I grew up on the track. When I started cycling, in 1994 (at just six years old), sometimes, to alternate from the activity on the road, we used to ride on the track.
My team would use the velodrome at Crema. I remember one day at the track seeing Michael Hubner. He was a big star of the time; what huge legs he had. I was impressed.
At a race a few years later in 1998, the prizes were tickets for the first edition of the Six Days of Fiorenzuola.*
I remember Giovanni Lombardi was present at the arrival of the race, along with Baffi, Villa, Traversoni (all riders belonging to the area). I managed to win one of those tickets.
In the evening we went to the six-day; my first six-day. I remember that the star of the show was Lombardi, who lived right there in Fiorenzuola. He was paired with Bruno Risi, a star Swiss rider. Oh my gosh what a couple. They were so strong.
Every time they got a lap, they got up high near the barrier and off, hunting again for a second one. I was 11 years old.
Since then, every year, I went to see the six-day. Fiorenzuola was only 20km from my home. Over the years I saw some big stars clash on the velodrome like Cipollini, Colinelli, Martinello, Curuchet, Gilmore, De Wilde, Keisse, Marvulli and so on. But only one rider made me always get up from my chair: Bruno Risi.
How classy, how strong, how gritty!
By 2007, I was old enough to make my six-day debut. I was still an amateur and suffered a lot. Guess who won? Bruno, together with Marvulli.** Me? I ended up pretty far back.
In 2009, having moved to moved to Fiorenzuola to live, I turned professional with Liquigas. That summer I had no road races so I notified the organisers of the six-day of my availability. After a few days they called me back: “Bruno Risi will do all six-days in Europe as a farewell; Fiorenzuola is the first on the list. Would you like to ride with him?” Running with my idol. I accepted instantly.
When I arrived at the hotel, I thought they would put me in with some other riders like me: Young, Italian and slow! Instead, I found out I was rooming with him. I was seized by fear. What would we talk about? He was my idol. F@%^ me, I was nervous!
Bruno was already in the room. There was a large and a small bed. He had already settled on the smallest one. Seeing me come in, he said in Italian: “You take the big one, cause after you need to go fast.”
The six-days started and we kicked in right away. Every time there was a fast lap, even though he was faster than me, he’d lead me out and let me do it. “Because you are the home boy,” he explained. During the Madison, when he wanted to speed up, he just told me: “now we go”. I had a bad technique in the handsling; I was not riding much on the track but he did not say anything.
One evening, exhilarated by how things were going, we stopped in the track centre to drink beer after the races. The heat helped***. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Bruno was really confident for the victory.
We were the strongest, but some pairs began to run against us in alliance and we didn’t manage to get it. We lost, finishing second behind Marvulli and Aeschbach. We deserved the victory, he more than me, but this is cycling.
At the end of the 2009/2010 season he retired with seven world titles and 62 six days on the palmares. He could have been a champion at 360 degrees, on every terrain. But he had chosen to be one of the best pistards.
Bruno Risi, my idol.
*Tucked away between farmland and a railway track on the edge of a small town in Emilia-Romagna, the Fiorenzuola track is an unusual venue for six-day racing: it is outdoor. As such, the Fiorenzuola meet prematurely kicks off the six-day season in early July.
** At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Marvulli and Risi were favourites in the Madison with seemingly only the Belgians realistic challengers. But the race went very badly for the Swiss pair that I was rooting for, and in the end was won by Perez and Curuchet from Argentina.
*** The next day, on the very first race of the evening, a points race, he won the first sprint with a huge advantage. I was sat next to Danny Stam who told me, laughing: “after a hangover he always wants to win the first sprint”. Pure class.