For the love of the race
“I just want to enjoy the race, enjoy the Kwaremont, the Paterberg. It’s going to be a really great day of sport.”
He has been dreaming about De Ronde all winter. On long November rides through the hills of Tuscany, he would brace himself for the farm tracks of East Flanders.
He has raced the finale over and over in his imagination. First, there’s the Koppenberg, then the Steenbeekdries, the Taaienberg, and the Kruisberg, before the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
The Paterberg comes 259 kilometres into the race. There are 13 kilometres to go.
In 2019, Alberto went solo. He had attacked over the top of the Kwaremont, dropped past the camper vans parked in the neighboring field, and hit a wall of noise, flares, and waving flags, as he rode onto the last cobbled tractor path of the day.
“I was completely exhausted. I didn’t know if I could get to the top of this 150-metre climb, but I heard the crowds, all of the fans shouting my name and supporting me,” he says. “For me, only this race can give you this feeling. The fans push you on even if they don’t touch you.”
"I just want to enjoy the race, enjoy the Kwaremont, the Paterberg. It’s going to be a really great day of sport. And in the end, we’re going to drink a beer and cheers and think about the next race.”
The Belgian fans gave Alberto courage. His chasers were just behind him, but he could just hold them off.
Fighting his bike all the way to the finish, he won the race that changed his life.
“Winning the Tour of Flanders showed me that I can compete with the best riders in the world,” Alberto says. “The people who have been with me all of these years used to believe in me more than I believed in myself. They always pushed me forward and were pretty sure that one day I would win something big. It was tough, but I did it. Now, I want to do it again. I’ve been thinking about this weekend all winter. I planned my winter and my programme in the first part of the season to arrive here in the best shape possible, because of the unique feeling that only this race gives me.”
Fortune wrecked his plans.
After a strong start to the season, Alberto travelled to Tenerife for an altitude camp ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico and the Strade Bianche. Shortly after he arrived, he tested positive for COVID. Sickness meant he was unable to train hard for weeks.
Now, he is realistic about his chances. Alberto knows what it takes to win the Tour of Flanders. His condition is not what it should be. That frustrates him.
“It is a tough sport,” he says. “We risk a lot. And in the end, for the same amount of risk and effort, I prefer to fight for the win instead of just participating. If I am not able to win, I immediately want to find the right condition to be able to,” he says.
Still, he is trying to be optimistic. On Sunday, Alberto is going to leave everything out on the road to help his team.
“It is a pity, but I still want to take everything that this race will leave to me, because this race is so close to my heart, especially this year, with the crowds, with the people here again after two years,” he says. “It doesn’t matter about my condition. I am healthy now. I am feeling good. I am not in the best shape, but I am here and I can race. I can start the Tour of Flanders. I will race without any pressure and support my teammates. I just want to enjoy the race, enjoy the Kwaremont, the Paterberg. It’s going to be a really great day of sport. And in the end, we’re going to drink a beer and cheers and think about the next race.”