5 questions with rising Italian classics star Alberto Bettiol

When BMC Racing takes the start at Strade Bianche on Saturday, the team will be riding for leader Greg Van Avermaet, who has finished on the podium twice in the past three years. One man riding in support for Van Avermaet is 24-year-old Italian Alberto Bettiol, who knows the white…

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When BMC Racing takes the start at Strade Bianche on Saturday, the team will be riding for leader Greg Van Avermaet, who has finished on the podium twice in the past three years. One man riding in support for Van Avermaet is 24-year-old Italian Alberto Bettiol, who knows the white dirt roads of Tuscany as well as anyone in the peloton.

Now in his first year with BMC Racing after four years spent at Cannondale, Bettiol is one of Italy’s most promising classics riders. Though he hasn’t bagged a big win yet, he finished second at the 2016 Bretagne Classic-Ouest-France (behind Oliver Naesen), fourth at the 2016 GP Cycliste de Quebec, and sixth at the 2017 Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian. His best result at a Monument came at the 2017 Ronde van Vlaanderen, where he finished 24th, 2:32 behind Philippe Gilbert.

He’s also finished the two Grand Tours he’s started, the 2016 Giro d’Italia and the 2017 Tour de France. His  best stage result was fifth, on the uphill Stage 3 finish of the 2017 Tour in Longwy — behind Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews, Dan Martin, and Van Avermaet, but ahead of Arnaud Démare, Jakob Fuglsang, Geraint Thomas, and Chris Froome.

Last year, before he’d signed a contract with BMC Racing, we sat down with Bettiol to get to know him and learn more about the type of rider he hopes to become. Here are a few excerpts from that chat.

CT: What can you tell us about where you’re from, and how you got into racing?

AB: I come from Tuscany, from Florence. I live in Castelfiorentino, between Florence and Siena in the Chianti area. I started very early to ride bikes, since I was six years old, in a small local team where I grew up with the same people, with the same group until 16 years old. I kept on doing this sport because I did very well in the junior team and amateur team and now I’m here already five years as a pro, and I’m competing with the best riders in the world. I’m still young and I need my time to grow up, but I’m pretty confident.

CT: Based on your results thus far, it looks like you’re more of a one-day racer than a stage racer. Is that accurate?

AB: Yeah, I prefer a one-day race because I’m not that kind of person that needs to train a lot at home. I have to pay attention about how much I train because if I train too much my results are not so good. I like to be fresh in one-day races, but I saw at the Giro d’Italia that after the Giro I was not killed, because on the last stage I finished tenth. Then I did one month of recovering, with a high-altitude camp, and I trained not so hard, and after, I started to get some good results. So I prefer the one-day race because I have this characteristic to be more fresh, but in the future when I’m going to get older and more experienced, I’m pretty sure to be ready also for one-week stage races. For the moment, I’m always for the one-day races, like the Canadian GPs in September. There are people that for sure they will beat me in the sprint. I’m not a climber, I’m trying to be focused on the climb, and after the climb, to sprint with 30, 40 people. That’s my goal, and I need more years of suffering to grow up and to be ready to compete with riders like Kwiatkowski, Gilbert, and Sagan.

CT: So if you’re from Tuscany, is Strade Bianche your ultimate race?

AB: It’s my race, yes. I wasn’t lucky [in 2017] because I went down when the crash happened, but it was really in the front. Max Richeze from Quick-Step crashed just in front of me. He crashed first, and we were so close from each other and so it was a big crash. Even [Peter] Sagan crashed, but I was feeling good. Yeah, I like that race. I know those roads. I come from the area of Paolo Bettini, and my aspiration is to be a rider like him, so yes, fast and good also in the climb. He is also my friend. He is always smiling, always kind with the other people, always friendly.

CT: Looking at your results, you’ve been very close a lot of times. Second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh… tenth at E3 Harelbeke. For the classics, do you see yourself focusing on the cobblestones, or the Ardennes?

AB: Before [2017], I thought more for Ardennes, not for La Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but Amstel Gold Race is a good race for me. But I think I can be good from Harelbeke through Amstel. In Gent-Wevelgem [in 2017], I was at the front, but then the group after Kemmelberg, we split. Otherwise, if we didn’t split, I would arrive and sprint for top 10. I was in the front of the last climb of the Kemmel. I was in the front with 20 guys, maybe less, and then [Jens] Keukeleire attacked in the city, turning right, and then it was two people, and then two people, and then we came back to the track. The Trek guys started to chase, because [John] Degenkolb wasn’t in the front and we arrived with 50 people in the sprint, and I was not good anymore. But anyway, I was in the front there.

At the Tour of Flanders. I had small problems in the stomach in the final, but otherwise I could sprint for top five with [Sonny] Colbrelli and [Sacha] Modolo. The Tour of Flanders is a very, very hard race to win, but if you feel good, it’s not such a hard race. It’s the easiest race because people that are not good on the cobbles are at the back, and if you know where is the moment to go in the front, then you stay in the front for so many kilometers because the roads are narrow. Once you are there, you stay there. Then the selection is made and it is all about your legs. You don’t have to do anything, just stay in the front and move.

CT: What do you like to do when you’re not on the bike — when you’re not racing, when you’re not training?

AB: I like to travel. When we are free, me and my girlfriend, we like to travel. In 2016, we traveled to California because I’d never been there. We did a loop from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Yosemite, San Francisco, and back to LA. From there we went, to Mauritius Island, Egypt. China, Japan… all over. Otherwise, I spend time with my friends going out to dinner, and just normal things.

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