Vincenzo Nibali has completed the last Giro d'Italia of his career. Everyone's admiration was felt especially during the mountain stages, where the champion cemented an all-important fourth place in the general classification.
Samuele Battistella comes from one of Italy’s cycling heartlands, where everything revolves around this two-wheeled sport. Tucked between the provinces of Vicenza, Padua and Treviso, his particular corner of Veneto has lashings of cycling pedigree, with roads that are lined with bastions of the bike industry and bike shops to match. Other sports are followed here, but nothing captures the imagination and hearts of the locals quite like cycling.
“Other than cycling, there haven’t really been any other sports that have gotten under my skin in the same way,” explains Samuele casually. “Sure, I took part in other sports while growing up, but my attention was always fixated on cycling. For as far back as I can remember, I would always spend my afternoons riding a bike. At the beginning you’d find me playing around with friends on a mountain bike for hours at a time, pushing ourselves to the point where if we had made a mistake, it would have probably resulted in a trip to the hospital. Over time, there was a sort of natural progression, and I shifted my focus onto the road.”
For those that know, it’s clear that this small part of Veneto has more than just a few things in common with other cycling hotspots – of which the first that comes to mind is Belgium.
“There are actually some similarities that I spotted when preparing for the Belgian Classics with Astana” agrees Samuele with a grin. “I spent a lot of time in the area and recognised a lot of touchpoints with my home – the biggest was that pretty much every family has at least one major cycling fan, who shares their passion with those around them.
For example, it was my grandfather who dragged me into the vortex of road racing, and there are so many of the same sorts of stories in Belgium too. Of course, if you look at how the two nations perceive cyclists – and I mean, people who are getting on a bike and riding every day – there is definitely a difference between Italy and Belgium. I think Daniele Bennati, Italian national team coach, sums this up really well when he refers to the cultural approach to cycling that you only find in Flanders.”
Could this be the magnetism that attracts Samuele towards the Spring Classics?
“There are certain Classics that really get me excited – both for the weather conditions and the parcours. I’m not as into the pure specialist races like Flanders or Roubaix, but I really like the Ardennes Classics.
But regardless of what races you prefer; the Spring Classics are so important that you’ve got to make every condition work for you. Modern cycling is so competitive that an off-day, a cold, or an issue with your training could be enough to compromise not only one race, but this whole part of the season. As some of the Ardennes Classics are 250 kilometre-plus – a distance you rarely face throughout the rest of the season – they become even harder.
Nonetheless, I won’t hide the fact that the nervous style of racing that you only find in these hilly races in the French-speaking part of Belgium excite me a lot – and maybe it is because they feel so much like the narrow, nervous and undulating roads around where I grew up.”
Despite being so young, there are two races that have already cemented themselves into the ongoing history of Samuele: the 2019 U23 World Championships in Yorkshire, Great Britain, and the 2021 Veneto Classic.
“These are certainly important moments in my career, so far. I would dare to say the Veneto Classic more so, because it’s a race of the highest level that suits an all-round rider and I was able to win it just a few kilometres from home,” explains Samuele.
“But as I have said many times, living on past results is not the best way to approach modern cycling because it’s a sport where everyone is jostling for the limelight. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to look back; that memory of riding into Bassano del Grappa for a solo win after a 21 km break in the Veneto Classic is one I’ll never forget, but what really counts is the next season and the continual work to keep improving. It is this mentality that makes me believe in the famous saying that cycling is the best metaphor for life.”
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