Italian racer Alberto Bettiol is one of the big names in the sport of cycling, riding for the EF Education-NIPPO World Tour team. The 27-year-old Bettiol got his first professional win in 2019 at the Tour of Flanders, one of the five monuments of men’s road cycling. Winning a monument (the oldest and most prestigious one-day events in the sport) gives a rider infinite respect for the rest of their career throughout the peloton, and makes them a household name for fans worldwide.
We spoke with Bettiol leading into this week’s 2021 Tour of Flanders about his career, tactics, goals, and more. Additionally, we dive into his WHOOP data from another of cycling’s monuments, the 300-kilometer Milan-San Remo, held two weeks ago.
Can you tell us a little bit about your early years, how you found the bike and ultimately turned pro?
“I started cycling when I was about 6 years old. At that time I lived in the same complex as the President of a little cycling school in my town. He convinced my father to give me a chance to try this sport instead of soccer or basketball, which are really popular in my area. I loved cycling immediately. Since the very beginning I won a lot of races, and that allowed me to keep on going forward over the years. When your passion meets your job, you are lucky man!”
You seem to really excel in one-day events, is it safe to say you enjoy that style of racing?
“Yes, I prefer one-day races, or at max one-week races because of my attitude and personality. I also do race [longer] Grand Tours, I don’t excel in them but they help me get in the best shape. I always do my best in one-day races, especially the longest ones like Tour of Flanders or Milan-San Remo.”
You won your first monument at the Tour of Flanders two years ago, when you see the photo at the finish, it’s just a sea of spectators. Can you describe to us the feeling of that moment?
“The emotion comes back every time I see pictures and videos of that day. It’s something you’ve always dreamed, and it takes a while until you realize what the victory really means–for you, your teammates, the team overall, and for family and friends. It was such a huge victory that changed not only my life, but also many of the people around me.”
How does your team help you during a monument race like Tour of Flanders?
“Team is crucial in cycling, especially in long races where there are a lot of variabilities. Anything can happen–crashes, [tire] punctures, you may need water or food, a vest if it’s cold, etc. You burn almost 8,000 calories in races like that, so you have to eat every 20-30 minutes, and drink a bottle [of water] every hour at least! Having a team structure allows you to save your energy for the final part of the races. It also helps you to keep your position in the peloton when the road requires it.”
What does your week look like leading into the race, or even the morning of?
“Well, normally for the Tour of Flanders, you start the week with Gent-Wevelgem, a classic race that happens the Sunday before. Then an easy rolling the day after and Tuesday, like 1.5 or 2 hours. On Wednesday we race again, in Dwaars door Vlaanderen. Thursday is easy again, and Friday is recon of the course. We do about 90 kilometers normally on the roads of Tour of Flanders for the last check of the materials, tire pressures, and to refresh your mind about the entire loop. Saturday one last easy spin, and on Sunday, full gas!”
Bettiol wasn’t yet a WHOOP member when he won the Tour of Flanders in 2019, so to get an idea of what his performance may look like this weekend, here’s a glimpse at some of his WHOOP data from Milan-San Remo.
After a string of green recoveries all week, on the morning of March 20th Bettiol’s heart rate variability was 109 milliseconds, and his resting heart rate was just 34 beats per minute. His official race time that day was 6 hours, 45 minutes and 20 seconds (7:14 behind the winner), but he was on the bike for more than seven hours.
Below is Bettiol’s heart rate data for the cycling activity logged in the WHOOP app:
Bettiol’s HR topped 100 bpm right from the start, and basically stayed there for the duration–averaging 124 bpm for 7+ hours (90 bpm higher than his resting heart rate). It never dipped below 110 over the last 150 kilometers, and maxed out at 193 bpm as he pushed for the finish line. Amazingly, amongst some normal cardiac drift, his heart rate actually trended upwards throughout the entire race.
Here’s a chart depicting the amount of time Bettiol spent in various heart rate zones (based on the percentage of his max heart rate):
To the casual observer, being below 70% of his max heart rate for the majority of the race may seem surprising, but keep in mind he was riding for over seven straight hours. His WHOOP strain for the event was 20.5 on our 0-21 scale (as was his total day strain), virtually as close to an all-out effort as is humanly possible.
We wish the best of luck to Alberto at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, and make sure to check out our custom-edition EF-Nippo kit for your WHOOP Strap!
Photo Credits: Jered Gruber & Ashley Gruber | Gruber Images