Elena Cecchini became one of the latest young Italian rider to join a more international team this year, joining Lotto-Soudal, and proceeding to animate the races throughout the Spring Classics, then winning a stage at the prestigious Festival Elsy Jacobs. Last year she’d won the Italian National Road Championships, one of the very hardest of the road champs, and in June she became one of a very select set of riders to win twice in a row, which she followed by racing the Giro Rosa for the first time, and coming home with two podium places, and four stitches in her chin. I talked to her about all this and more, including the secrets of her season, and her advice to future first-time riders, and much more. She’s a really interesting rider, with a lot to say, so settle in, and either listen to her talk, or read the transcript below.
Listen to Elena talk here (right click, save as to download)
You’ve just come back from finishing the Giro – how do you feel?
It’s quite nice when you finish a hard race, and you know that it’s all about recovery, so I’m just enjoying some rest days at home. I was missing my family so much, and my cat, and my grandmother and grandfather, so today I did a small training on my bike, just to restart, because next week I will race the BeNe Ladies Tour, and I have to be in form. It’s really strange to go slowly, because we had really fast and furious stages at the Giro, so it’s nice to be home and just wake up in the morning and have nothing to do!
And it was your first ever Giro!
The 2015 women’s Grand Tour, the Giro Rosa, is done and dusted for another year, but how are the riders looking back on it? I asked two of the young riders all about their experiences – Kasia Niewiadoma, who came home from her second Giro with the Best Young Rider’s jersey, 5th place on the General Classification, and the knowledge she’d helped her Rabo-Liv team mate Anna van der Breggen win the maglia rosa – all at just 20 years old; and another 20-year-old, Jessie Walker, who went from having a surprise late call-up to race for Servetto-Footon, to being the top British finisher. They were kind enough to answer some questions about their experiences in the race…
Congratulations on being the Best Young Rider & 5th place overall – how does it feel?
Thank you so much. It’s a really nice feeling, but I think I am more happy about our Anna who won the GS! She was amazingly strong and every day she showed it, so I think there was no other girl who deserves this victory as much as she did :-) The past 10 days were not only about racing for us, but about making a special atmosphere that I really appreciate in our team – just a lot of support and fellow-feeling. My 5th place made my family superbly happy – so for me that’s the biggest reward.
This was your second Giro – apart from the jersey, how was it different to last year?
This year my team let me save my energy during the first flat stages, so I could focus more on the last hard ones, where I had to be in front group and be with Anna. Last year I was not confident enough and really scared, so I didn’t enjoy racing as much as this year. I also made lot of small mistakes which I tried to not repeat this time.
What was your favourite stage to ride this year?
I think the Stage 8 time trial. To be honest, I didn’t expect a result like this… I knew I had to go deep, in pain and just suffer as much as possible, and I was happy that I managed to do it. Stage 7 was also one of my favourites :-)
And what was your favourite moment off the bike?
Dinner!!!!! :-) We were there with the whole team talking and laughing and enjoying the time together! Everybody had a story to talk about, and we could get our heads out of the race a little bit.
Was there anything you didn’t enjoy about the race?
The first days were hard for me to get used to the temperature! I had a bit of a hard time, but then it only got better and better.
It’s been a great season for you, winning your first UCI stage race, the Emakumeen Bira, and such a good Giro – what’s the secret to your success this year?
When I stared my first preparation for this season, I knew I had to do everything properly. I was really motivated and focused on trainings and rest days as well – I have such a great team and teammates who are the biggest example for me, that you can only only achieve something with hard work, but you also cannot forget about being human… so make time for your family and your personal life.
What are your next goals? And does getting 5th make you want to try for your own win next year?
I always want to be as prepared as possible for the important races, I never put a number in my head that I want to achieve, because its easy to disappoint yourself, I always do my best and fight till the end, and then I’ll see what my placing is, and what I missed for example. I have a lot of small and big goals which give me power and motivation
What advice would you give any riders who want to race the Giro for the first time next year?
Looking back at my first Giro, I didn’t take enough care of myself, I didn’t drink enough, and then I had a lot of cramps on stages which is not nice feeling :-D So first of all, take care of yourself, because it’s 10 days of racing :-)
What do you pack in your Giro survival kit?
