RASMUS PELLIZOTTI - ENDURANCE CYCLIST AND EXECUTIVE IN THE PHARMA INDUSTRY
“With fear of sounding religious, I would say the Cent Cols Challenge changed my outlook on life. My perspective of what is hard and possible to achieve changed. I learned a lot about myself during the events.”
Rasmus Pellizotti is an amateur endurance cyclist and an executive in the pharma industry based in Denmark. After battling cancer, Rasmus entered the Rapha Cent Cols Challenge, the hardest amateur cycling event in Europe. The Cent Col Challenges involve climbing 100 Cols in ten days in one of Europe’s famous mountain ranges, which equates to cycling approximately 200 kms per day with 4,500 - 5,000 metres of ascent. On average, riders are in the saddle for 12 hours a day and burn through more than 8,000 calories. Rasmus is now an established amateur endurance cyclist having completed two of these brutal races. I spoke to him about why he enjoys punishing endurance events, how endurance cycling has changed his outlook on life, how he finds the mental strength to keep going during the dark times out on the bike, and the draw of the mountains.
What inspired your passion for cycling? Have you cycled since childhood or did you become interested in the sport more recently?
I grew up pretty far from everything and when I was little used my steel bike to get around. Up until I was 17-18 I was an ambitious football player, with the one dimensional talent to run fast after long passes and try to hit the goal. I picked up an injury and never made it back to the level I wanted and started my hidden passion - riding bikes. From that point it sort of took off.
What inspired you to enter the Cent Cols Challenge?
I went through some hard times fighting cancer and needed a big challenge to get myself to a new level. In the beginning, it was more about the process towards the race than the actual race itself. As the training progressed I found out it was possible and from there I never turned back. I love and hate the mountains. They have given me so much joy, but also so much suffering.
Is it fair to say the Cent Cols Challenge changed your outlook on life?
With fear of sounding religious, I would say the Cent Cols Challenge changed my outlook on life. My perspective of what is hard and possible to achieve changed. I learned a lot about myself during the events. There was huge satisfaction and joy after finishing the ride but then a big empty hole you need to be careful not to fall in.
Is part of the appeal of the Cent Cols Challenge, the simplicity of the event - wake up, cycle, eat/drink, sleep?
I saw the t-shirt too – eat, sleep, cycle, repeat. For me there is more to it. It is a routine yes, but you need to focus on the details and stay alert to what your body tells you. It’s a simple event with some roads and Cols and comfortable for me in that way – but at the same time a small error can be fatal for the completion whether it is a crash, sore knees or bad food management. I have seen many strong riders fall for this.
How do you find the mental strength to keep going during the dark times out on the bike in the mountains?
I find ways of disconnecting from pain, cold feet or fatigue. It can be talking to myself, counting pedal strokes, word games or reminding myself that I am actually lucky to be here. I had some really shit days on the bike, but how bad is it really 30 minutes later after a shower and a cold beer?
What do you enjoy about extreme endurance cycling events?
The complete disconnect from your desktop reality and busy life makes these events for me. When you spend 10-12 hours per day in the saddle there’s just no way you can avoid getting high on endorphins.
Do you enjoy the solitude of long days on the bike alone? If so, what is it about the solitude you enjoy? Or do you prefer to ride with friends and the camaraderie that involves?
I am probably a bit of a moody cyclist and I like the long rides alone. It gives me a different level of satisfaction and energy riding alone with only yourself to set the pace and direction. I was never really fast or good to position myself in a pack – but I found out I can go a long time at my own pace and for some reason I feel better after 3 hours when things settle. I do enjoy the group rides, but I tend to be a lone wolf in my training.
What do you think about when you are out on the bike? Do you think about work/everyday life or is riding your bike a method of escape?
The first hour is usually the daily things that need to be handled, but when that is settled I focus on my breathing, pedal strokes and the pretty things I meet on the way. I guess I always used the bike to ride away from difficult things and challenges in my personal life.
Is there a spiritual aspect to pushing the boundaries of what you are capable of in the mountains?
I must admit it can get emotional and a bit spiritual out there for me. When you are alone after a hard climb and reach the top you can find yourself almost wanting to cry a bit. It is strange mix of great joy and sadness for me.
Have you been surprised by what your body is capable of?
I lost 10 kilos for my first CCC and became 25% stronger – that means something in the mountains. And then I am just touching the tip of the iceberg. I was surprised how well I can recover even after multiple hard days – for me that is the key. I am usually getting better during these events.
Are you drawn by the romance and style of the sport?
I love the whole style and classic elements of the sport much more than aero this and that, your power to weight ratio and if you can save 50 grams of your carbon frame. For me cycling is more than speed and numbers. It’s a release, a special feeling, a journey – something you need to treat with respect. You can tell who understands and who does not.
Is your enjoyment of cycling long distances partly driven by your desire to explore and get closer to nature?
Absolutely – the satisfaction of finding yourself riding on a backroad in the Pyrenees without meeting cars or other people gives you time to reflect. I couldn’t live out there alone and love coming back to the city, but the balance of buzz and the getaway is something I need.
What is it about the mountains that you find so special?
There is no shortcut. Getting to the top takes an effort - no matter what level you are cycling on. The scenery can be out of this world and you want to stay forever – or you can be caught in a hailstorm trying to get down. You have got to deserve to ride the big mountains and be humble. I like that.
If you had to single out your favourite climb, what would you say?
Tough question, there are so many good ones out there. From the top of my head comes the Passo Manghen in the Dolomites. I try to avoid using the word “epic” but if you have tried this one you know what I am talking about.
Pas Normal Studios website: www.pasnormalstudios.com Headline photo credit: Jered Gruber