BELLA ITALIA…Learning the ropes in Italy

Ciao! Calum here and this year was my first year as an U23. This is my second year on ERC racing team and will be my last. Throughout the past two years I have raced around Britain representing the colours at national level and even in Spain whilst at my training camp in February. The past year has been up and down for me personally. I am rather discontent with the way that it has went, you see, the racing in Scotland and in Britain in general does not suit me, I am only 51kg and most races are flat with the odd power climb added in. I was getting very frustrated during this season as I wasn’t getting any results, the odd top 5 in a regional A, but that’s nothing to brag about. But at the same time my career has changed massively this year thanks to Zappi Racing Team. I’ll start from the beginning…around 3 years ago I was scrolling through Facebook as it’s the normal thing to do these days lol, and I came across a team called ‘Zappi Racing Team’ so I clicked on the link and it took me to there home page where I found a whole bunch of videos and photos of the team in action. They are a team from Oxfordshire but are based in Italy, Cervia on the east coast to be precise. Now as many of you may know, I have this odd fascination of all things italy, something I feel I was born in the wrong country. Everything about the place appeals to me, the food, climate, the people, and especially the cycling as it’s Italy’s national sport. The team is U23 riders only so I knew I couldn’t join then. I noticed they had a large number of followers and supporters on there Facebook page so I knew for sure it was legit. At the time I was just beginning to realise what kind of rider I am and what my strengths and weaknesses are. The racing in Italy or Spain suits me far better to the racing here because of the long climbs and hot weather, I feel I perform alot better in the soaring heat! So I chanced and thought what the hell, what’s the worse that can happen and I went ahead and contacted the team. I pretty much asked what it took to be on the team and where I needed to get too, to be considered for the team. To my amazement, 10 minutes later, they replied back. Basically saying that I need to get good results at a national and international level. I knew straight away this was going to be a challenge as the racing is not my cup of tee here in the UK. The team is managed by Italian ex pro, Flavio Zappi who I can tell you, is some character. So I started talking to him and telling him about my style of riding and how I’m getting on etc etc and he was replying, giving me feedback, advice, what I should be eating, how sleep is one of the most important things, I couldn’t appreciate this enough as he could of easily just ignored it as he probably get’s it quite alot. So over the past two years it’s just been a case of keeping him updated with how I’m doing and what my future goals are and actually just trying to keep in contact with him. It’s sounds silly but two years ago that was my short term dream, to make it onto Zappi’s, to be seen in there kit, and to live and race in Italy and across Europe. It gave me something to work for and I’m glad I chased it.

At the start of every year the team have a pre season training camp which takes place in the Costa Blanca, Calpe in the south of Spain. This is from the very start of January to the middle of March.  Flavio had put a post on Facebook asking if anyone would like to trial and stay a week in the team house and train with them as a chance to impress him and hopefully be awarded with a spot on the team. I jumped straight in and showed my interest. He replied asking me what dated I would be available, fortunately me and my two very good friends Stuart and Danny were out for 2 weeks for a training camp and I thought it would be ideal that instead of going home with danny and stuart that I could stay for an extra week to stay with zappis and all Flavio would have to do is pick me up from my hotel. I honestly couldn’t believe I was about to be training with a team that I followed for so long and that I was getting to work alongside Flavio. The training days went really well and I felt reasonably strong throughout the whole week. I got to see how they live and learned what the ‘Zappi Routine’ was all about. Let’s just say it’s an eye opener! From that point Flavio started showing interest in me and led to him wanting me back out on many occasions to guest with them in Italy. Now, Flavio wanting me back out meant alot to me as this was my ‘short term dream’ and what I worked so hard towards. I knew myself that I was in my element with all the long climbs and warm weather and made me realise how much I want to do this and make a living out of it. Fast forward to the end of April and I’m out in Italy about to race around the streets of Rome for Zappi Racing Team. The race was 140km round a 7km circuit with 200 of the best riders in the world competing. It was my first taste of Italian racing so I was absalutely bricking it, especially as it was a UCI so alot of the bigger teams not only from around Italy but teams from across Europe showed up. It was  not a race for me but I wanted the experience, not many people can say they have raced around the centre of Rome so I was just trying to absorb it all in and really just do the best i could do. Unfortunately I only lasted 75km out of the 140km but I was actually content with that because if you got see how many riders were left by the end, it wasn’t that bad. This was a real eye opener and made me super motivated to crack on and improve. After that the next three races I competed by guesting for zappis went really well. Trofeo Corri La Mamma, Trofeo Matteotti and Bassano – Monte Grappa were all its ian national and I managed to finish every one and doing so, being in the first quarter at the end. It’s frustrating as the Italian federation only put up the top 10 or sometimes top 20 but I believe I was around top 40/50 in these races so already there was a massive improvement.

