2 MINUTE READ
and the time I met Paolo Bettini
Words by Fabio | Photography by Fabio & Azura Studio | Styling by Beatrice
5 May 2022
We met at 8:30 am on a Saturday morning at the end of April, in an elegant hotel at the foot of Montello.
Me, Alessandro and Paolo.
Me is me, Alessandro is Alessandro Tegner – head of AT Communication as well as communications manager at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl – and Paolo is Paolo Bettini, “the cricket”, two-time world champion, Olympic champion and only God knows how many other things.
We have an early appointment for a ride on the Montello, then shower, lunch and off to the Nova Eroica Prosecco Hills village in Susegana, where we’ll take photos and videos with Paolo for Wega coffee machines.
Wega is a large company that produces hundreds of thousands of sophisticated and professional coffee making machines per year, which they ship to coffee shops and homes all over the world and, since last year (2021), has been a sponsor of Eroica, which is why we’re here.
It doesn’t hurt that Wega is headquartered less than a kilometre from Borgoluce, the site of the start, finish of Nova Eroica Prosecco Hills and a variety of related events.
Back to the 8:30 am appointment.
We arrived there, had breakfast and set off, first along a limited traffic road that runs along a beautiful canal and then, turning right, we negotiated a climb towards the top of a long and narrow moraine that is, in fact, the Montello.
As I have already said, it is Saturday, a typical day for cyclists, and here we are in the province of Treviso, a typical country of cyclists, so it is a continuous crossroads of solitary cyclists, groups,both small and large, and it is not hard to see why the Eroica organisers have decided to set up one of their events here. It’s like bringing water to the thirsty, sublime food to food critics or even better, considering the area, barrels of fine wine to thousands of sommeliers.
In the meanwhile, we keep on climbing.
In a short time we reach the top of the ridge and we continue between a mildly undulating landscape, while Alessandro tells us about the local beauties: the monument to the aviator Francesco Baracca, who crashed there during the Battle of the Solstice in June 1918, and from which Enzo Ferrari took the symbol of the prancing horse that would become the trademark of Ferrari; the imposing Military Shrine that houses the remains of thousands of soldiers who fell in the aforementioned battle, conveniently located at 2, Viale degli Eroi; the vineyards cultivated among small karst valleys and sinkholes that during the rain fill up with water, guaranteeing the fertility of the soil. The wine cellars scattered on the ridges, each one with its own tasting area and store, call us to a stop, or seem to do so, like the sirens of Ulysses. But we resist.
We do not resist at all, however, a coffee break halfway down the road.
For the uninitiated, coffee breaks are an obligatory, almost sacred ritual on any bike ride, whether you’re with friends, amateurs or professionals.
It’s a time to relax, comment on the road and exchange opinions, ideas and confidence.
It seems to be made on purpose to enjoy the bike even more. It makes you think that cycling and coffee were invented at the same time, like pedals and crank.
We set off again, waiting for the photos and videos.
To go down we take a small fairly steep and winding road that runs through woods, then meadows, and now vineyards. Immediately my technical skills make me enjoy being the last one, but from here I relish a spectacle that I had never had the opportunity (and the luck) to see: Paolo Bettini, “the cricket”, two-time world champion and Olympic champion, driving the bike downhill.
You hear people say that good riders “draw the curves”, they “brush the curves”, I had always heard that, but I didn’t get it.
By watching Paolo go downhill, however, that became clear to me after ten seconds. I could appreciate something different and fascinating: not power, but technique at its purest.
Like watching Maradona dribble, or Nureyev dance, or Leonardo draw in his studio (here the latter was indeed “brushing the curves”).
At the bottom of the descent Paolo patiently waited for us and all together we returned to the start point and to our commitments.
But one thing has remained and will always remain with me about this morning when I met Paolo Bettini.
Riding with someone like him is like drinking a glass of wine (in this case Prosecco, of course), or as the guys at Wega would say, it’s like drinking coffee with someone who knows the secrets and knows how to tell them.
And evening came and then it was morning, day two.
Today’s appointment is set at 7:15 a.m. just outside Borgoluce, both the start and the finish of the Nova Eroica Prosecco Hills.
At the parking lot we are the same three as yesterday, Alessandro, Paolo and me, soon surrounded by hundreds of people who will become over a thousand (1200 registered participants, according to the organizers; a rare case, also according to the police).
Last briefing with the photo and video operators who will follow us along the route, coffee as usual and then we pile into the starting corral.
At 8:00 am the speaker gave the go-ahead and we set off, but slowly, without any hurry.
Because Nova Eroica Prosecco Hills is not a race, it’s the pleasure of pedaling together in charming places, as indeed are the hills of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, not surprisingly a Unesco heritage site.
To tell the truth, there would be three timed sections, on the basis of which a ranking with relative prizes will be drawn up, but we at Team Wega are not interested in this, because we do the short route, 50 kilometres of (relative) effort and (two) refreshments, the right mix so that everyone can fully enjoy a day like this.
Because, now it’s time to say it, there is a Team Wega.
There are seven of us, five employees of the company, me as the escort/coordinator, and Paolo – our guide, our captain, our cycling performance director in the race.
Alessandro, on the other hand, fled after the briefing. “Family commitments”, he says, but we know he envies us a bit.
Anyway, in the meantime we leave.
We immediately understand what will be the most challenging part of the morning: keeping the team as compact as possible. This difficulty was exacerbated on the climb because each of the seven of us had our own pace. So, we had to control ourselves, wait for each other, and not leave anyone behind.
In this Paolo reveals himself to be a true captain who, contrary to what happens in competitive cycling, works for his teammates and not vice versa.
He watches, asks, advises and, if necessary, he pushes in the most challenging sectors, such as the ramp leading to Collagù, the main ascent of the day.
Once at the summit the first refreshment point awaits us. We meet up, have a chat in the crowd and drink a glass of prosecco.
A sort of coffee break, even without any coffee.
When we resume our ride, we are now halfway through, and from there on we pass Pedeguarda and the magnificent Rolle (“a postcard sent by the gods” as the great local poet Andrea Zanzotto defined it), we stop at the second refreshment point set up at the fairytale Molinetto della croda, and off we head to the final kilometers.
The last few short yet steep ramps to ascend, and once again it is clear why Eroica wanted to stop up here.
We gathered for the last time at the top of the castle of Collalto climb, before the grand finale.
The seven of us pedaled together all morning, each with his own unique and unrepeatable cadence, as unique as every voice and every breath.
We started out together, we kind of lost track of each other a bit but time and again we looked for each other, waited for each other and always found each other again.
As we are at the castle of Collalto, we see the finish line banner and the village A few hundreds metres below, waiting for us with more photos and more interviews, the ceremonial beer and the spit.
Before setting off towards the grand finale, I think back to what Andrea, a member of the Wega team, told me as we were climbing up a dirt road.
He said how, in order to make a good coffee, all the components have to fit together perfectly: the water pressure, the temperature, the grain of the coffee powder, the brewing speed and even the air humidity.
And so, as we make our final chit-chat in what looks like a coffee break (despite no coffee), I think that in cycling it is just the same:
Paolo would never have won what he did win without his teammates.
And every time we go out on a bike ride with someone, that ride is richer.
And to be here now all together we had to look at each other, listen to each other, and join our paces and breaths.
And that’s why it all feels so good to us.