Wed, 15/02/2012 - 09:35 -- admin

An interview with Flavio Zappi

Udo’s Choice are proud to announce their sponsorship of Pro cycling team Zappi’s Cycling.  Zappi’s Pro Cycling is a relative newcomer into cycling circles having only been formed in 2010.  However, already, even with limited budget, it has been punching above its weight by competing on a par with some of the top teams on the UK circuit.  Not only have the last couple of years seen exciting developments in the team but the future promises to be even more so, not only for the Pro team of 6 young riders but for the Zappi Cycling Club as a whole.

Udo’s Choice are keen to support young British cycling talent and the plans that Zappi Cycling have with support from Udo’s Choice should lead to some new exciting British riders coming through and challenging for Olympic squad selection and Tour challengers in the future.   With Udo’s Choice providing a nutritional foundation for their endurance and recovery the team is one to watch over the next few seasons.

The inspiration behind the set up and success of the club and the pro team is an ex-professional Italian Pro called Flavio Zappi and you would be hard pushed to find anyone, in any sport, more enthusiastic about their passion than Flavio.  Whether meeting Flavio in person, speaking to him on the phone or even reading his blog posts you cannot help to pick up his sense of pride and passion in what has been an integral part of his life – Cycling!

Flavio runs a Coffee Shop in Oxford where we caught up with him over a fabulous Cappuccino (what else would you expect from an Italian!)

How did you first get into cycling and when did you know that you wanted to be a Pro Cyclist?

FZ: Back in the 1970’s when I was around 14 years old my family lived in Italy and ran a hotel.  In 1974 the National Cycling team from Colombia were staying nearby for the World Championships which were being held locally.  This brought a lot of publicity and excitement to the area and one day my big brother took me out on a bike and from that day I was hooked.  My passion for cycling was fuelled by my brother and whilst he found that he could not race and follow his passion because he had to work a lot he passed on the passion and the challenge to me.  He inspired me to race and always encouraged me and within a couple of years I realised it was what I wanted to do with my life.  So in 1975 I began my amateur career at 15 by joining a team called US Carbonate and I quickly gained my first victory followed by eight top 5 finishes.   My second year brought eight victories and several more top 5 finishes, the highlight being my win in the Trofeo Ristaurant Romagna race organised by my father with the finish line right outside our Hotel and Restaurant – that was awesome.  My Amateur career continued with me becoming one of the top amateur riders in Italy.

I finally turned pro in 1981 joining the Hoonved/Bottecchia team.  I found it difficult to adapt to the changes initially.   I probably turned pro too early and suffered from immaturity both psychologically and physically.  Even the distances raced were a significant challenge moving up from 160km to 240km.  Nevertheless, within a few months I was able to win my first mountain stage as a pro.

What were the highlights of your Pro Cycling career?

FZ: During my pro career I had several top 10 finishes in races such as the Giro delle Puglie, Giro d’Italia and Tour of Suisse and in 1981 I finished in the top 5 in the Italian Championships.  I guess my most outstanding performance was when I held the Green Jersey in the Giro d’Italia for two weeks in 1984 before losing it on the very last day to Laurent Fignon.  Other highlights were finishing 12th in the Milano-Sanremo and racing the Paris-Roubaix in 1984, finishing as the highest placed Italian at 18th out of 300 riders.

Why did you retire so young from Pro cycling?

FZ: I retired in 1986 – Basically, I didn’t want to get involved with drugs.  There was increasing pressure on riders to use performance enhancing drugs to remain competitive, as if they could not keep up their performance levels they would not get the results required to maintain their pro status.

I wanted no part of that culture as I wanted to win with my own natural ability rather than a false, unnaturally enhanced version of me.

I turned my back completely on cycling at that point and concentrated on my family, as I had 2 young boys, and also began to develop a new career running the family hotel.

In going back to this “normal” life I started smoking, drinking and eating good food - over time putting on 20 kgs of weight and being far from the fit young cyclist I used to be.  I did this for 20 years until 3 years ago when my father died of lung cancer and I decided it was time once again to get fit.

How did you come to get back on your bike?

FZ: When I made the decision to get fit I rescued a bike from a skip and paid just £1.50 for it!  It was in a sad state of repair but I rebuilt it and started commuting to and from work on it.  I was being overtaken by other cyclists on those journeys and the old competitiveness immediately began to resurface driving me to train harder so that they would overtake me no more!  I started taking detours to make the commutes longer and I eventually got myself into shape, testing myself by joining the Oxford University Cycling team on a ride and performing well to the surprise of many of its members who had no idea who this “old” fella was on his old fashioned road bike wearing an Oxford United shirt, jeans and regular trainers.

At the same time I changed my diet by cutting out unnecessary “bad” fats and sugar, reducing portion sizes and eating a lot more veg.  I believe, and have always believed, that food is the best performance enhancing ‘drug’ of all – get our food right and it gives us cyclists a foundation from which we can train hard and race to our best ability.

