Interview with Paolo Alberati
We asked a few athletes, clients and friends of Effetto Mariposa to tell us everything about their love for cycling. We met 12 people, who told us about their background, experiences, skills and, most of all, how much they love bikes. Today we are introducing Paolo Alberati, former professional road and MTB cyclist, coach, sports agent, and writer.
One word is not enough to describe Paolo Alberati. Actually, not even two words, nor three. Born in 1973, Paolo is an extremely versatile person who has never sat back, as well as one of the most influential, charismatic and respected people from the international cycling scene. First of all, he is a former professional cyclist: from 1995 to 2003, he raced with prestigious teams such as Mapei-GB and legendary athletes such as Tony Rominger, Johan Musseuw, Franco Ballerini, and Frank Vandenbroucke. As well as road bicycle races, he also took part in MTB races for several years. In fact, he is one of the pioneers of this discipline, with 79 wins and 2 Giro d’Italia MTB. Besides playing hard in his cycling career, he also studied a lot: he graduated in political sciences, focusing his thesis on the partisan life of Gino Bartali. As well as being a sport director, he is a coach for professional and amateur cyclists, sports agent and talent scout - does Egan Bernal ring a bell? Finally, he also organized several cycling races, such as GiroBio, the U23 Giro d'Italia race. Let’s stop here for a second, and let’s hear from him directly, since we managed to get him on the phone – he lives in Sicily, on the slopes of Etna.
So Paolo, how do you manage to handle all your roles? “I’m always very busy, I now have three jobs actually. Yesterday evening, for instance, I stayed up until 4am to prepare my training programmes. My lifesaver is this simple formula: I take one week off every six/seven weeks of work. I take it off to rest and to spend time with my family and children. I take them to do sports together, usually athletics or cycling in the Park of Etna: doing nothing is not an option (laughs). I cycle three times a week, it’s pure passion.”
Is cycling still a huge part of your life? “Yes, it is, everything I do is about cycling, both when I’m at the office and travelling. In fact, during race season, I look after my athletes as their sports agent together with Maurizio Fondriest and Andrea Bianco. I even coach some of them, with the consent of their teams, such as Trek Segafredo and Bahrain McLaren.”
You are specialized in training and biomechanics: you are certainly not short on clients with such an impressive CV. “Besides professional cyclists, I also train some amateur ones. I love it as I am helping people to train better, without making mistakes. I pay close attention to technique and I have been using Effetto Mariposa products for several years. As biomechanic, I use Giustaforza torque wrenches on a daily basis: they are over 10 years old and they are still as new. Many of my colleagues still use regular Allen keys, but you cannot do maintenance to a modern composite bike without using torque wrenches: you might damage it for good. Moreover, customers care for their bicycles just like they would for their own children. Carbon bikes need specific torques and products. For instance, if you don’t want your seat post to slide down, you shouldn’t tighten it more, but instead you should use a block spray or Carbogrip resin. On the other hand, you if need to unstuck different parts, such as a seat post, you can use Carbomove.”
It must be very satisfying to train successful athletes. “Yes, training my athletes allows me to do a better job as talent scout and to find talented cyclists, who are often from South America. I don’t look at their ranking, as it’s a partial data. I measure the athletes’ “engines” with watt and power tests.”
Why does South America seem to be the homeland of the strongest cyclists? “We have talented athletes in Italy too. However, South America has a large number of athletes with a peculiar genetic predisposition and extreme confidence, mainly because they have very poor backgrounds. When they train, they don’t care what their bedroom looks like, if they have a TV or not, how long they need to walk to reach the restaurant. They come from a rural area where sacrifices are a daily occurrence. They often wake up at 4am because they are used to work in the fields with their parents and have no distractions whatsoever. We are not able to make similar sacrifices, but it’s understandable. Alfredo Martini used to say that being a cyclist was easier in the older days while now it’s for heroes.”
Together with Andrea Bianco, you discovered none other than Egan Bernal, a champion who won the Tour de France 2019 at only 22-years of age, the third youngest cyclist to achieve such result. How was Egan when you met him? “When he arrived in Europe in 2015 to compete in the MTB World Cup in Andorra it was his second year as U23. We immediately understood that his talent was wasted if he was limited to the Mountain Bike. He was a real prodigy. I made him take a test and his oxygen consumption rate was only 90. He was a real champion who, in my opinion, was going to be successful in any endurance sports. We immediately postponed the flight that was supposed to take him back to Bogotá, in Colombia, and he stayed a whole month at my place. I took him to compete in three races and he won all of them! I introduced him to road cycling and took him with me to Agostoni Cup, where I was meant to meet Gianni Savio. Gianni offered him a 4-year contract with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, when he was only 17-years old. That’s when his career as road cyclist took off. From a human point of view, it was an unparalleled satisfaction: can you believe that, only a few years before, he competed with my own bike because he didn’t own one?.”
And how were you at the start of your career? “We – the generation of professional cyclists from 1995-1996 – were at the turn of the old and the new world of cycling. Those years were incredible: just think how young I was when I signed my contract with Mapei…”
That’s right, you signed your contract with Mapei-GB when you were only 21… “I was only a boy, I still remember the meeting we had in Squinzi’s office to sign the contract. My very first professional race was the Laigueglia cup, where I shared my bedroom with Franco Ballerini – that’s when our beautiful friendship started. I also became friend with Frank Vandenbroucke. It’s hard to think they are no longer with us…I followed Vandenbroucke in one of the Österreich-Rundfahrt races – which he won – and he was one year younger than me. Frank was a real genius. He was unconventional, extremely talented, and I think that his great sensitivity (kind of like Pantani), contributed to emphasize his discomfort through difficult times making it pathological. Frank was always ready to do crazy things. With Lefevre, our sporting director, he swam in an Austrian lake – a pretty unusual thing since the tour hadn’t ended yet. But he was very careful about his training: he was always late for breakfast in order to sleep an extra 40 minutes that, by the end of a stage race, granted him a full extra night of sleep. He used to eat pasta without olive oil but at night, in the bedroom, he used to ask me to go get him cookies to calm his hunger pains.”
Those were controversial years for the world of cycling, yet, beautiful years… “Although Mapei was an incredibly well-organized team, we still had the joy of being young and human: we were a group of boys working well and hard, but quite freely too. I wasn’t as talented as the cyclists I coach now. In order to comply with the minimum standards, I had to give my 120% - as you can guess, I had very little distractions. I admired and envied genuine talents like Marco Pantani and Mario Cipollini: they made everything look easy, they enjoyed their life as cyclists thanks to their great talent”.
Besides this, you also embarked on an academic and writing career “It took me several years, but I finally graduated and I still study today. I was lucky enough to know about the partisan past of Gino Bartali and to be able to write about it. Now I have another big editorial project, which I am currently developing and involves many athletes and their dreams. I hope to publish it soon”.
Giro d'Italia was a dream come true for you. “Since I was a little boy, I dreamed about competing in Giro d'Italia. I was awe-struck when the race reached my little village in Umbria, and I went to see the athletes accompanied by my father. I remember the people, the bikes, then the cyclists passing by. Everything happened so fast. I picked up a water bottle from the ground and ran home to watch the race on TV. That’s when I started dreaming about becoming a cyclist, which I eventually did in 1997. When you take part to a race of that kind, you realize you are living every day as a huge local festival. 42 festivals, to be precise. However, you don’t have time to really explore those places: I actually had to go back to each village because I didn’t see anything! Giro D’Italia is extremely demanding but, looking back, my entire cycling career was worth it just because of that one race. I even won some races and I really couldn’t have asked for more than what I got.”