Paola Gianotti: the woman who broke sport and humanitarian records. Her journey through climbs, slopes, and new goals.
Embrun - Alpe d’Huez, 23 July 2008: Carlos Sastre Candil, from Madrid, succeeded in taking home both the stage and the first yellow jersey of his career by conquering the 21 hairpin bends leading to Alpe d’Huez - one of the the most evocative settings in cycling. He had opened up an unbridgeable gap between himself and his opponents during the final time trial in Cerilly on the penultimate day of the race. Candil’s celebrations were muted: his look of sadness betrayed painful memories of the premature death of his brother-in-law José Maria Jiménez, another great Spanish climber.
Carlos Sastre is a reserved, profound man who rose to the top of the world when he was 33. With a lot of hard work. And with a humility rarely found among those achieving such extraordinary feats: «I only did what I had to do... keep calm, have faith, listen to the advice of my teammates, trust my feelings and manage my energies. This victory is the result of great teamwork: I’m talking about Stuart O’Grady - a Roubaix winner - who sacrificed his own chances on the plains, and I’m talking about Fabian Cancellara, who gave up winning a stage during this tour to help me in the mountains». This is because «Carlitos» is not just a racer, but first and foremost a great man: «I like to talk with my teammates, to listen, to take decisions together. It means that whenever I ask for help, they’ll give me even more! When the Tour started three weeks ago I could never have imagined that I’d arrive Paris wearing the yellow jersey... I hoped so, of course... I knew that I’d never been better prepared in my career... but then the race is something else, with its unpredictable situations and the other racers».
Carlos, who was a professional rider from 1997 to 2011 with the characteristics of a climber, was an expert in stage races. Not only was he the seventh Spanish rider to win the Grande Boucle when he won the Tour de France in 2008, but he also stood on the podium of a Grand Tour six times: once in the Giro d’Italia, twice in the Tour de France and three times in the Vuelta a España. Over the course of his career he has also won two stages of the Giro d’Italia, three stages of the Tour de France, and headed the mountains classification at the Vuelta a España in 2000. Ten years after such an outstanding victory, Carlo hasn’t changed one bit: shy and reserved on the outside, a great heart on the inside. He’s the sort of person who prefers to let the facts speak for themselves.
Hola Carlos, cómo estás? It’s great to see you again! What is your fondest memory of your amazing professional career? «Muy bien, gracias! I have so many wonderful memories of 15 years as a professional cyclist. I rode 500,000 kilometres on my bike, and I remember every single one! The Tour was the most beautiful victory for all that it gave me and continues to give... Ever since I was a child I always dreamt of pursuing this career and winning the Tour... I worked for my entire life to achieve this dream, until it came true in 2008!»
What were your feelings when you reached the top during the world’s most important stage race? «To talk about the Tour is to talk about prestige, about a race that’s famous all over the world... And when you talk about it as the winner you feel a part of it, because it stays with you day after day... the Tour is the Tour... And for me it has an even deeper meaning... I dedicated it to the memory of José Maria Jiménez, my brother-in-law and training partner: we were like brothers, we shared cycling and we shared our lives. Even during that Tour he was always with me. And I won it for him as well».
How did it feel to retire after a career that had cost so much hard work and given you so many rewards? «I took my own decision about when to retire... and when you’re the one taking the decision everything is easier because you’ve somehow prepared for the change. What’s more I didn’t have time to think about it much: in only three months we constructed building of 3 floors in the city centre and opened a bike shop... I was very busy, so the transition was easier».