I am now back into racing as well as coaching and my passion for cycling is more than it ever was.

Why did you set up the Zappi Cycling Club and the Pro team?

FZ: I set up the Cycling club in 2009 as prior to that I had continued to train with the Oxford University Cycling Club and helped coach some of the young riders there.  I set it up informally from my Café that I run in Oxford just as a bit of fun but it quickly grew as the café acted as a great place for cyclists to stop, have some food and drink, meet other riders and as a great start and end point for rides.  The club now has a membership of nearly 200 riders and continues to grow.

I set up a Pro Team in 2010 and after a break have re-established it to begin a process of development for the individual riders and the team over the next five years

What are your ambitions for both the club and the Pro team?

FZ: I wanted to create a club where young riders could benefit from each other and some coaching from an old hand – me!  Part of the problem in the UK with road cycling is that there isn’t the structure that there is in Italy.  In Italy, every village has an ‘old man’ who knows a little bit and can pass on the skills to the kids and then they move to clubs where there is more knowledge.

In Oxford I found there were four or five talented kids who all lived five minutes from each other but had never met, let alone trained together.  There aren’t the older more experienced people to teach them what to do, how to train, how to race and how to eat.

This I want to change so my ambition for the club and the Pro team is to support young local talent to fuel their passion and ability for cycling and help them achieve their goals whether it be to keep fit or perform in top national and international races.

I also have a five year plan to develop a full professional team and along with the other sponsors, Udo’s Choice will be a crucial part of that to provide the Essential Fats that are so important to a cyclist’s performance.

So this year the team is between Amateur and Professional level with the aim next year to have a Pro-continental team with more riders and then progress from there.

The current Pro Team of six young riders are over in Portugal training hard for three months before their first major race of the year – the Tour du Maroc in March.  Their first big race in the UK will be at the Lincoln Grand Prix in May - part of the Premier Calendar which they are competing in this year.

What are your coaching principles?

FZ: The main coaching comes from competing in quality racing and from here identifying areas for improvement.  The experience gained from racing cannot be over emphasised and with my input from observing them, which includes racing with them at times so I can more readily see what they are doing, gives them invaluable feedback.

They need to learn how to “feel” their body and see how it reacts, then adapt training and nutrition appropriately.  I am able to pass on my racing experience to them helping them to understand racing tactics which you can’t really learn from a manual, you have to experience them in a race – what works for different circumstances and what doesn’t.

Coaching academies don’t always have the resources available for the coaches to race with them and it is only then that they can really see the mistakes that they are making as individuals and as a team.  I will be racing with them in the Premier Calendar events this year and that will give me an insight into their style, mistakes, strengths and application.

You’re a great advocate of “Clean Cycling” – how important do you think good nutrition is for cycling performance and recovery?

FZ: 100% - there is no magic pill and good nutrition requires constant discipline – that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. I believe organic, natural food is the way forward – getting the right percentage of carbs, protein and fibre and the “good” fats like those in Udo’s Oil will help any cyclist, amateur or pro by giving them a solid, healthy and natural foundation from which to maximise their training and performance in a race.

Can you give an example of a balance that works for you and/or your team?

FZ: The team work on the following nutritional programme as a base:

Breakfast: This is the key meal of the day, and when about 35% of daily calories are consumed. It consists of fructose topped fruit salad, wholemeal or rye bread, yoghurt, fresh figs, local honey/agave nectar and muesli, with a tablespoon of Udo’s Oil. Choice of eggs, nuts and fish for protein and before longer training sessions, a bowl of porridge is added. A great blend of low G.I. carbohydrates with some sugars in moderation.

Lunch: Grilled fresh mackerel with garlic, lime and chilli marinate; rye bread; large bowl of garden salad with Udo’s oil and balsamic vinegar; mixed veg soups, lentil soups, mushrooms on toast or cous cous in peppers.  Again, low GI.

Afternoon snack: Avocado half, fresh figs and yoghurt.

Evening meal: Fresh fish pie with catch of the day, steamed broccoli and side salad.

Evening snack: Peanut butter on toast, with a cup of herbal tea.

We use Udo’s Oil throughout the day to provide a boost of all the essential fatty acids which could be missed out from our diet. In addition, Udo’s assists with our strategy for reaching a leaner body composition – by consuming a higher unsaturated fat diet (between 20-35% of total calories), the body is able to adapt to burning fat stores during low and medium intensity riding, preserving precious carbohydrate stores (which are, of course, in very limited supply) for the big push later on.

After another cappuccino we left Flavio to his other passion, running his Café and we wish Flavio, the Zappi Cycling Team and the club all the very best for 2012 and look forward to catching up with the team as the racing season gets under way for them in March with the Tour du Maroc.