Elia, what did winning an Olympic gold medal in Rio mean to you?
It was like a dream come true, which began back in 2005 when I won the gold medal at the European Youth Olympics. Ever since that day, despite how young I was, I understood the meaning of that type of competition, and I promised myself that I would win the actual Olympics one day. After a disappointing experience in London, the four years that followed before Rio were like an obsession, but in a good way of course, and today, I can say that this kind of complete determination was worth its weight in gold. There was also a slight taste of payback, after a couple of harsh defeats and some bad luck: winning the Olympics is the highest accomplishment that an athlete can achieve, and it gives you a feeling of complete freedom. I think my gold medal is also a valuable asset for Italy, as well as for racing. These are a few other reasons for me to be proud.
How do you prepare for such an event?
The omnium is a complete speciality race, so it requires specific types of different forms of training. You need to be resistant and strong, as well as explosive and agile all at the same time. It’s all about finding the right balance to reach the best of your potential in all competitions, whether they are time trials or group events. I began preparing 2 years before Rio. Going to the gym played a big part in me being able to go so fast on the track. Then there were whole days spent in the velodrome, on the road, and in the gym, double sessions, and sometimes triple ones, of daily training, which were observed by a very experienced and reliable group of staff from the Federation. Since May, when I pulled out of the Giro d’Italia, I spent 6 weeks at altitude, and only did specific exercises for the track. I really didn’t do much cycling: a real sacrifice, but a rewarding one nevertheless.
You’ve talked about paying “obsessive attention to every detail”. Can you tell us how you dealt with such an important detail as footwear?
For Rio, I really wanted the best from all of my technical sponsors. We began working on the shoes at a distance, with two projects. One was for the time trials, which we started off by looking at the racing shoes that they already had in their catalogue. We changed the sole for a new, targeted model. Once we achieved the right level of firmness, we worked on the upper, testing out various types of materials: smooth, soft, mesh, and golf ball-like. We went through so many, analysing comfort, firmness, as well as aerodynamics. Regarding aerodynamics, we worked with a truly innovative closure system: the laces. An old method, but they are still unrivalled today in terms of how well they make the shoe wrap around the foot. The next step was to look at the position of the zip, which kept the aerodynamic tongue in place, which was going to go over the laces. Even with this, there were various tests. First putting it in the centre, then on the sides, which we decided on in the end, as it made the shoe look tidier and simpler. The final touch was the graphic design. We have created so many over the last few years, but for the Olympics, we needed a simple design, a light and therefore white shoe, with the colours of the Italian flag on show, but together with something special. We chose Christ the Redeemer, one of the most famous monuments in Rio. For the remaining three competitions, the group ones, we decided to push through with a project we had been working on for a few years, but which deserved an occasion such as the Olympics before it had its official debut: the RS1, the best shoes I have ever put on my feet. They are extremely firm but wrap closely around the foot. With laces that wrap around the whole foot that can be adjusted with a single BOA® lace rotor, thus making the shoe tidy and aerodynamic, its Skeleton system is revolutionary. We worked on this for 2 years too. So that all of my requirements were met, and so that we could try out all of the ideas that we had bashed out together with Nicola and Philippe and all of the staff, DMT produced and delivered around 30/35 pairs of shoes to me. A little behind-the-scenes insight that not many people know of but I like to talk about is that for Rio, without telling me, DMT prepared 3 pairs of RS1s for me: One gold, one silver, and one bronze, which were ready and waiting for me in the Italian team’s stand. So, straight after I won, I got my first golden gift, even before I had the medal around my neck.
I think my gold medal is also a valuable asset for Italy, as well as for racing. These are a few other reasons for me to be proud.
How long have you been collaborating with DMT?
Since I was a junior athlete, in 2005, I remember it like it was yesterday, when Nicola introduced me to Federico Zecchetto, who became one of my cycling father figures. Over the years, there were a few gaps, as my team had to use other shoes, but I’ve always been able to rely on DMT and all of its staff. Over the last few years, we have gone back to working together 100%, and I’d say that we’ve done a fair few good things together, and we’re still doing them. I’m really happy to be wearing the shoes I’ve always wanted during the best stage of my career. All of the staff at DMT know how much I wanted that medal, and they all deserve one too.
Is finding innovative solutions that perform better and better a part of your character, or is it just a strategy for improving your performance?
I think it is part of my character. When I’m on my bike I’m thinking about pushing against the pedals, but as soon as I get off it I’m thinking about everything else, what I could do to get better, and what I can improve: the bike, the wheels, the helmet, the clothing, as well as the shoes. So, I develop ideas, I find out information, I do research, and I observe the other athletes. I’m very sensitive, so I notice straight away if something’s not right or if something’s working better than before. Of course, I then look for confirmation in the numbers, because I don’t like relying on words if they can’t be backed up by facts. I think sponsors like my way of thinking because they see me as someone who can help them to grow by doing something new. But then, every now and again, I’ll get on their back a little, for example with coloured shoes that have to grab the media’s attention, but I think this is also important for a company: when you’re making something new and nice, it’s good to attract people’s attention.
Would it be right to say that you’re a “technician” in all respects before you are a brand ambassador?
Well, technician is a big word. Experienced technicians are people who, for example, work within the “DMT Development and Production” department. People who design, make, and test products all day, every day. For now, I’m a demanding athlete that provides feedback, which sometimes ends up being useful for improving their products’ performance.
Which is no small feat... As you have tested various models from the DMT 2018 Collection, what do you think about their new range?
The 2018 range offers something for all types of cyclists, whether they are children or professional riders, triathletes, bikers, or female cyclists, who are growing in number. RS1s are still the best in the range, but D1s are the new model, which you’ve seen me wearing since May. It has been updated in many ways. It still has 2 BOA® closures, one that has been brought to the front onto the tip, which closes in the traditional, direct way; however, the other has been moved onto the outer side of the foot, which will fasten down a tongue that wraps around the neck of the foot, so that the laces, once they have been tightly pulled, don’t aggravate the neck of the foot in any way. It is an extremely light, but firm shoe, with simple and elegant graphic designs.
All of the staff at DMT know how much I wanted that medal, and they all deserve one too.
How much of your life is dedicated to cycling? How much do you think of it as a “job”? And how much as a “passion”?
Practically my whole life is dedicated to cycling, if we exclude the 30 days between October and November that I spend with Elena, when we don’t want to hear anything about bikes or cycling. So, except for just a few days in the year, cycling is what my whole life revolves around. Therefore, first and foremost, I would say that it’s a passion. It always has been. It has been a job for 8 years, but it only feels like a job to me when it’s time to sign a contract. I therefore think I’m a lucky person: not everyone can turn their passion into their job.
Can you fill us in on your future plans and your medium- and long-term goals?
I would like a great season finale for 2017, which hasn’t been an easy season. For next year, my number one goal will be the Milan-San Remo race, followed by the Giro d’Italia. In terms of long-term projects, there’s Tokyo 2020; the Olympics gave me so much and I want to go back, more determined than ever.
What do you think you’ll do at the end of your career? Will you stay within the cycling world?
For now, I want to enjoy the best years of my career. Of course, if I think about the future, I would like to stay within the cycling sphere, or at least within Italian sport.