We asked some athletes, customers and friends of Effetto Mariposa to tell us how they live their passion for cycling.
Today it’s the turn of Lorenza Menapace, Elite biker from Val di Sole Bike Center, a Marathon and Endurance expert.
We called Lorenza Menapace after one of her long days at work, and she greeted us with a calm and easygoing “pronto?" (hello?). You immediately perceive the balance of this athlete from Trentino-Alto Adige, born in 1972, who started her career as an Elite in Mountain Bike late, after years of running and ski touring. Lorenza has imposed herself with an impressive series of victories in the marathon world - she has won all of the 24h - and not only, since she is also going strong in stage races and in Cross Country. This is what denotes a strong athletic preparation, but above all an enviable mental condition that Lorenza seems to convey to us even from the tone of her voice. The constant search for her own limits leads her to often change competitive habits and to get out of her comfort zone. What comes out is the impression of an intimate and personal cycling routine, where the strength of the result comes from a deep determination.
Lorenza, lately you are further away from the marathon world and you are doing faster races... “Yes, because I always need strong motivation... I could have stayed in the 24h world where I had a good name, since I won all the competitions, but something triggered me during the last 24h race in Val Rendena: it was 1 a.m., I was first and I was going well, when suddenly I thought to myself: "what am I doing? I won them all, I did about thirty of them, what else should I prove, and to whom?”. So I've stopped, to everyone's amazement, and I said “that’s it, I will not do any more 24h, I gave everything I could give, and I got back just as much". So I’ve decided to become a master in normal races instead.”
Besides the satisfaction with the result, what do you feel when you’re doing a 24h race? “There isn't much fun in doing a 24h race, it's a very unique feeling. For me that’s the only chance I have of being alone with myself. I talk to myself, I encourage myself, I dream of being on a trip. At night, in the woods, you don’t see much, but you can perceive all the scents of nature. In Finale Ligure, for example, there are some very fragrant smells on the route. It feels as if your senses have become hypersensitive. Some people experience these “pindaric flights” when they stand on a sofa, while I do so when I ride my bike. I’m always fine when I do it, I keep smiling to myself and thinking of my loved ones, of the experiences I could have told them about, especially to my grandmother, who was a big fan of mine and used to cut for herself all the newspaper articles about me. After I’ve stopped talking to myself, I said enough.”
Even if you no longer do 24 hours races, you still like stage races a lot. “Yes, in January I went to Chile to do the Trans Andes solo, my friends and family didn’t like the idea, but I was calm and determined about doing it. I used the Tyreinvaders in that race: being alone, my bike needed to be completely safe: I had already tried some anti-puncture protections for the wheels, but I did not feel comfortable riding with them, so I decided not to use them. Then they advised me to try the Tyreinvader from Effetto Mariposa, and that’s how the sponsorship began. I have to admit that they’ve really changed the outcome of the race: the terrain was a mess, the paths in Chile are dirty and poorly maintained, not like in Italy. The wheels of all the other cyclists continued to get punctured due to the stones, I was the only one who didn’t have this problem throughout all the stages: and I won 8 out of 8 stages, which means that I was going very fast, without sparing the wheels. Tyreinvaders are also comfortable to use, and I wouldn't have expected it.”
Have you always focused on Endurance, or do you also like to do less demanding disciplines based on distance? “As soon as I started doing shorter races it was very hard. I went to the 100km of Forti and I was very confident and convinced that the "Queen of the 24 hours races" would certainly have done well. I was completely wrong: I arrived an hour and a half after the winner, it was a big humiliation! (Laughs). It's a totally different kind of effort, I had to radically change training. But then I made it, I’ve been the Italian cross country vice-championess, I still do cross country sometimes. I'm not bad in that, but I prefer races where you have to be less explosive. I like to ride a bike and to also think in the meantime, my mental strength helps me mostly in the long races.”
