch level.
On the upcoming 2019 February 2nd and 3rd, the curtain will raise on the World Championships of Cyclocross, literally the closing of a season that has seen our Gioele Bertolini compete in the Superprestige and in World Championship races, especially on the sandy courses of northern Europe. Thanks to this important experience, Gioele is the best arrow in the quiver of the Italian team which will compete against Belgian, Dutch and German champions on the mud of Bogense, in central Denmark. The young cyclist from the Valtellina area in Italy, a competitor for the Selle Italia Guerciotti Elite team, shared with us how one prepares for the upcoming World Championship.
Cyclocross: Gioele, what does cyclocross mean in 2019?
Gioele: “First of all, I want to tell you that cyclocross is a sport that you either love or hate. This is not a specialty that provides for half measures. Sacrifices are the daily agenda of this discipline: for us, Italians, to compete against athletes especially Belgian, German and Dutch it means having to raise the bar a lot compared to when we race in our own Country. In Belgium and the Netherlands cyclocross is a real national sport, like soccer here basically. It is, therefore, normal to find a higher level of competition, experience and training in our opponents abroad. This is the first consideration that I focus on, if you are getting ready to start the practice of cyclocross thinking of being amongst the best it is not easy at all, trust me. You have to think big if you decide to go beyond the initial difficulties, as in all things, you will achieve great fulfillments, something which I of course wish for you. To practice cyclocross today, means to never give up even when your legs hurt, your cold while rain and mud put you through the hardest of tests. Cyclocross is a challenge first against yourself and then against your opponents.”
How does one prepare for these real mud challenges?
“My training sessions are designed to prepare me as much as possible a complete athlete. As you can imagine, cyclocross races put the cyclists to very difficult hardships on a physical level. In addition to sections that we ride in the saddle of the bike, we normally encounter portions of the course that are uphill and often with a sandy surface. It is a matter of legs and overall strength, but also of agility and lung capacity. To train for all of these qualities, I combine using the gym, biking and running. Those who concentrate their competitive activity solely on cyclocross, usually plan on an intensive summer preparation so, during the season, they can organize some running and gym sessions, keeping themselves at the top of their physical condition for longer periods of time. This is a typical schedule for northern Europe cyclists. In my case, the spring months and the first part of summer are dedicated to MTB activity, which means that the time needed for a specific physical preparation for cyclocross is limited. Obviously, this is not to my advantage, forcing me to use the first official activities to find the best condition. My typical week consists of five training sessions in addition to the weekend racing. Two days a week are dedicated to the gym and one day to running.
During all five days of training I bike, even after the gym sessions. I mainly train on the road while one day a week I focus on cyclocross. This last activity is important to refine the technique and to be ready for the pace of the race.”
What is Italian cyclocross lacking to achieve the levels of the northern European athletes?
“At one point, in Italy, we were the leaders in this discipline. The same Selle Italia Guerciotti team boasts several World Championships and has had great successes at the international level. Then, with the passing of time, we invested little in cyclocross and, unfortunately, we lost ground compared to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. In recent years though, numbers are increasing a lot and, fortunately, the amount of younger people who are approaching cyclocross is constantly growing. What do we need to excel, even abroad, in a few years? I would say, above all, suitable circuits as, when we get out of Italy one finds extremely difficult tracks, like in Switzerland where they are similar to MTB circuits. In The Netherlands and Belgium, one encounters sandy tracks, where you can never stop pushing yourself. Italian tracks, in the last few years, have been kept much simpler to increase the possibility of participation of as many younger men as possible, but today a formula needs to be found which allows the most experienced riders to challenge themselves with higher levels of difficulty. Only in this way we will be able to get out of Italy and compete on the same level with the best opponents in the world. In any case, I am still confident as I am seeing the growth of our movement.”
One last piece of advice from Gioele Bertolini for those starting to practice cyclocross?
“To improve, one must definitely train well, but it is also very important to attempt to “steal” a movement, a style and some experience from those around us. Especially in races, one can observe athletes doing things which are out of the ordinary: try to emulate them, trying and trying again activities that you have seen performed that will allow you to become stronger and stronger.”