Cesare Benedetti on Cycling in the Grand Tours, Importance of Nutrition and Enjoying Downtime

Photo: Cesare Benedetti

We first met Cesare Benedetti during the 2016 Tour de France. Well, we indirectly met him while he was climbing Côte de Montpinchon on stage two. It was a rainy day and as has become almost a hallmark of Cesare, he was in the breakaway.

Although cycling professionally for roughly seven years, Cesare is currently with Bora–Argon 18 (who will change to Bora–Hansgrohe in 2017). It’s his passion for the race and the bike that is to be admired, even if you are new to cycling.

Photo: Karen M. Edwards
Photo: Karen M. Edwards

As we are covering a lot of ground in this interview, from cycling to nutrition to how Cesare spends his downtime, let’s get straight to it.

MalenDyer: When did you know you wanted to be a cyclist? Was this something you always wanted to do?
Cesare Benedetti: I started to race on a road bike when I was 12 years old because I had visited the start village of a Giro d’Italia stage, and I liked the atmosphere and the riders. I may say I always dreamed of becoming a pro, but I really wanted it when I was 17-18 years old. It’s an age when you need to make a lot of decisions, as you are almost done with high school and you have to choose whether you’ll go on studying at university or you’ll look for a job. I decided to finish high school, as good and as fast as I could, and to concentrate then only on cycling. I can’t regret that choice.

MD: Since you began riding professionally in 2010, how do you feel you have evolved as a cyclist since then?
CB: In 2009, my last year Under 23, I made a big step forward and was ready to race at a very high level. Unfortunately, in the next couple of years, I got a bit “lost”. I had to spend quite a long time in Belgium – often for more than one month – and that drove me a bit crazy. I missed my mountains, I missed my training routes and I often missed the sun. It took me quite a long time to find my real self back again. Luckily I was still able to ride well even when things were not perfect, and I’ve kept my spot in the team.

Photo: Bora–Argon 18
Photo: Bora–Argon 18

CB: In 2012, I rode well again. From then on, I just got better – slowly, but always improving. Both my mind and body have evolved – the body is stronger and at the same time, the experiences make you save precious energies for during the races. That’s very important to me. I’m a good rider, but I haven’t got the biggest engine. I need to ride in a clever way and to use mental strength to go over the limit.

MD: You have now rode in all three Grand Tours. Do you have a favorite?
CB: I rode Giro in 2012 and the Tour de France and La Vuelta this year. Every one of these three races has something special to give to the riders, in terms of emotions, but the Tour de France is for sure the most special one. In the Tour, everything is bigger: the podium is bigger, the start village is bigger, the crowd is bigger and lots of other things just make you feel awesome, you definitely feel like a pro rider. I’ve enjoyed the Tour much more also because I was older and stronger and I wasn’t suffering the whole time [he says with a smile], but I have to say the mountain stages in [this year’s] Giro were nicer and much harder.

“I am powered by passion.”

MD: What do you feel to be the hardest part of a Grand Tour – physical or mental?
CB: Physical. When you leave for a Grand Tour, you’re mentally prepared to suffer for three weeks, and I really love what I do. Stage races are my favorite – eat, race, massage, sleep and repeat! I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Photo: Iraia Calvo
Photo: Iraia Calvo

MD: What drives you to continue to get on your bike, day after day, month after month and mile after mile?
CB: I am powered by passion. I still can’t imagine how my life will be without a bike in the future. Cycling is a job but also a lifestyle. If you want to perform, you need to look after yourself during the whole day, not only in training. I love the contact with the fans at the start of the races, and I generally love the atmosphere at the races.

CB: I also get to see the world. I’ve been in so many places where I couldn’t go if I wasn’t a cyclist. With a normal job, I wouldn’t have had the money or the time to explore new countries and new cultures. I’ve been in most of the European countries, USA, Argentina, Canada, Oman and China. Before becoming professional, I had been only in London and in Poland. The best thing is that your bike also takes you to places where normal tourists never go.

“Stage races are my favorite – eat, race, massage, sleep and repeat! I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

MD: In your career thus far, what cycling moments have stood out for you?
CB: Difficult to say. This year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège has for sure stood out for me, for the worse. I was in the breakaway and what a challenging day that was! The maximum temperature during the whole race was maybe 4 [or about 39] but mostly around zero. We had wind, rain and a snow storm. The warm up cream on my skin kept the surface of my body quite warm, but I was really frozen inside. Liége is one of the hardest one-day races in the world, and that weather made it probably one of the hardest days in my life!

CB: Every time the race goes through a big crowd and you get goosebumps, it’s an amazing feeling. One of my greatest “goosebumps moments” was last year’s Giro di Lombardia, a [one-day] Monument Classic. Being in the break for the whole race and then still making it to the finish among the first riders, riding in the front on Muro di Sormano [a climb whose average gradient is 17% and reaches a maximum of 25% and is often known as the “most severe in any road cycling race” and the fact that I was still without a contract for 2016 at that moment, made everything even more emotional.

CB: After the shower and in the bus, I had a few tears in my eyes, as I thought it could be my last Monument, my last big satisfaction and maybe my last race as the season was almost over. Then, luckily, things have changed, and I am still in the peloton.

