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but also with Fondriest, Magrini and others. When I saw Nibali, Balsamo, Ciccone and Longo Borghini, and some more that up close.
Words by Fabio | Photography by Fabio & Miriam | Styling by Beatrice
10 Giugno 2022
I am at the starting line, just in front of me are lined up from left to right Cadel Evans, Alessandro Ballan, Riccardo Magrini, Maurizio Fondriest and Francesco Moser.
All around us, the crowd that has arrived in the square in Valdobbiadene is lined along the barriers, watching us, taking photos and videos, listening to the words of the two speakers interviewing the big names in the front row, all the while trying to recognize who the rest of us are, the lesser-known ones in the rows further back.
The least known of all is certainly me, for the very simple fact that I am not known at all, since I am here in the group of former professionals who are about to participate in the Cycling Stars Criterium without any credit, having never raced a bicycle competition in my life.
If I find myself where I am – surrounded by former world champions, winners of Monument Classics and stages in the Grand Tours – it is only in the bizarre capacity of a race envoy, mandated by AT Communication, which is in charge of the communication of the Criterium.
My job is to attend the race, gather some insights and then report on it in an article, this one.
The speaker has finished interviewing the heavyweights, and the countdown kicks off.
Gee! Such stress. I just have two things on my mind:
We set off.
We ride the first few laps at a cheerful yet still sustainable pace.
I also manage to chat with Paolo Simion, a former rider on Bardiani, who quit just a year ago. He tells me that he just passed through my neighborhood during the Veneto Gravel, about 600 km and 5,000 m of vertical gain that he completed at an average speed of 27 kph.
Then I’m overtaken by Cadel Evans, no less. I greet him and ask him if he has ever raced in these areas (maybe I should know for myself whether, when and how he has raced on these roads and ask him sharp, surgical, irresistible questions. But in the meanwhile the pace has picked up and I’m already struggling to stick to the group, let alone think and talk).
With his excellent Italian, he says that in the morning he took a family tour at Rolle and Molinetto della Croda and just loved it. He hopes to return there again. He must also say something about Prosecco but I’m not sure, because in the meantime in the front someone has sped up and I drop back.
Of the last laps my only memories are: catching a glimpse of Ballan clipping off solo like in Varese, with the public that, now like then, welcome the long-awaited sprint with a roar; Magrini in turn hinting at an attack with his electric bike; the voice of the speaker accompanying the sprints of the champions fighting for the victory, while I group up with the older members of the peloton, far behind.
We also cross the finish line.
Then I learn that Evans has won, Fondriest has taken second and Lello Ferrara third.
I think I hit the line in third last.
But I can be happy, I have been dropped only in the last three laps and have managed neither to fall nor to make anyone fall.
I take a look at my odometer. It shows an average speed of 32 kph on a technical hilly circuit full of twists and turns.
Those in front must have exceeded 35 kph.
And I wonder, as I enter the bus to change (where I enjoy the small yet sweet satisfaction of grabbing a can of Coke from the fridge chock-full of soft drinks, water, supplements, bars, like as you see real riders do on TV), if ex-pros have gone this far, how far will pros go?
By the time I get off the bus, the women – great news in this edition of the Cycling Stars Criterium – are lined up at the start line.
Compared to an hour ago, it is even more crowded and the square is almost packed with people.
I see Elisa Balsamo’s World Champion jersey and Elisa Longo Borghini’s Italian Champion jersey in the front row. Then, I recognize Soraya Paladin, Vittoria Guazzini, and Sofia Bertizzolo.
Twenty-five riders, including seven juniors from two local teams.
Before the speaker gives the official start, I return to the cordoned-off area, climb back onto the bus looking for another Coke (one gets used to small privileges quickly), and I find sitting some of the pros who will be racing in an hour or so.
I recognize Vendrame, Cataldo, Bilbao, Ciccone, Formolo, and Nibali.
I take a picture.
All these guys were at the Giro d’Italia yesterday and they are here in front of me today.
Then, I figure out why events like this one are so important. There used to be many of such events but – who knows why – they disappeared and finally are back thanks to the efforts of Enrico Bonsembiante and Alessandro Ballan.
They are cultivating the fundamental relationship between champions and supporters, between cycling and its public: two things that go side by side and feed each other. In order to exist, they need to be together, to be close.
I leave the bus and return by the start, with the myriad of people waiting for the start of the women’s race.
The speaker finishes the countdown and the women athletes start, greeted by a roar.
I decide I stay here, along with everyone else, to enjoy the race.
Because now the Cycling Stars Criterium show has really begun.