zanardi scienza

Science has answers. But people must ask questions

Break a leg by Alex Zanardi

The question often arises about science and technology changing sport. How? And how much?

My own personal thoughts on this matter start with an anecdote. My para-cycling coach, Mario Valentini, is no great fan of technological innovation. For decades, he’s lived for a world from which he has received plenty, but also to which he has given generously. More as a coach, than as an athlete. His medal tally for the national teams he’s coached places him ahead of any colleague around the world. And I’m not only talking about cycling.

Science and technology: the Mario (Valentini!) school of thought

He’s as modern as you get when it comes to speaking to people and motivating them. But he is also, so to speak, a man who’s lived through plenty. On some fronts, his beliefs are firmly rooted and he doesn’t easily accept change. The greatest injustice one can do to old Mario is being caught red-handed looking at a training file you’ve just downloaded onto your computer.

 

Well, discussing the watts used for this or that exercise with a training partner might be worse…. Mario believes an athlete must be able to understand his or her own body – nothing more. And that some tools only make things more confusing. Let alone during a race… «Okay, but like, someone makes a break just in front of you, what d’ya do?». Mario would ask in his delightfully thick Roman accent. «You yell at him…Hey you! Forget about the RSM (it should be SRM, for measuring power, but Mario’s always slightly off with these things), and doing too many watts!». Well, I don’t know, but maybe Mario’s right in some sense. Technology has obviously brought tools that were unimaginable in the past, but these also bring the danger of being a bit lazy. It’s all too easy to use such tools simply out of fear of overlooking something, without really questioning whether they actually help us achieve our goals and how.

 

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Shared satisfaction

Anyway, given good old Mario’s reluctance, I’ve thought a bit about this issue. We were at the Montichiari velodrome. It’s completely indoors, meaning absolutely no wind if you’re training alone. This makes it perfect for testing the aerodynamics of wheels, brakes, postures and even helmets. Anyway, my coach was far from convinced about the approach I’d come up with that day. I planned to keep my power constant over three-minute trials, meaning any change would make a recordable difference in average speed. In theory. And it actually worked in practice as well!

 

The method was so precise that, at subsequent training sessions, the figures were exactly the same when I used the identical combinations. I was obviously pretty chuffed, and Mario was a little surprised. «Well, imagine that! These cycling teams spend buckets on wind tunnels… And you, with next t’nothing, have solved the problem in a couple of hours! Hey, simple is simple, but we need to think about it, no?». It makes you think, doesn’t it? Mario’s words were a pretty stellar compliment and memorable in his accent. In other words, we are each dealt a hand, and we have to decide how to play it. And in a world where science is constantly offering new options, don’t you think such an approach opens up an opportunity for the website I’m writing on?

 

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No to “do-it-yourself” supplements

In motor racing, there is a saying: «To finish first, first you have to finish!». If your run out of fuel, what difference does it make how fast you were going up to that point? But how does this translate for those physical sports where fuel is a metaphor for what makes our muscles perform?

Unfortunately, there are many pretty good athletes who, in longer races, aren’t able to properly plan their use of supplements and consequently they don’t achieve what they could. I’ve seen many such athletes in Ironman competitions, as they hit the wall so hard the only option is to retire.

There’s the other side of the coin as well, where people take gels, maltodextrin or energy bars like there is no tomorrow, forcing their bodies to defend themselves as best they can. Vomiting or diarrhoea are not really useful in achieving top sporting performance…

 

Others opt for a rest from training, but pump themselves full of supplements, vitamins and proteins in the belief they’re strengthening their bodies and getting ready to start working hard again. Some have a “do-it-yourself” body-builder approach that, when talking about protein consumed in different forms, seem to believe their muscles will grow before their eyes. Many youngsters also add a couple of extra scoops of mineral salts, above the recommended dose, to their water bottles in the belief it will help them with the sweat session ahead…

 

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Answers come…to those who ask questions  

I have complete confidence in Equipe Enervit. But if they’ve provided winning answers, my approach to asking questions has also been victorious, suited to what I wanted to achieve. This is why I’ve decided to get you involved directly. What are you trying to achieve? How do you want to achieve it? How much do you really want to achieve your absolute best? Expert opinions, athlete testimonies and all the specific information on this website provide data or answers.

Simply reading this info without having asked yourself specific questions might lead you to something that comes in useful sooner or later. But, by the same token, you might have forgotten that info by the time that moment comes around when it could have been useful. Perhaps all you really want to do is break away from your mates who join you to train on Sunday morning. Well, if that is your question, then you’ll definitely find the answer on this site.

