Cesare Benedetti: A Day in the life of a pro-rider
Follow Cesare Benedetti on a regular day in the life of a pro-rider.
I prize my eyes open and struggle not to shut them again immediately. It must be early in the morning; the sun isn’t bright enough to tempt me out of bed just yet. I seem to have a heightened awareness of my own body as I lie there, struggling to adjust to my surroundings. The tension I sense in my muscles isn’t the result of a bad night’s sleep or a strain, but bound-up energy that is impatient to be released. Day 10 of the Giro d’Italia, the toughest Tour our team has yet attempted. I stretch and as I do so, I feel the rippling muscles in my legs. They are in perfect condition. Even though I’m itching to get the day started, I know how grateful I’ll be later if I take it easy before the race, so I stay in bed, thinking about what lies before me: 186 kilometers in the saddle, with a climb to the finish.
Eventually my tummy starts growling, which signals the beginning of a day more so than sunshine. I chuck a pillow at my roommate, stand up and stretch. After I’ve splashed my face with some ice-cold water to make sure my brain is as alert as my body, I head to the restaurant, where our team’s table is already set and waiting for us. Soon some of my teammates join me, and we go over to the buffet to see what it has to offer. First off: yoghurt - my intestine can thank me later.
The other riders arrive, and soon we’re all munching away at our breakfast silently. The silence isn’t uncomfortable, but a sign of how sacred breakfast is for us. It isn’t long before the bustling waitress comes to our table with plates piled high with pasta, breaking the quiet. I breathe in the scent of the olive oil and Parmesan cheese, and once again feel a leap of pleasure that this Grand Tour is in my home country. I’ve barely had time to enjoy the dish before our Sports Directors comes over to discuss today’s stage.
When we reach the start, I glance around, looking to see if I recognize any of my Italian comrades. As always, I take the opportunity before the race begins to exchange a few words with riders from different teams. I spoke to one of them during yesterday’s final stage, and now we are able to continue our conversation. I think about how different the atmosphere in pro-cycling is from any other sport: we all know one another here and are pretty much one big family. I definitely chose the best sport.
And then we’re off, moving as one. The unity that the peloton shares in the beginning of a race usually doesn’t last long. No doubt there will be attempts to break away soon, I think. Sure enough, only five minutes into the race, several riders start to attack. I notice Matthias among them, and urge him on silently. Within a few minutes they’ve been successful, and a motorbike speeds past us, showing us the names of the riders and their advantage time. It’s up to us now to make sure the peloton doesn’t chase them and bring them back. Together with two other teams we try to control the field. The elasticity and power in my legs makes me feel unlimited, like I could ride forever. I laugh at myself, knowing that after a few hours of tough terrain I won’t be saying the same.
After an hour or so, the track starts to climb, and I begin to really feel the work in my legs. Despite the tiredness in my body which is sure to come, my mind is as alert as it was at the start, and it manages to convince my body to continue giving its all. Someone has stuck a list of the food checkpoints onto the stern of our bikes and I notice that we still have several kilometers to go until the next one. But I’m running out of water now, as are my teammates; and the temperature has dramatically increased. I decide to fall back and get the team’s supplies.
The message is sent out to our team car, and as soon as I’m at the back of the peloton I hear the honk behind me. I pull over to the left and maintain my tempo as our Sports Director Jens Heppner asks me what I need. I fling my two, now empty, half-litre bottles away and ask for water for the team. Even before the bottles hit the ground, fans on the pavement have grabbed them for souvenirs. Jens hands me the first bottle through the window and I shove it in one of the holders on my bike, and then a second one. I stick the other bottles in the many pockets of my shirt. I feel like the hunchback of Notre Dame… Giro d’Italia meets Tour de France, I think with a smile, and then refocus. Jens gives me a push before I make my way back to the team train in the peloton. Arriving there, I distribute the water among my teammates, and we have a quick chat about how the race is going.
Six kilometers from the finish, and other teams in the peloton have caught the breakaway group. Matthias has done brilliantly, but we want to try our luck again. Bartosz signals to let us know that he’s feeling strong and is going for a stage result. We begin work setting him up for a chance at victory. I tell myself not to jump the gun, but the determination on his face is impressive. My muscles are exhausted, but I cannot let that get in the way of our goal, so I strengthen my resolve and work with the other riders in harmony with the other riders of my team. We ride as his windbreak, changing positions rhythmically to make sure we all take some of the weight of the leading work. About a kilometer from the finish, we drop back, exhausted. Our work is complete. I eat a quick liquid gel to encourage my legs to keep working for the last stretch. While we are still climbing, the first riders will have already made it to the finish. I almost don’t dare to think it, but perhaps Bartosz was able to secure a good place to the finish.
The last few meters are upon us. This climb will remain imprinted on my memory. I give the last stretch everything I’ve got, my muscles scream at me to stop climbing, but I am able to master my body with my mind – I’ve got no choice. Then I’ve crossed the finish line. I feel half-dead. Riding over to where our team is gathering, I gulp down a cola or two and have something to eat, so that the sugar can bring me back to life. Everyone’s faces are shining and the babble of German and English sounds excited. Bartosz came second! Unbelievable. I can’t help but grin enormously: every part of today was worth that place on the podium. Relieved, we sit in the camper and talk, as we always do, about today’s race, and our Sports Directors congratulates us for our performance.
When I’ve reached the hotel room, I phone my girlfriend for a quick chat before my daily massage. I don’t enjoy the massage as much as I usually might, because all I can think about is getting some food. Finally I can eat, and after a steaming plate of rice and fish I study the plan for tomorrow. As we chat about our chances, I weigh up whether or not I should have a second dessert. I decide against it, and have another plate of rice instead. The atmosphere is much more rowdy than it was at breakfast this morning: we just can’t quite get over today’s success.
It hits nine-thirty, and someone announces they are off to bed. Everyone else stands up to follow suit. I know how important an early night is for my recovery process, but I’m just not tired enough to sleep. My mind is as active as my muscles were this morning. But they now feel the day’s work and are eager for my mind to shut down. At about ten-thirty I submit to my muscles’ demands and fall asleep thinking about the battle plan for tomorrow’s stage. Always looking forward…. Always looking forward.