The past two months have been one massive roller coaster but the best two months of my life. This was going to be my longest time away from home which was rather nerve racking but I knew this is what it takes and these are the sacrifices that you need to make to become a professional athlete. I was about to experience what it’s like to be a full time Cyclist travelling Italy and racing in the highest level of U23 Racing in the world. I was ready to learn the craft and put some blood, sweat and tears into this. Whilst out in Italy we stayed in Domenico Garbelli’s house who if you don’t know, was a professional himself in the 60s and was Flavio’s old coach…he has introduced around 70 riders to world tour including the likes of Fabio Aru and Diego Rosa so he definitely knows his stuff. Both Flavio and Domenico are your classic stereo typical Italians. They are both very old school, for instance Domenico doesn’t let you use stock cubes for dinner, they don’t believe in protein shakes or caffeine gels and it’s only caffeine coffee before races. The routine is pretty straight forward…7.30am wake up and straight out for a 30 minute walk. This improves metabolism and increases testosterone levels. Then it’s breakfast which is the same every day, Muesli with a yoghurt, a really hard boiled Egg and little bits of crunchy, toasted bread with jam. Then it’s training so whatever is planned whether it’s a 5hr ride with efforts or gym and swim. After training is completed we all have a ‘nice’ big salad to look forward to with a choice of tuna, sardines or mackerel and beans for our prote, and no, they weren’t heinze beans…lunch is finished and it’s off to bed for 45 minutes to an hour for a nap. This really helps recharge your battery. In the afternoon I would usually go to the local cafe for wifi and to relax as the house has no wifi so the cafe gave me the oppurtunity to catch up on social media  catch up with friends and family. Having no wifi in the house was refreshing as you could just get out of the real world and socialise with your team mates. You wouldn’t have a clue what is going on in the world which was nice for a change. So this was the routine every single day except races. We would normally travel to a hotel which the race organiser would sort us out with. Go on a shirt activation ride, have a nice dinner and head to bed. During my time over in Italy I competed in 12 races, 4 of them being UCI and the rest being Nationals. The UCI races where unreal and on another level, we were up against team such sort BMC, Lotto Soudal, Orica Scott, Gazprom, Ag2R, of course these were all the U23 teams but it was pretty much like the U23 World Tour lol. The UCI races were a real learning curve and eye opener and im glad I got them under my belt. The National races where bit more bearable but still super hard. Alot of the teams such as Colpack, Zalf and Palazzago would dominate, alot of the riders from these teams are either going World Tour or Pro Conti so we are genuinely against the best in the world. I managed to get semi descent results in some races. See what you all probably don’t understand is that to just finish these races you’ve had a good ride. I was happy enough to finish most whilst I was out there bar a few nationals and UCI races. The last race of the season was the ‘Piccolo Giro di Lombardia’ an U23 monument which I couldn’t wait for. This was the biggest race of my life. I felt like a World Tour pro for the day, signing autographs and handing over bottles to the youngsters was pretty cool because that used to be me asking for a signature and bottles so it was a super special moment. Throughout the two months I loved every single moment of  my time I had there. I learned so much not only about cycling and riding your bike but everything that comes with it e.g the diet, recovery, how to manage social media, stretching, yoga, I can even get by in Italian now which insurance pretty cool. The racing was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, premier calander seriously  have nothing on these races. I was offered a contract by Flavio and I did not hesitate to accept. Next year I will embark on a new journey and the next step in my career. I honestly can’t wait to learn so much more and really get my head down and focus. Next year we have races such as Liege – Bastogne- Liege, Strade Bianchi, Tour of Austria and the biggie, the U23 Giro d’italia so that gives me something to work towards! I want to be able to say to myself that I gave it a try and if it doesn’t work out at least I gave it a go and my all and if it does work out then megaaaaaaa! Three years ago one of my dreams was to be on Zappi Racing Team and to be able to travel around Italy doing what I am most passionate about, in 4 or 5 years time my dream is to make it to World Tour Level, i don’t see why not that can happen. A big thanks to everyone at ERC for making me feel at home the past two years and I strongly believe it’s one of the best clubs in Britain. Hopefully I can see you all again some time on the road! Stay safe but most of all Enjoy it!

Ciao Ragazzi!

 

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