Rites of Spring: Team Novo Nordisk’s Milano-San Remo with Fabio Calabria

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The great Italian Monuments of Milano-San Remo & Il Lombardia book-end the race season; the falling, autumnal leaves of Lombardy are only just coming into bud as La Classicissima rolls out from Milano in late March. Originally a vehicle to sell newspapers, as the pizzazz, rivalries and skulduggery of the race barrelled through provincial towns celebrating the festa of San Giuseppe, the race serves to sell more than just newsprint these days as it winds its way along the beautiful Ligurian coast on its 300km journey from city to sea. The inaugural race was organised by the Unione Sportiva Sanremese and ran as a two-day, amateur affair before Milanese journalist Tullo Morgagni took it under his wing and convinced the then director of Gazzetta Dello Sport to run it as a punishing one-day professional event. And so it is that Ciclissmo! finds itself passing time with Fabio Calabria, a young Australian of Italian heritage and racing for Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes professional team, under the ramparts and towers of Milano’s imposing Castello Sforzesco on the morning of the 2017 edition of La Primavera…

All Photos: @Tim De Waele

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Fabio Calabria – “I grew up watching the Tour de France on the television with my parents at home in Canberra, Australia. The first memory I have of watching the Tour was probably 6 or 7. When I was growing up, my family only watched the Tour. It was the only real bike race that was on TV in Australia back then. My dad rode for fun but I definitely don’t think you can call us a cycling family.

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I only actually knew about the three Grand Tours. I liked all of them so much because I loved watching guys ride up mountains that seemed impossible to ride up. I think that, while I have Italian heritage, my love for cycling came out of Italy. More than anything, it came out of my dad’s bad knees and not being able to run!

Cycling: 108th Milan-Sanremo 2017

I came to Italy for the first time when I was 18 and raced in the amateurs straight out of school. I know the Rogers (Michael, Pete and Dean) quite well and Michael Rogers helped me get over and helped me get on a team. That was my first step into Europe. I was a punk kid who raced bikes. I lived in a team house here in Italy and didn’t have two cents to rub together. I think I had one set of pants and tee shirt and flew around the world racing bikes.

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I first met Phil Southerland (Team Novo Nordisk, then Team Type 1, Principal) halfway through 2007, my second year in Italy. Phil is a very positive and inspirational guy. Anytime you talk to him, it ends well and you find yourself inspired and motivated. That was a lot of the reason why I joined the team because it was a nice place to be and a good group of people.

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Today? It is going to be hard and long. We have some great weather and we will at least get to enjoy it as much as you can when you race 300 kilometers. I’m not nervous; at this point, there isn’t much you can do. You are stuck with the legs you have. I try not to think about the bigger things during a race. I think it is easy to get overwhelmed with the outside details so I’m trying to just focus on racing my bike and doing what I can do. I think to get through it is about 99% mental. To get through it well, it is probably 50/50 physical and mental.

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There is this one part along the coast, I don’t know specifically where, but I’m looking forward to reaching that part. I know that area vaguely and it is such a beautiful part of the world. I’m looking forward to seeing it but I know that is still a very, very long way from the finish… As for whether Tirreno was good preparation for this – I’ll tell you after the race!”

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The race rolls out and, over the course of just over seven hours, delivers the trademark spectacular scenery and a truly classic edition of the race: A tifosi delighting devil-may-care attack on the Poggio from Peter Sagan that drew two of the most exciting talents of the peloton in Kwiatowski and Alaphilipe out into a move that powered away from the napping hopefuls behind to set up an explosive three-way sprint finale on the Via Roma that could only be split by a cigarette paper’s width in favour of the Pole… Team Novo Nordisk, too, had cause for celebration: Italian Neo-Pro Umberto Poli, the youngest rider in the race at just 20 years-old, made the break of the day and enjoyed an afternoon animating the roadside crowds up over the Turchino Pass and along the coast before time was called on the fugitives and the race entered it’s end-game on the iconic Capi

Cycling: 108th Milan-Sanremo 2017

 So, Fabio, How was it?

“It was long but I have to say good overall – there is definitely something special about a race that long. You saw how passionate the fans were for the whole 300-kilometers. You can feel that passion and energy throughout the day. You don’t get that at any other race. It was incredible and there were places that I needed it.

Cycling: 108th Milan-Sanremo 2017

Highlights? Finishing! And having Umbe in the break. He was the youngest rider in the race and rode on the front all day. I think that was pretty special for him and for us as a team. And the hardest moments? Hmm… There was a point coming along the coast where it got really fast and a crosswind hit us. I would say that was probably the hardest part. But the most memorable moment was the flares on the climb. They were pretty wild. The fans were crazy on the Cipressa and Poggio. That really stood out!”