Meet Elena Cecchini
All photos © VeloFocus
Focused and outspoken, three time Italian National Road Champ Elena Cecchini is a rider that never shies away from a hard day at the front of the peloton. A potent all-rounder, she is ready to follow up her GC win in 2016 at Thüringen Rundfarhrt with even bigger ambitions for 2017. We got to know Elena at the CANYON//SRAM Racing team training camp in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
When and how did you start riding?
I started when I was six years old, already 18 years doing this sport. I started because it was a family thing, my dad, my brother and cousins were riding and they put me on a bike. It quickly became a passion. When I was junior around 16-17 I started racing on the national team so it became more serious. Now it’s my job and still what I love.
You also ride and race on the track, how does this experience help you out on the road?
Of course if you race on track at high level, it helps you a lot in your bike handling. You improve a lot your bike skills. Right now doing track is such specific and high level, as it’s becoming more and more popular the level of competition is become higher and higher, if you want to race on the track in a proper way you have to focus on it. It’s quite hard to combine it with road, especially in the disciplines that require a lot of power, like the disciplines against the clock. You really need to do specific work. That’s why in the last year I decided to skip track and focus on the road because I like it more.
What has been your biggest achievement in your cycling career? Would you say your three National Titles (2015, 2014, 2013)?
Yes it is. For me wearing my national jersey it’s always such an honor. And in races like Giro d’Italia or Trofeo Binda in Italy, it gives me extra motivation. But if I think more overall, the best thing I did so far in my career, is to be part of the Olympic games. This is something that every sport person is dreaming about, but not everyone can do. I tried to enjoy as much as I could. As I’m still a bit young I hope I can be selected for the next Olympics and I would like to go for a medal.
You said you are an all-round type of rider and you are still young, do you want to become more of a specialist, like a sprinter, or a Classics rider…?
In women's cycling being an all-rounder is good because most of the races are not just flat or high mountain, it’s going up and down. And there are a lot of Classic races in our calendar. I love races like Flanders, Plouay, Gent-Wevelgem… in these kind of races you can have a sprint winner as a climber winner. So there are a lot of opportunities for an all-rounder. I just now have to step-up to the highest level. When I was younger I was more a sprinter than a climber. So I worked hard on my endurance to get better at climbing. And I still have some work to do to setup my ‘game’.
You just talked about Flanders and Plouay, what is your favorite race on the calendar? And why?
It’s Plouay. I always loved this race. I know there is a point in the race where the race is decided, actually it’s where no one has the legs anymore, but somehow one girl still have some energy to go for the win. To get to this point and follow the lead group you have to suffer so much. At this point you pretty much know how the race will go and you need to be there to have the chance to go for the win. At this point it’s more a mental fight with yourself. It’s a super hard race.
Looking at next season, what are your biggest goals for 2017?
Honestly I just think that we need to win more as a team. We have the ability to do that. Last year there were one team that was dominant but behind this team we raced really really well. Sometimes you just miss the last meters, the right moves in the right moment. Towards the end of the season we had greater results. Next season, having 9 riders out of 10 who already know each other really well will help a lot. For me it’s a really good sign and we are improving in general.
You’ve been on SRAM RED eTap for about a year, what do you like most about it?
Everything! On all kind of setups (road and aero). I was also feeling really good with the SRAM RED mechanical. But eTap is another level. It’s really reliable and works really well. For example this year in the Classics, I never had a dropped chain, which had happened to me in the past. The batteries are so good. You are never worried about them. If you ride a lot of km and you recharge them every two weeks, it’s enough. You can trust them and you know they will bring you around. That’s very important because you don’t need to stress about that. You know it will work well. Of course our mechanics do a good job, but when I’m on my own I’m confident. I know I won’t have problems.
Which Zipp wheel model do you prefer to ride? And why?
The 303s. Sometimes I have to fight with the team because they like to put the 404s. Maybe I don’t have all this power. I’d like to use the 303s in most of the races, from Qatar to classic races, to stages of Giro d’Italia. For me it’s the perfect set, they are easy to handle, if there is a bit of wind, they are really stable. And they are also comfortable, light and aero. Of course on flat stages you feel less help than with the 404s, but if I had to choose one I would go for 303s.
How important are power meters for you?
More and more important. Now cycling is in this direction. It’s not about heart rate anymore. Heart monitors don’t always tell you the truth. If you are tired or stressed it has an impact, so it’s gives you ‘wrong’ information. Of course you always have to feel how your body is because it’s the more important thing. And it tells you a lot. But with power meters, if you use them well, you can really improve and make some steps. I had some weeks without power meters when I started the season, and I really understood that it’s actually a big part of my training.
For racing, I look at it less. Maybe because of the mental aspect. Sometimes in races you reach some power that you never do in training because the mental part helps you to reach a new level and new limits. That’s why when there are some competitions; it’s easier to make more watts for example in sprints compared to training sprints. So sometimes I cover my numbers.