You often use spiritual metaphors, and I know you are a believer. I also saw you running with the Rosary around your neck. “Of course, I always ride with the rosary around my neck, and I’m a true believer. Now, since I’ve brought it with me in some many races, that rosary is a little worn out, but it’s still lasting. I always try to have not only competitive goals, but also goals in terms of general well-being of body and mind. By choice, since I am no longer that young, I’ve decided to focus only on very important races: those of international caliber, and that are part of the UCI calendar, with valid scores for the World Cup. Among my last ones, there was Epic Israel, where I've competed against professional athletes from the American and the Canadian national teams: after the race, everyone left for pre-Olympic trainings, while I had to go back to work. Yet, I ended up in the top 10, and that was a great satisfaction!”
Your strength lies in being able to compete with professional athletes while living a "normal" life, with an office side job. “I work at the Municipality of Dimaro Folgarida, in Trentino, and cycling helps me to break the monotony of the office. I often train at 5 in the morning on an empty stomach, otherwise I do it in the evening, when I have time. During the winter I skate or I do ski touring, my first passion. I don't train that much and I don't do long laps in the week, even though I specialize in endurance. My strength lies in never skipping workouts and focusing a lot on their quality: I know how many watts to use uphill to train well. Then, during the race, I can express many more watts than during the training. I also have an advantage, because the athletic life feels natural to me, and I like to feel good and to eat healthy: I’m not obsessed with what I do, but I like to feel my body responding to athletic stimuli. I often find myself competing with professional athletes of a completely different level: last year I did the BMC UCI in stages. I raced against the current cyclocross world champion, Ceylin Alvarado. It was an indescribable feeling to take part in an event where there were such athletes, including, among males, Mathieu van der Poel. Yet, I ended up seventh. I don't win as much as I once did, of course, but for me it is more important to join one of these races, in the top ten of their league, rather than gaining the same victories in races that I already have dominated in the past.
You have an atypical career for an elite athlete: you’ve started cycling quite late, after years of running and skiing... “I started out with mountain running and ski touring. Then I started having knee and ankle problems, so the doctor recommended me the bike. I didn't like the bike, I didn't even have one at home. So I bought an 800 euros entry level MTB, and that seemed to me to be an insane price: you know how many running shoes you can buy with that money? I remember the first two months as a cyclist: I just wanted to throw the bike at the material collection center, I swear! Even if I was very good at running, whenever I was riding the bike I almost felt as if I was having a syncope. Slowly my inner "engine" came out and, from there, my passion did too. After my first 1000 km cycling, I did my first solo 24h: I got on the podium. I was copying the strongest athletes in the stops, it was a rudimentary method but it allowed me not to make many mistakes while I was still inexperienced. The sensations I felt were terrible, I was not feeling well at all, but I didn't give up. When I finished, they had to take the bike off me, I was literally petrified on the bike.”
Besides your inner "engine", which is notoriously excellent, how did you learn how to ride the bike? “As long as I was doing mostly 24h races, I was really bad at riding it, it was unbelievable! It is thanks to three professional cyclists if I learned how to ride: Paolo Alberati, who is also my trainer, Martino Fruet and Marco Bui. I was going out with them to train myself and they told me to just follow their trajectories. Then, during a TransAlp with a friend who is very good at going downhill, I made the qualitative leap. When you learn to visualize the clean trajectory, you are able to release the brakes. I am now a second level sports director as a hobby, and I train kids from 9 to 12 years old. I challenge them in surplace, and I always win!”
It almost seems like your competitive strength comes from enjoying riding the bicycle... “And that’s how it is, the bike is my own therapy. I am lucky because I live right next to the Brenta river, and my training places are heavenly looking: Val di Sole, Adamello, Brenta. After only 10 minutes around these valleys, your mood changes and you start smiling. Then, beyond that, the desire for competition begins. I have this constant need to find new stimuli to understand where my Everest is. I don't think it's self-centered to do so, I just do it to feel good. Because when I reach my Everest, it will be as if a bubble of light entered me.