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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Cesare Benedetti, the tireless team player

Benedetti is a tireless workhorse for Peter Sagan, something that makes his sole Giro stage win taste all the sweeter.

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Throughout the Giro d’Italia, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.

The Giro d’Italia inspired Cesare Benedetti to become a professional rider.

Now in his 12th season as a pro, Benedetti forged a career supporting some of the world’s top riders to victory, including Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett.

Growing up in the mountainous Trentino region, it was hard not to be touched by cycling. Chasing the Giro d’Italia through the Dolomites with his father and watching some of its most historic moments from some of its best-known climbs gave the young Benedetti the cycling bug.

“I started to race because one day I wanted to be among the pros in the Giro d’Italia. Now it’s my sixth one,” Benedetti told VeloNews. “I remember the very first time I watched it, I think I was six or seven years old.

“The Giro was going through my region, and I remember driving in a very small road in the forest with my father to reach the parcours because the roads were closed.

Also read: Giro d’Italia unsung heroes: Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier the aspiring GC talent

“I can’t remember that much about the race but three years afterwards we went to the Dolomites to watch the race with my mountain bike. We were on Passo Pordoi and twice on Passo Sella, one time it was also the day when Marco Pantani got his first pink jersey (in 1998).”

Benedetti and the rest of the peloton will be riding up the Passo Pordoi on stage 16 of this year’s race. The climb is the highest point of the Giro d’Italia, also known as the Cima Coppi.

Though he won’t be up front with the climbers, he is likely to be traveling somewhat faster than he did the first time he attempted the ascent as a nine-year-old. There will be far fewer fans on the roadside, too, though those that are able to sneak up to the top will be cheering him just as fervently.

“I come from a small village and I wasn’t used to seeing so many people. The crowd up there was unbelievable,” Benedetti said of his visit in 1997. “I was climbing with my bike up to Passo Pordoi, without any training because I used to play football at the time.

“When you see a small kid on his bike then you cheer for him, even if you don’t know him. It was a nice atmosphere with the fans before the caravan and the race. You can see the riders for a few seconds, but it is just like being in the stadium.”

Success at the Giro d’Italia

Cesare Benedetti wins a stage at the 2019 Giro d'Italia
Cesare Benedetti won a stage at the 2019 Giro d’Italia Photo: Diego Puletto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Benedetti has made his name in cycling as a strong workhorse in the peloton, able to drag it along at an interminable pace to support his leader of the day. From Peter Sagan to Pascal Ackermann and Rafał Majka to Sam Bennett, Benedetti has dedicated his talents to some of the world’s top riders.

Also read: Giro d’Italia storylines: From Peter Sagan to Egan Bernal, here’s what we’re watching this month

He realized early on that this would be his calling, which made his stage victory from a breakaway in Pinerolo all the more surprising. Though he is a rider who does not seek reward and plaudits for his efforts, it was a nice reward for the years of work in service of others.

“In my first seasons as a pro sometimes I tried to score results myself, but I was focused on helping out my teammates because I noticed when I became a pro that I didn’t have the level to win races,” Benedetti told VeloNews. “In 2019, I didn’t expect any result. I was in the breakaway because I might have been useful for Majka, but the break got a big gap.”

“We were like 25 guys and I was watching who is in the break and thought maybe if we make it then I could be like sixth or seventh. Finally, I scored the big result. It was nice. It was a good prize for my job in the previous years.”

“When it happens rarely or only once then it’s even nicer. I don’t know if Peter remembers all of his wins.”

A fight with the mind

Last year’s Giro d’Italia brought another, more personal, victory for Benedetti. Rather than on the road, the battle was with his own mind and the weighing scales.

Cyclists are always hunting for that few extra kilos to lose and when it appears to be going in the wrong direction then it can be frustrating. Benedetti found himself often unable to peer at the scales for fear that he may have added an extra kilo, which would then plague his mind for the rest of the day, and he would require the team doctor to do it for him instead.

At last year’s Giro, he was finally able to do it without obsessing over the number on the scales below him. It was a big victory for himself and his own well-being.

“The problem is that weight is very important in professional sport,” he said. “I started with a diet when I was 14 years old. Sometimes, you are able to control everything, and other times it was blown up in your mind.

“Sometimes, if you check the weight and you don’t have the weight you want, you’re already done before the start because you just think about your weight and you think it’s going to be a and day because of that. Sometimes the only thing that counts is your weight or what you eat.

“Last year, I was able to look at my weight on the scale every morning and be quite relaxed about that. My mind was in peace with the result I had on the scale. If it was one kilo less or more, I would say to myself it’s ok it’s not a big issue. After many times getting stressed about the weight before a stage, last year was good.”

The fight with the scales is an ongoing battle for Benedetti, as it is with many riders, but he finally feels like he’s got his worries under control.

“It is going better,” Benedetti said. “It’s not easy to get rid of certain problems but it’s easier to get used to living with it in the best way possible. I think it is something I will always think of through my whole life, I hope not, but I just need to live with it and not think about it too much. You just need to be good to yourself.”