SPECULOOS<3 It saves my life in the mornings :-)
Follow Kasia on her twitter, and on her facebook, read about how she got here on this Cyclingnews profile of her, just before the Giro started, and watch the Stage 9 highlights, with Kasia on the podium in her white jersey. Finally, check out this little Rabo-Liv video, which opens with her:
You’ve just finished your first ever Giro – how does it feel?
I feel very proud of myself to say I finished in the top 50 out of 150, in my first Grand Tour. It’s been an emotional week and very, very tiring physically and mentally.
When you got the offer, what was your first reaction? Did you do any research about the Giro, either this year’s race or previous years?
My first thoughts were “No way, I can’t believe I’ve got the opportunity to do the Giro. That’s a dream!” I didn’t have much prep going into it. I was only told about 3 weeks before that I was doing it, so all I could do was look at the profiles and think “OMG this is going to be tough, what have I got myself into” 😂 I also read a few riders blogs from previous years to see how they found it.
Going into it, what were you expecting?
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it might be a good thing because I’ll be quite fresh physically and mentally, due to not doing a lot of races at the start of the season. So I thought it could go one of two ways: I’m fresh and it works to my advantage, or the lack of racing will mean I’m not strong enough to keep up. Luckily it went the first way 👍
And what was it like? Different? The same? What was the biggest shock?
The biggest shock was the heat. We don’t get it anywhere near as hot in the UK, so it took me a while to adjust to that. But all the girls were in the same boat, so I just had to man up. Also the climbs feel like they are never ending. Again we don’t get that in the UK.
You were the top British finisher, and got a top 20 place – were you expecting that?
I was hoping for a top 20 because I’ve previously got 18th in the Women’s Tour in 2014, so I wanted to match that. But this tour seems like another level so I’m really happy about it. I just found it amazing to be riding amongst the World’s best and mixing it up in the sprint with them was insane.
What advice were you given about it before you started, and from who?
I got a little advice from the British girls. Lizzie Armitstead told me to make sure I eat and drink as much as I can, as it can soon catch up on you a few days down the line if you don’t. Hannah Barnes said take lots of morale food 😂👌 which was good advice. I did enjoy some chocolate a few of the nights.
What was the hardest part?
The last day was the hardest part. I can genuinely say I don’t think I would have lasted another day. On the start line of stage 9, I didn’t think I was going to do it. I was so mentally drained, and I knew what a hard day it was ahead of me. But the whistle blew and I was off then everything was fine.
Were there any times you didn’t think you could make it? What kept you going?
Every stage was a battle, but I tried to just take it day by day. I only looked at the profile of each stage on the morning of the race. Then I gradually got through the days and was really positive that I could finish the tour. However the last stage was a killer. On the last 20km climb I was fighting all the way just to keep going. But I just knew how good it would feel to say I finished, so that’s what kept me going.
When you look back at this race, what will be the memories that make you smile?
My main memory will be crossing the line on the last stage. I gave it every ounce of energy that I had and felt so emotional crossing the line. But smaller things, like all the teams eating dinner together at night. Also on the start line every day chatting to riders. It was overwhelming to be there. The views were amazing too. One stage had 11km neutralized along the promenade with everyone coming off the beach to cheer us on.
What advice would you give any future first-time riders?
It’s a long tour, so conserve your energy as much as you can. You’ll be grateful for it on the last few days. Eat and drink as much as you can and sleep on transfers. It makes time go a lot faster and also gives you more energy.
What would you pack in your Giro survival kit, knowing what you know now?
iPod is essential. Perfect way to switch off from everything that’s happening around you. I listened to music at night to fall asleep. Also a pillow for sleeping in the car 👍 sweets or chocolate for a nice treat at night as well 🙊
What will you do next? Any more races? What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I’ll spend the next few days resting then get back into training. It was tiring just walking around the supermarket today so think I need a lot more sleep haha.
I’m waiting to see what my next race is from the team as they wanted to see how I went in the Giro before they planned ahead. My next goal would be to make the selection for the World Championships 😁
Read Jessie’s Q&A after Stage 3 – and find out more about her on her website. Follow her adventures on her twitter, and give a big thank you on her behalf (and maybe a donation too!) to the Dave Rayner Fund for supporting her.
All my 2015 Giro Rosa coverage, including the daily collection of videos and photos, is here, and you can read and listen to my other recent interviews here. I’m able to do my women’s cycling writing thanks to the generosity of my Patreon supporters, who I appreciate endlessly!
