When I walk in the evening of Livigno, avoiding the streets of the center, I need only a few steps in the right direction to find myself completely alone, in total peace.
Immersed in the nature of a unique place, like no other in the world, I try to find my inner balance. At least for a moment.
It's the apparent calm that only these mountains can give me, and while I stretch my body's resistance to the maximum, my mind rests, cuddled by the context.
Sport, at a high level, consumes you.
It eats you up.
Crushed between your own expectations and those of others, on which the wind of forced motivation always blows strong.
Anything that has the power to keep you on the edge, to make you go further, is welcome.
For a week, for a race, for an hour or for a minute, it doesn't matter.
When I find extra motivation in the back of my skull, or in my stomach, I cling to it tightly, with two hands, at dead weight, and let it be the one to get me through one more step.
Fear of failure is a reason.
Money is a reason.
The pleasure of feeling physical pain is a reason.
Thinking back on all the days spent away from family is a reason.
Everything is, everything is welcome if it allows me to continue, to win.
This doesn't always make me feel at peace with myself, quite the opposite.
I would say that for almost half of my days I feel exactly the opposite.
Sometimes I even hate myself and what I'm doing.
Because if you want to last long in sports you have to know how to extract light even from the dark motivations, without them taking over but also without ever blocking them.
Without ever lie to yourself.
In triathlon as in life, we all pursue happiness, but this does not authorize anyone to tell lies. The exact moment you tell one, that one brings another with it. And another. Justification after justification, at some point, the words become self-pity, and before you know it you're living a false story.
Sports are hard, sports are cruel.
And triathlon is more so: it will eat you if you don't eat it first.
This is why spending days here every year is so important to me. It's the time I take for me, for my balance, to try and realign all my thoughts, cradled by the hospitality of the people and with my eyes filled with the beauty of the mountains.
At our level, nothing happens by accident.
Nor did it happen by chance that I discovered Livigno: it was the result of research done with the utmost attention.
Before dedicating myself completely to triathlon, before turning professional, I studied physics, and I believe that that mathematical and punctilious mentality has remained in me, as an integral part of my sporting success.
It's not just the strongest who wins, it's the person who uses the best technology, who studies the details the hardest, who keeps looking for a way to stay ahead of the competition.
Those who are never satisfied.
I was one of the first to do that. I always thought about what could make me a better athlete, even, if not especially, at the time when I didn't need it. Because it's just when you're at the top that others start going out of their way to try to pull you down.
Many people have the right engine, but not everyone works hard enough. Those who want it the most emerge, and those who, in order to succeed, control their thinking, their will, to the hilt.
You have to be brutally honest, always, recognizing the moment when you begin to insistently slam into your limitations of yesterday. Or the day before yesterday.
You have to have the strength to always question yourself, searching for the solution to a problem that others haven't even realized they have.
It was to climb one of these steps that I chose to incorporate altitude training into my routine a few years ago. To dig a little further, down, deep into my backpack, into the box of tricks, crossing the line back then.
We looked, and examined, and evaluated all those places, in Europe and around the World, that offer adequate facilities to do so. That has the right altitude. The swimming pool. The athletic field. The trails. There are few. And of those few, none are like this one.
I have always been this way, throughout the course of my career.
A dissatisfied perfectionist, sometimes intractable when the races come around, living in perpetual balance between the excitement of doing what he enjoys and the doubt of not having done it to the highest level possible.
I've been this way since I was a kid, and at this point, I think I'll always be this way.
I didn't seek out the sport, it directly found me.
They would probably prescribe me some kind of treatment today, but they didn't then and running, swimming and cycling was my outlet: sports was an answer.
I remember in elementary school, one day, they published the school newspaper, in which each student could write what he would become when he grew up. And among astronauts, secret agents and, lion tamers, I, at 9 years old, wrote: professional triathlete.
I don't even know how many professional triathletes there were in those years.
Perhaps, on closer inspection, mine was the most imaginative of all the answers, but I had clear ideas. Very clear. Because nothing gave me the same satisfaction.
The food tastes better, the couch is softer, you're more alive than ever when you feel that feeling of complete physical exhaustion that only a workout done right can give you.
I immediately chose an individual discipline that was all my own.
I didn't want to be a piece of a team, I wanted to be the whole team.
I wanted to be free to train harder if I didn't feel like I was good enough in a race. To try harder. To push harder.
And in triathlons, that's something I've always been able to do.
I've built my way of experiencing competition, my way of dealing with it, and my way of planning an ever-new future in which I'm better than I was yesterday.
Whatever it takes.
It didn't happen for free, far from it.
It came by learning not to come to terms with anything other than excellence, it came with the pursuit of perfection, which thank goodness is never really achieved and therefore always remains there in front.
I have created a system, which works for me, and which surrounds me with the best facilities, the best collaborators, the best technology, because triathlon is a bit like Formula One, and only by studying every bit of telemetry can you put together the mosaic of a fair race.
Every competition is different, every day a struggle, but even when I know it's impossible to win, I still manage to demand something unattainable from myself, so that I can keep my body under stress, and my brain on alert.
It's like a stream of unconsciousness, that the more you're into the race, the more you're into the performance you wanted to do, and the less you remember how it went.
In good races, I remember almost nothing of what I thought during the hours of fatigue, and when I cross the finish line it's like an alarm clock going off and bringing me back down to earth.
In bad races, on the other hand, I remember all my thoughts, which pollute my mind and instill all kinds of doubts about what went wrong on the approach.
But the absolute best performances are not the ones where I feel strong, impervious to everything, they are the ones where the fears come and I have the presence of mind to cast them out, to embrace the pain. When I feel like I've controlled my mind in the face of the cliff, that's when I feel ready to jump off of it.
So here I am at my age, still crossing legs and souls with athletes nearly half my age.
I'm here learning about the latest technology, studying my opponents, and scratching forceful grams from whatever motivation I can muster.
Be it the kind that makes me sleep soundly at night, or not.
I'm here doing the high altitude retreats in Livigno, away from the family, because I know they represent the best in the World, and I could never, ever, leave any stone unturned in achieving my goals.
No, the sport hasn't eaten me yet, because I'm always one step ahead of it.
Whatever it takes.
And land in one piece.