MD: With all of this said, it’s safe to say you can often be spotted in breakaways. Is this often planned or something more of the moment?
CB: I started to fight for breakaways when my team (Team NetApp at that time) was at the beginning of its history and needed to show the sponsors on TV, which was why I was often asked to represent the team in the breaks. Then I started to like it – you’ve got some time to enjoy the landscape and to have a deeper look at the fans.

MD: Out of all of the countries, mountains and roads you’ve cycled on, which location has the most memorable views? (We know this may be tough!)
CB: Yeah that’s a tough question, I always come home with some good memories from every country. I was really impressed by the Canadian Rocky Mountains last year when I raced the Tour of Alberta.

“Liége is one of the hardest one-day races in the world, and that weather made it probably one of the hardest days in my life!”

MD: And, which location is the most challenging?
CB: The last week of Giro is usually has the most challenging, as you usually ride in the Alps and in the Dolomites. It looks beautiful, but you know that you can’t only enjoy the view, you have to ride up to the top and in every weather condition!

MD: Any American race(s) you’d like to ride?
CB: I raced the Tour of Utah in 2012 and Tour of Californiaa in 2013, I would have liked to race the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado but unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore. I hope to ride again in California one day, and maybe there will be some new races soon in the US – that would be awesome.

MD: What goal(s) do you have for yourself for the 2017 season? Or, would you at least like to see yourself achieve?
CB: 2017 might be a very challenging season for me. My goals are always the same ones: I want to be able to do what the team requests of me, to always be able to perform and to help my teammates succeed. Of course, I’d like to take part in a Grand Tour again.

MD: You are often pictured with the Bora Argon chef, Jeaun Mari Breytenbach, have you always been interested in eating healthy?
CB: I started to race when I was 12 years old and only two years later, I started to get interested in nutrition. Now I can say it was a mistake. At that time, I was taking everything too seriously. I was definitely too young to go on strict diets and this burned out my brain a bit [he says with a smile]. I’ve changed my eating habits year after year and experimented with new theories and food. Mistakes were sometimes huge, but I can say that only after a few years because nutritional science is developing quickly and theories are changing often. Our team has been focusing on organic food for a few years now. Body weight is not the most important anymore, but it’s important to have your body free of bad stuff.

CB: Jeaun Mari is a new entry in the team and she does a very good job. She cooks in a very healthy way but also a very tasty way at the same time. She did very good in the Tour and Vuelta. Sometimes when you are tired, you are not hungry, but eating is fundamental in a stage race and having a variety of food every day makes it easier.

“Body weight is not the most important anymore, but it’s important to have your body free of bad stuff.”

MD: What impacts have you seen in yourself (either personally or professionally) when you eat cleaner?
CB: I eat clean because of my profession, but I want to make it part of my daily life after my career as well. It happens sometimes that I eat something bad and it certainly reflects on my performance and on my mood. I think sugar and refined food are the worst. Sugar doesn’t affect only my body but the relationship with the members of my family as well. When I have too much sugar, it makes me become really moody and nervous, it’s the first thing I always try to avoid or to reduce drastically.

MD: How much focus do you place on nutrition, as it relates to your training?
CB: There isn’t any special way of eating which makes you win races, but for sure there are ways of eating which make you lose races. It’s very important during races and during training as well to think about nutrition. You need to plan your meals in order to supply your body in what it’s doing. Training plan goes together with nutrition plan.

MD: What food do you most look forward to after a race?
CB: If it’s a stage race, you need to eat or to drink something with a high glycemic index in the first 15 minutes after the finish to fill your glycogen storage quickly. That can be something like bananas, dried fruit or a recovery drink. Then, after a shower, we enjoy a portion of rice, pasta or quinoa.

“Training plan goes together with nutrition plan.”

MD: Since you cycle for a career, can you still slow down to enjoy a casual ride?
CB: Every day is a training day, but not every training is a hard one. When I go for easier training or recovery rides, I love to enjoy everything which surrounds me. I need to enjoy the view on mountains and lakes. I sometimes love to ride my bike just because it’s something beautiful and not because I must train. All these things make my job easier. When the races are over in October, I love to ride my road bike or my mountain bike and enjoy a stop with a nice coffee and a piece of Makowiec (a delicious traditional Polish cake made with poppy seeds). On holidays, I’d prefer to hike.

MD: When training, what’s your music of choice?
CB: I never train with music. I prefer to concentrate on myself, and I think it may be dangerous as you can’t hear cars coming. Off of the bike, it’s nonstop Beatles music!

MD: What are you most looking forward to during your off-season?
CB: I love autumn and its colors. I like walking in the forest and hiking in the mountains. I always spend the off-season in Poland, where my wife comes from. I enjoy simple things like traditional food, family time and relaxing walks.

“I sometimes love to ride my bike just because it’s something beautiful and not because I must train.”

MD: Lastly, since you are from Italy, which city or site or place would you say is a must-visit?
CB: I come from the Trentino-Südtirol region, and the best we have to offer is beautiful mountains and lakes, very good wine and traditional food. The Dolomites mountains are a must-visit, you’ll be stunned by their beauty and the nature around them, and in every season, they will give you different and great emotions.

Photo: Karen M. Edwards
Photo: Karen M. Edwards

Connect with Cesare:
Instagram @benedetti_cesare
Facebook @benedetti.cesare
Twitter @benedetticesare