Marianne Vos is without doubt one of the greatest cyclists of all time, with an amazing palmares that includes two Olympic gold medals and twelve World Championship titles across road, cyclocross and track. But after a relatively lucky career without too many injuries, 2015 has been a bad one for her, with a hamstring injury and broken rib that have kept her off the bike for most of the season. She’s focusing on recovering completely before she comes back to race, and in the mean time has been busy with new challenges including presenting the tv highlights of the Aviva Women’s Tour, and visiting the Giro Rosa… and being her usual generous self, taking time out to answer some questions. Listen to her talk about riding with strangers from the internet at AWT, why watching racing on tv is more scary than riding herself, who she most enjoys competing with on the road and in the mud, why she’s not planning to take on the Hour – and of course, where she is with the recovery.
Listen to Marianne talk here (right click, save as, to download)
We spoke after Stage 6 of the Giro Rosa, when Marianne had just come back from a ride….
As we come to the end of the Giro Rosa 2015, everything gets more exciting, as riders’ chances for stage glory or GC improvements get fewer. Stage 7 had both, with climbing and a LOT of descents. I caught up with four riders who took time out of their recovery to answer questions about their day, and how the race is going for them: Lucinda Brand, who won the stage with an opportunistic attack and riding 60km solo with a descending masterclass – making that two wins, two podiums and a day in the maglia rosa this Giro; her Rabo-Liv team mate Anna van der Breggen, who’s fighting hard for GC; Bigla’s Sharon Laws, whose team had very bad luck yesterday, but will carry on fighting for Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio’s GC hopes; and fan favourite Vale Scandolara, who tells us about life in the grupetto, and riding with an injury…
Congratulations on your second win of the Giro! How do you feel?
I’m very tired now 😉. But of course I’m very happy with this second win.
It seemed like perfect tactics – make other teams chase while Anna could relax and climb
The second half of the Giro is all about the mountains. After the tough Stage 6, I caught up with Velocio-SRAM super domestiques, the American Tayler Wiles and South African-born Aussie Loren Rowney to talk about what their role has been in the race, Loren’s grupetto life, how it felt to have a team win under their belt, advice for first-time Giro riders, and much more.
How does it feel, at this point in the Giro?
Today was probably the hardest stage of the Giro with three long climbs and no where to hide! After 6 stages working hard for the team I’m tired but still feeling ok. As a domestique for the Giro I came into this race fresh but not flying so my form is coming as I ride into the race. Hoping to be going well for Thuringen :)
What’s been the best thing about the race this year? And the worst?
At any race, this Aussie is pretty much guaranteed as the most smiley and friendly rider, with adventures happening to her all the time – and the Giro is no exception! We talked about how she crashed dramatically out of the Stage 2 breakaway, but took the Queen of the Mountains jersey, giving Lotto Soudal two Green Jerseys on the same day.
Listen to Carlee talk here (right click, save as to download)
There’ll be a transcript to follow, but in the meantime, follow her on twitter and instagram, visit her sponsors, Watermark, when you’re in Aus, and watch the Stage 2 videos, and check out that crash.
Insert R.Kelly lyrics and my fav song: "I believe I can fly" and you have this… #myday #immediatelyregretthatdecision devo to be in a break and then have a gap solo only for this to happen in the last 25km. but on a positive note Im in the climbers jersey of the #girorosa2015 and anyone who needs some gardening done just ask #didsomeweeding #lottosoudal @lazersport
Stage 4 of the 2015 Giro Rosa was the last chance for sprinters to enjoy the flat before the race hits the mountains, and it’s also the exact halfway point of the race. I caught up with three of the riders who have animated the race so far for some Q&As. Dutchwoman Lucinda Brand came second in the Prologue and again in Stage 1, wearing the maglia rosa for Stage 2, before winning from the Stage 3 breakaway… ahead of Italian Vale Scandolara, whose second place was her
first ever second Giro podium. Meanwhile, waiting for her chances when the race goes uphill is another Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini, who was fourth on Stage 2, and is fifth in the General Classification, just 13 seconds behind leader Megan Guarnier. All three of them very kindly answered some questions about how the Giro has been so far, and what the second half of the race could bring, with advice for first-time Giro riders thrown in…