Q&A: Andrea Tafi

A question and answer with a Paris-Roubaix winner Andrea Tafi who talks about Tour of Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol, racing Paris-Roubaix 20 years after his win and and his love for the Appia Antica.

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Q&A: Andrea Tafi & Racing Roubaix

The 52-year old Tuscan is the last Italian to have won Paris-Roubaix (in 1999) and in November 2018 announced his ambitious target to find a pro team and make it to the start line of the Hell of the North, before a collarbone fracture in the early part of 2019 ended his dream of coming back to ride the famous race. Today, he talks about his project – born from riding the cobbles of the Appian Way (Appia Antica) at Granfondo Campagnolo Roma – his life as an ex-pro and his countryman and fellow Tuscan Alberto Bettiol, who won the Tour of Flanders last weekend.

Q: Andrea, how are you?
Tafi: I’m okay, even though my collarbone still hurts a little. I never broke anything in my whole career, despite the many crashes that come with being a pro. Unfortunately, this fall has nullified my project, this dream [to ride Paris-Roubaix on the twentieth anniversary of my win]. But I won’t give up…

Q: On Sunday Alberto Bettiol, a fellow Tuscan, won the Tour of Flanders. Do you know him well?
Tafi: Yes, I know him – we’ve also trained together. We’re part of a group chat on WhatsApp with other pros from our area; we use it to talk to each other and organize rides together, especially in winter. I followed him when he was a junior, and saw last year that he had a bit of bad luck [two broken collarbones in a season spent at the former BMC Racing team], but now he is showing how much he is really worth. On Sunday he managed to seize the moment with a great action.
I like to think that we have something in common. In 2002 my last pro win was at the Tour of Flanders, while for him it was his first as a pro rider. But the coincidences don’t end there: Alberto won with the number 77, which was my number when I won in 2002, and my father was born in Castelfiorentino, just like Alberto.

Q: Did you really hope to return to Paris-Roubaix?
Tafi: Yes, it was a dream driven by my continued love for cycling and the desire to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my victory in 1999. Unfortunately, the injury with the broken collarbone clearly has had to mean me stopping, but I’ve no regrets about it. I really trained hard and was ready to race.

Q: How was the idea born?
Tafi: The idea came by talking to a friend who saw me still cycling and well-trained. He said to me ‘why not try to return to Paris Roubaix 20 years after my success of 1999?’ Honestly, before the injury I felt really good. When I rode on the cobbles of the Appia Antica – part of the Granfondo Campagnolo Roma route – I got excited about my chances and that made me think of a return to the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

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Q: Why did you want to ride Paris-Roubaix at 52?
Tafi: I wanted to race for one more day – just one – and celebrate everything I love about this sport. I also wanted to prove that people over 40 can ride and race competitively, even on the cobbles.

Q: What would you have wanted to show?
Tafi: Of course I did not want to come back and win – I am 52 years old and there are so many strong young riders, thankfully, like Bettiol! I would have liked to have returned to understand how much cycling has changed in 20 years and tell it to the people who love this sport and document the heroic romanticism angle of cycling. It’s the same angle that brings back so many passionate people to the Granfondo Campagnolo Roma’s historic cycling ride L’Imperiale. It’s a kind of revival of the history of cycling.

Q: 1999-2019, cycling has changed a lot in twenty years. The Roubaix route has remained the same but materials and technologies have changed.
Tafi: Yes, materials and technologies certainly, but also the preparation methods with totally new techniques and training to get riders to 100% condition are hugely different. The attitudes have changed a lot too – just think, in 1999 the helmet wasn’t mandatory. As a young rider I initially didn’t see the need for one but now I don’t even get on my bike without it.

Q: You are still very active, riding Italian sportives like the Granfondo Campagnolo Roma. What makes this event so special to you?
Tafi: The Granfondo Campagnolo Roma has a special charm – a romanticism that I mentioned before. It’s unique in offering the opportunity to ride in Rome, past all the Roman Castles, on roads completely closed to traffic. The Appia Antica (Appian Way) and its sampietrini (cobbles) are the same ones that I raced in the Giro del Lazio during my career – that was a race that I won three times with so many great memories! Each time I ride them I’m filled with so many emotions, and I’ll be back to experience the ride once more in 2019. I look forward to seeing thousands of riders joining me in Rome on 13 October for what will be a great cycling weekend.



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