On the other hand, in TTT or ITT, it’s really important. If you know you are in good shape and you know that the ITT is that long, I talk with the coach before the ITT and he will tell me which watts I have to follow which helps a lot to do a good ITT. When you don’t have much experience, power meters help a lot.
Besides your riding gear, is there something you always take with you when you travel for races or camps?
I have a luck charm that I always take with me when I travel. It’s like a little pochette (clutch bag). I take it everywhere with me. For me it brings luck not only in the race, but also for all the travels we have to do and everything that can happen. I don’t carry it when I ride, but it’s in my bag.
Where is your favorite place to ride?
Gran Canaria (Spain). I went there many times. It’s the second year that I’m not going there because we have the training camp here in Mallorca and then our race calendar starts really early.
I love riding there. Time flies there. You have wonderful places to ride, the weather is really, really nice. When I was riding there in December it was always 25 degrees, so the perfect weather for riders. And you can find a lot of people and you have a lot of stuff you can do besides cycling. After training if you want to go for a walk or have a nice coffee. Somehow when I go there I’m always happy and relaxed at the same time as I train a lot. The windy conditions are also good to work on your power for the season.
What is your favorite food? Favorite drink?
I’m Italian so of course we have good food and food culture. Favorite food, I would say pizza. I also like gelato. In terms of drinks, water. Because we drink so much energy drinks and coke and sweet things during the year. Of course we need those drinks for training and racing but sometimes just water is great.
Who inspires you, in the sport or outside the sport?
If I have to choose outside the sport, of course, I would say my mum. She is my example. For me she is the best woman in the world. She works hard. The house is always perfect. For me she is my hero.
If I look to the sport, a girl who do the same job as I. For the last two years we look up at Lizzie Armitstead (now Deignan). She is such a good rider and she is an all-rounder, what I am also, but not as strong. This is what I would like to be one day.
What are the three words people would use to best describe you (as a rider or a person)?
That I am really direct. I say what I think and sometimes in this world it’s maybe not super nice for people, but it also helps to see how things are going and to analyze them.
I think I am a really focused girl. So if we have to train more, do some extra stuff, I’m the one who never say no. Because I know that we need to do a certain amount of work to be the best. So I try to take with me the other girls. Sometimes they want to do less but I push them.
I think I’m friendly, this is a word that probably everybody who knows me mention about me. It’s important to be friendly with each other because we are not only doing the same job, we are also sharing a lot of moments together.
If you were not a pro rider, what would you do?
I would have loved to study medicine and become a doctor. I was quite good at school and I liked studying. Of course I chose riding and in Italy it’s not easy to combine both, the university and the sport.
Would you try to go back to university after your career?
I think it would be really hard for me because since four years I’m in a military team. So in Italy, when you are in a military team, after your career you can be a policewoman. So right now I’m a policewoman and it’s also what I would like to do after my career. My dad is a policeman and I think it’s a good option for me.
2017 will be your second season with the team. What do you like about the CANYON//SRAM Racing Team?
For me being part of CANYON//SRAM team, it’s the perfect balance. It’s such a professional team, probably the most professional in the peloton, but they also take care of you as a person. It’s not like you are a machine and you must win. First, you have to be healthy and be happy and then the results will come. This is what I like about this team. Also being part of CANYON//SRAM is a way to be, a way to behave with the sponsors and the media and a way to race.
Who is your favorite teammate to have as a roommate during a stage race or training camp?
This season I shared it almost all the time with Trixi. She is a great roommate because when you share a room for many days you have to be really respectful of each other. Everyone has his own behavior. Some go to bed early, others later. You have to be tidy/clean because you have to share the space. Trixi is a great roommate for all of that. I would say Alena is also great, because she has the same habits as I have and we get on really well together.
What changes would you like to see in the sport?
Big steps have been made over the past years. I cannot really complain because we have such good sponsors behind us. So we are really lucky. But it’s not the case for all girls and teams to have such support.
But we cannot say cycling is men and women. Unfortunately it’s still really men. But we are going in the right direction. But we cannot wait for miracles. It will take time to get to the same level, not in two years but maybe in 10 years. I’m professional since 2011 and in five years the changes have been massive. The right way is to have more visibility, more media coverage. It’s also hard for us because we also need to be focused and train hard but we know we have to be available for media.
Do you have a personal or professional motto?
Yep, I have a tattoo on my arm that says, "Tutto torna" (in English: “All come back”). I did it not for cycling but for life, that also works for cycling too. All the hard work you do, all the things you do or believe in will come back if you really want.
Can you tell us something that not a lot of people know about you or a hobby you enjoy?
As we spend a lot of time away from home, when we have a bit of time to relax, I like to spend time with my family and my boyfriend. Since one year I have a dog, so when it’s possible I stay with him, go for some walks and play with him. This is what I really like to do.