Let me say this explicitly: amid all the snake oil salesmen out there, it might not seem like much to have a reliable source of information about what to consume during training and what to ingest to optimise recovery. But it is absolutely essential and so many athletes overlook it, from Sunday joggers to pretty high-level performers.

Dreaming of Tokyo 2020. And curious

Okay, I’ll be honest. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable already, but the new challenge of the Ironman really got me interested in this stuff again.  As I was looking for the way forward, I found and understood other, smaller tools that I could keep on the back-burner for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

 

On the verge of turning 54, a medal (of any colour…!) is more a dream than a goal. Yet, if hope exists, it is because curiosity leads us to find a way. This is what I really wanted to tell you. Science and technology provide amazing answers, but men and women are the ones who know what questions to ask…. And hopefully my good friend Mario won’t be too worried.

Alessandro Zanardi, detto Alex, nasce a Bologna il 23 ottobre 1966. Sposato con Daniela, ha un figlio, Niccolò. A 14 anni inizia la sua avventura automobilistica nelle gare dei Go-Kart. In otto anni vince tre titoli nazionali e un europeo. Nel 1993 è in Formula 1 con la Lotus. Nel 1996 entra a far parte del Team di Chip Ganassi nella serie americana CART World Championship Series. Ci resta giusto il tempo di vincere due titoli Mondiali. Nel 1999 torna in Formula 1 a bordo, però, di una Williams. Nel 2001, sul circuito tedesco di Lausitzring, in Germania, un terribile incidente lo priva delle gambe. Potrebbe fermarsi, invece è la svolta. Nel giro di pochi anni, le sue strabilianti imprese lo eleveranno all’olimpo dei grandi campioni dello sport. Nel 2007 scopre l’handbike e si iscrive alla Maratona di New York: il quarto posto è tutto suo. Nel tempo, forza di volontà, entusiasmo e cura nei dettagli sono le qualità che affina sempre di più per fregiarsi del titolo di pluricampione olimpico nell’handbike. A Londra 2012, infatti, porta a casa 2 ori individuali nella cronometro e in quella in linea. E a Rio 2016, alla soglia dei 50 anni, grazie al lavoro svolto sotto la guida del suo preparatore atletico, Francesco Chiappero, e da tutto lo staff di Equipe Enervit, stravince nella cronometro e nella staffetta. Intanto, tra un’Olimpiade e l’altra, raccoglie altri ori nelle diverse edizioni del Para-cycling World Champioship. Tutto questo, senza mai trascurare il suo primo amore: le auto. Nel 2014 accetta di rivestire il ruolo di Ambasciatore di BMW nel mondo e rimette i panni di pilota nel Campionato Blancpain GT Sprint con la BMW Z4 GT3 ufficiale. Prosegue l’attività para-ciclistica e conquista la Coppa del mondo, il titolo di Campione mondiale nella gara a cronometro e in quella a squadre a Greenville, Stati Uniti. Ma il 2014 sigla anche l’importante incontro tra Alex Zanardi ed Enervit, che seguirà il campione nel suo debutto nella gara più massacrante del Triathlon: l’Ironman World Championship Final di Kona, alle Hawaii. Lo chiuderà in 9 ore, 47 minuti e 14 secondi, classificandosi al 273esimo posto su oltre 2000 partecipanti. C’è dell’altro, però: lo sfidante evento si trasformerà nell’occasione giusta per chiedere ad Alex di diventare Ambasciatore Enervit. Nel 2017 completa l’Ironman di Barcellona in meno di 9 ore. Nel 2018 conquista l’ennesimo oro nella cronometro nel Para-cycling World Champioship. E all’Ironman di Cervia, il tabellone sulla linea d’arrivo registra 8 ore, 26 minuti e 6 secondi: record mondiale per gli atleti con disabilità, all’interno del circuito Ironman. Mentre la classifica generale lo vede al 5° posto assoluto su quasi 3000 atleti in gara. Nel 2019, a Emmen, in Olanda, vince il titolo di Campione mondiale di paraciclismo. Una manciata di giorni dopo è all’IRONMAN Italia di Cervia per una sfida che sa di impossibile: cimentarsi nell’IRONMAN Full distance e il giorno successivo tentare il 70.3. Lo scopo? Verificare, insieme all’Equipe Enervit, il recupero e lo stress, in vista di Tokyo 2020. L’impresa riesce alla grande. Batte se stesso e stabilisce il nuovo record mondiale nella Full distance in 8 ore 25 minuti e 30 secondi e termina il 70.3, registrando il tempo di 4 ore 31 minuti e 38 secondi. La leggenda continua.