What role does cycling play in your life today? «Cycling takes up most of my time... I’m at a new stage of my life filled with the enchantment of watching a child growing and learning every day... I’m directing some projects for people with disabilities to promote a more inclusive sports environment... and I also have a laboratory, a dream of mine: «Carlos Sastre Sports Science», helping sports professionals to build their careers based on good health... I also represent the Fundación Víctor Sastre, founded by my father in 1982: the foundation promotes cycling and helps athletes to train both academically and athletically In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to meet people who dedicate their time and education to ensuring that people in need can have more opportunities in life... this has helped me to perceive solidarity as something special... I get involved whenever I can, learning to help people at the same time. Life is full of experiences that you don’t see coming, and you can’t help thanking destiny for allowing you to have them. Our aim is to enable children to enjoy cycling in safety and with respect, helping to promote a cleaner and more human environment while raising awareness of the health benefits of cycling and making cycling an integral part of their lives. We show that sport is something that makes children feel good, that can help strengthen their friendships by sharing experiences and adventures, improving their self-esteem and helping them overcome any barrier. We also help kids who want to race: we educate them on the rules of racing and those of the road, we help them to understand how important it is to respect their opponents as much as their teammates, but our focus is to always make cycling fun for them. Right now we’re helping 25 students in lots of different ways, and we’d like to maintain and even increase this kind of help. The students are all highly engaged, putting lots of effort and work into it every day with the freedom to decide whether they want to continue or not. Everyone knows what they are doing, and their determination is starting to deliver results».
What is your greatest satisfaction from this philanthropic commitment? «Being able to do what I like, being able to pass on my knowledge and see children grow up in a healthy environment, where they can have fun, learn and dream».
I’d like to move on to a very heart-felt topic, both for you and for Nobili... how can we raise awareness on the issue of ecological sustainability? «We all have the chance to improve our society, for the benefit of everyone... Children are like sponges, they learn through play, so let’s play with them! Here we teach kids the concepts of respect and cohabitation, along with many other things that will help them for the rest of their lives. Educating them from early childhood will yield great professionals in the future».
Can sport be a form of integration? How can you convey a correct balance between the concepts of healthy competition and inclusiveness? «Sport has always been a way of helping people to integrate, helping them see life from another perspective... The only way to achieve a balance is to know where we are and what we want... You can try to explain it, but it’s such a personal topic... The only way to discover it is to find your own balance».
What do sport and cycling represent in the lives of those you are helping? «Sport means a lot to them, that’s why they choose a sport that’s as demanding as cycling. But most importantly they see sport - in this case cycling - as an educational activity just like English, maths or physics. Nobody knows what the future holds, that’s why we work in the present».
How can you pass on the value of sacrifice, especially to the youngest children? «By giving them the chance to dream, to laugh, to cry, to suffer, to win, to lose...».
What do you think about today’s professional cycling? «I like to keep myself up-to-date...because I’d love to run my own professional team in the future. I believe in clean cycling. I know what I’m like, I know how I’ve worked, I know how much effort I’ve made to achieve my results, and the sacrifices I’ve made. I also know that suspicion always exists in the world. There will always be people who try to cheat, both in cycling and in society at large... The important thing is to keep fighting to be honest».
Tell us a story that the fans haven’t heard... «During my first Giro d’Italia, in 1999, we had a very long stage, 260 km leading to the Gran Sasso. It rained from beginning to end. I’d set the pace for my other companions for over 200 kilometres, and when we got to the foot of the Gran Sasso my strength was faltering, for days I’d felt the fatigue building, every kilometre seemed to last forever and I no longer had water or food... Some fans on the side of the road were having a barbecue... They gave me a skewer of lamb and a Coke... they literally saved me! Thanks to them I managed to just get to the finish line within the time limit, with 15 or maybe 30 seconds left... I suffered, I grew as an athlete and I learnt».
Can you tell us what cycling represents and has represented for you in just one sentence? «Cycling neither gives nor takes away... it teaches you... And I’ve had the chance to learn a lot!».
Willpower, sacrifice, continuous improvement, and a lot of passion: Nobili and cycling have always spoken the same language. Sastre’s victory at the 2008 Tour de France represents the pinnacle of a relationship that has taken our company on to the roads of the entire world through collaboration with several professional teams, as well as our organization of several editions of the Nobili Grand Prix on the roads of Lake Maggiore. It’s a story brimming with achievements: over 170 races won, including the 2006 Giro d’Italia two Paris-Roubaix, the two Deutschland Tour, the Milano-Sanremo, the Tirreno Adriatico, the Tour de Pologne, along with several national championships. The team also won the UCI ProTour team ranking for 3 years: in 2005, 2006 and 2007.