What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Italia Calling

With Lombardia and the end-of-season emphasis on all things Italia, what better way to begin the off-season transition than enjoy some quality miles together with one of the best Italian cyclists of the past twenty years? I recently took a group to Tuscany for a week of riding with ex-top pro Andrea Tafi.

Normally, of course, our expert Toolbox crew is addressing specific training and physiological topics as they apply to your training and racing. I would, however, like to take a different approach to this Toolbox article. This one is a bit offbeat, as it involves a trip of a lifetime AthletiCamps recently took to Italy to train with one of the greatest cyclists of the past 20 years, Andrea Tafi, of Mapei fame. Included in his 40+ professional victories were some of the biggest jewels in any crown: Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Tours, and two Italian National Championships.

They don’t come much tougher or better than Andrea Tafi in the cobbled classics.

I met Andrea through Max Testa at the UC Davis Sports Performance lab in Sacramento. Living in California, I pretty much had the same view of Andrea that most of us had, which was through magazines, DVD’s or videos, and limited television coverage. Andrea certainly had a reputation as a definite tough guy. Take the hardest one-day races and most likely you will see him affecting the outcome in some way. There has always been a lot of respect for this type of professional racer. He was not a Grand Tour specialist, but take the worst roads in the world, add the worst possible weather conditions and the best competition, and you had the ingredients for an Andrea Tafi victory.

I contacted Phil Liggett to get some insight on Tafi. Here is what Phil had to say. “I can say I really enjoyed commentating on him because of his aggressive riding and never-say-die attitude. For a rider without the full talent of the gifted few, he scored some great podiums. He loved the tough events as this was his character and if the weather was bad he seemed to do even better. His record in Paris-Roubaix with a 1-2-3 over the years is something to be proud of. Andrea was a credit for any youngster to follow and admired by all of the peloton when he was a rider.”

And just as his dedication and “tough guy” image put him on top of the world of cycling, he has taken his life after cycling and applied the same hard work, dedication into a business application by creating a location for riders around the world to train and experience the ultimate in Italian hospitality Il Borghetto – Andrea Tafi.

Located in the small town of Lamporecchio about halfway in between Pisa and Florence in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, Il Borghetto is a quiet farm amongst Andrea’s 700+ olive trees. Of course, Andrea produces his own biologically pure oil every November by harvesting the crop himself and serves the oil when he cooks dinner for his guests, alongside his family’s own locally produced wine – Chianti.

From a hospitality perspective, Andrea and his wife Gloria were beyond anything we could imagine. Every day was a different surprise and experience. They made our group feel like part of their family. Of course, going to this part of Italy, the group wanted to see and experience the best in Italian culture. Andrea and Gloria assured those memories with trips to historic locations and incredible dining and wine experiences.

No Italian experience is complete without extraordinary cuisine, and there was no end of that with the Tafis in charge.

The Training
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the riding. I had ridden in this part of Italy before, so I knew the terrain and culture. But I was unsure how it was all going to work with our group of 12 riders. Well, after the first day of training, all fears were put to rest. In fact it started when we came out from breakfast and saw all our bikes being prepared by Andrea’s number one helper – Maggiorino. With a well thought out route, which went to the small village where Andrea was born (Ponte A Cappiano), our group meshed perfectly with Andrea’s (and team’s) riding style and goals. That was a huge relief!

In order to get the most benefit from our week of training, Andrea made sure we had elite-level riders (including himself) to train with and guide us through the infinite maze of Tuscan countryside roads. There is something special about having elite riders guide you around Italy. Not only were they knowledgeable about the terrain we covered, they also knew how to train as a group. This of course is one of the biggest benefits of having a training camp away from your home area.

Tafi has taken a mentorship role for developing riders and guests alike.

Our main guide was “Alfonso.” He spoke about two words of English (which I cannot print here), but we had no problem communicating the language of the cycling with him. Andrea supplied us with radios, and this helped keep our group cohesive. I started using them myself at our camps this year and the benefits are enormous in terms of keeping a group informed and together. Also, having a well-supplied support vehicle made the training that much better. What else would you expect from a veteran of the professional peloton!

Pez’s good friend, Dario Cioni made appearances for both rides and dinner. Dario’s knowledge and approachability allowed him to blend right in with our group. He also produces his own oil and made a special labeled bottle for all the riders.

Nothing beats local knowledge in a foreign country to guide you through some of the best roads. And if they’re pros like Dario who share a love of Tuscany and fine cuisine, so much the better!

A couple of future stars also trained with us. Richie Porte (just signed a deal with Saxo Bank) and 2-time World Junior Champion, Diego Ulissi (signed with Lampre) helped keep the pace high and entertaining! Amongst Andrea’s many smart business endeavors, he is the owner of an Under-23 development team. It was great to see such a legend helping kids develop and take such an active part in their young careers. As Phil mentioned, his riding style and dedication is a model for these kids.

Each day’s ride was unique. I won’t go into every detail but the highlight was the day we rode from the Borghetto to the beach on the Mediterranean (~120K.) Not only was the ride itself incredible with its climbs and scenery, Andrea had everything ready to make our arrival as easy as possible. Lunch was ready and we were able to take showers right after the ride. Coincidentally, the women’s Giro della Toscana was starting that day and he got us front row seats for the Prologue. It was the week before the World Championships, so all the best women in the world were racing that week. What an incredible day it was!

In short, Andrea made every effort to simulate a true professional training camp, including washing our bikes himself! We the riders really didn’t have to do a thing other than ride our bikes and enjoy Italy. Recovery was also aided with the help of a massage therapist who used to work for the Mapei squad during the mid-90’s, when they were the “dream team” of cycling.

As you start your planning for 2010, I would urge you to get a group together and spend a memorable week at the Borghetto with Andrea and his crew. Not only will it be an incredible experience and vacation, you and your team will come back super fit and motivated to race hard, as the Andrea Tafi aggressiveness will definitely rub off on the team! AthletiCamps is planning two trips there next season; so make sure you contact us for details.

• Get more info at: IlBorghettodiAndreaTafi.it

Ride safe, ride strong

About Bruce

Bruce Hendler is a USA Cycling Coach and owner of AthletiCamps in Northern California. For the past 9 years, he and his experienced team have helped athletes of all levels achieve their goals in the great sport of bike racing thru cycling training camps, cycling coaching and performance testing. To contact AthletiCamps, visit their website at www.athleticamps.com or visit their AthletiCamps blog.

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