By David Hunter
He’s Italian, 25 years old and a bit of a character! Eugenio Alafaci, is a rider well known to those at Trek. He first joined the team in 2012, riding for Leopard – Trek Continental Team. He continued there in 2013, before making the move to Trek Factory Racing in 2014. Two years on, we meet a rider that grows stronger by the year. A valued member of the Trek family, he fulfils many roles.
“My job is during all the stages, mostly in the flat ones that are not so hard, from the start to the end, and during the mountain stages, until the bottom of the climb.
My role is to stay close to Giacomo the whole race, and cover him as much as possible, so he saves all his energy. I do all the work for him. From 20km to the end I am one of the first guys of our sprint train to take the front position and start the lead out for my teammates and Giacomo.”
He sometimes rides final man, but this depends on who is riding. Alafaci is versatile and we often see him doing the early work for the sprint. It’s a role that requires a lot of speed and power.
“Strength endurance is very important and I feel that has improved a lot. I need to be able to work all race and then still pull hard at the end, when it’s super fast. I do specific training behind a moto for that; a lot of moto pacing.”
This is not the glamorous side of the sport. All day long, you are working for your leader: getting bottles, riding in the wind, even holding him upright when he does the toilet! After all that, you still have to deliver a fast lead-out. No wonder Eugenio burns a lot of calories.
“The average is 3500 kcal but in the Giro this past year, I had 6000 in one stage.”
Speaking of bottles, I’m still searching for the World Record holder!
“I don’t know for sure but I think that I took 9 or 10 bottles once…and of course in the old school way not with the new Tinkoff vest! But I think that the Tinkoff vest can be helpful…”
To get these riders through the day, the support staff like to hide a little treat in the musette.
“In my musette I love to have a special cake, like an apple cake, or chocolate for when it is a bit cold.”
Amazingly, little touches like that, help to keep the riders motivated. Riding for others, can be a tough gig, but Eugenio is very philosophical about the whole thing.
“Of course I’m not the only one working, my teammates help me a lot when we fight for position and even for bottles. We work together as a team, always, and that is motivating.
It is not so hard for me to work for my teammates; when I believe they are stronger than me, I will give my best for them and for our results. It’s true at the end that if Giacomo wins, he goes on the podium, but for me it is like part of me is also there, and I’m very happy for that!”
The rider who Eugenio refers to is Giacomo Nizzolo, Trek’s main sprinter. The Italian, helped by his team, won the Giro sprint classification, the maglia rosso. This was a massive moment for all concerned, winning the same jersey great riders like Cipollini and Petacchi have won. Grand Tours are special, especially the Giro for Italians. They provide fans with wonderful racing but also many crashes.
“I don’t like the stress before the final sprint of the race. The fans do not see this but it is very very dangerous. And, of course, the worst part are the crashes.”
Away from the racing, the bond between riders is hugely important. In a sport, where you need to dedicate yourself to others, liking them is crucial. Some teams go to extreme lengths to help with bonding, others take a more natural approach. Trek don’t need to spend anytime helping Alafaci and Nizzolo to bond.
“The best rider to work for is Giacomo because he is also my best friend in my life, and I will give more than 110% for him. But for sure I also give my all for the other teammates.”
Cyclists spend a lot of time away from home. Not only do we have the races, Eugenio raced 79 days in 2015, but we also have training camps and travelling time. It’s easy to say that some riders spend more time together than they do with their partners. This can put a strain on relationships, but Alafaci and Nizzolo are best friends. Their close bond makes it easy to spend time away from family.
“It is easy to stay with my teammates because they are my friends, they are my second family. I try to enjoy as much as possible my life…I love going out dancing with my mates when we can, like right now that I’m in vacation in Mexico. I love going to Mexico on holiday!”
Cyclists often claim of hating hotels, thanks to spending most of the year hopping from room to room. Not Eugenio!
“I actually love the time of massage in the hotel, and when I room with Giaco for me this is like staying with my best friend and I really enjoy this time. We watch the same movies and the best is when we share the time before the race. For example, with him if I’m agitated he knows how to support and calm me. The worst for Giaco though is he has to share the bathroom with me and I can stay there for hours with my iPad! [laughs]”
Looking more specifically at his own role, I wondered if it’s hard to stay motivated, especially as Eugenio is always riding for others.
“For now, I can say that I’m a good team worker, a gregario, and I really enjoy it. I try to help as much as possible my mates, especially with my best friend Giacomo. Even here in Mexico! [laughs] No I joke, but yes it’s true, with Giaco I have a special bond. But honestly, I love to be with all my teammates, and I love my job.”
In terms of a role model, I wondered who Trek’s hardest working rider was.
“My hardest working teammate is [Gregory] Rast. I really like racing with him, and for me he is a really good example for learning.”
At 25 years of age, Eugenio has plenty of time to develop into a protected rider. He certainly hopes so.
“I hope in future to have some opportunities to win some races and my goal is to become stronger for that job.”
We ended the interview by considering what advice Eugenio would give a first year pro.
“I would tell him that it’s very important from now on to be serious and really listen to what the sport directors tell you. You will be strong enough to have the space one day for your personal results, but before then you need to do with all your energy what the team asks you!”
Spoken like a true domestique! This certainly is a common theme from the unsung heroes, especially the young ones. Do what the team ask of you, show them what you are capable of and they will reward you with the chance to win some races.
2016 should be a good year for Eugenio. He will be a key man riding for Nizzolo, as he looks to start winning more races. Trek have a well respected sprint train, Alafaci plays a key role in this. Eugenio will be hoping that his best friend can bring more champagne to the dinner table!
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