September 13th, 2018.
That was the day Italian cyclist Vittoria Bussi set a new record for one of cycling's oldest and most prestigious challenges: The UCI Hour.
Unlike outdoor cycling, the Hour is uniquely absent of variables. It's just you, a bicycle, a time clock, and the velodrome - a circular indoor track. For one hour straight, the rider must power through laps and attempt to cover the most distance possible. Fueled by HVMN Ketone, Vittoria is now the fastest women's time trial cyclist in the world.
Every month, we offer a new discount on select HVMN products for our podcast listeners.
Vittoria, thanks so much for visiting and coming by the San Francisco headquarters.
Thank you very much.
First of all, congratulations on setting the new Hour record. That's one of the oldest most prestigious cycling records. Congratulations.
That's an incredible achievement. Before diving into all of that, how's San Francisco? This is your first time in the city, right?
Yeah. It's amazing. You see photos on the web, it's really characteristic and I was lucky to be already on a ride on the Golden Gate Bridge and the weather was not really nice with me because it was foggy, but it's still so emotional and yeah, the most beautiful thing is the atmosphere. It's kind of magic to be here.
Yeah. We'll definitely we need to show you around the city the next couple of days. So you have a very interesting story of just personally coming from a mathematical background and going into cycling, for folks that haven't quite gotten to your story yet, where did that interest in cycling come from? How has your experience with mathematics informed potentially your cycling career?
Everything happened really fast because when I started cycling, I was in Oxford finishing my PhD in mathematics in the Oxford University and I was out of competition. I was used to compete in track and field and I was out of competition for a while because I decided to be full time a student to pursue my dream of an academic career.
So were you a high school track and field athlete or college athlete?
We don't have college culture in Italy. I did athletics when I was in Italy so when I moved to Oxford, I decided to stop because I competed quite-, I delivered in track and field so-
I was running in 1,500 meter and 5,000 meter in the track.
It's like middle distance runner.
Yes. I started to train for the 10,000 meter always in the track but then I decided to stop so who knows what would have been able to do if I-.
That's interesting. Usually when we have athletes on this program that are at the top leagues or Olympic team members, they've been playing that sport since they were a kid. You weren't cycling as a child, were you?
No, as a child I was everything except cyclist.
So you're a runner.
Yeah, I was a runner also because my parents were really scared about me falling from the bike, so I had two wheels on the rear.
The training wheels.
Yes. I was really behind other cyclists because I didn't have the chance to practice.
Were you always interested in cycling?
Yes. I like sport that you have to do alone. Even if there are teams in cycling, at the end of the day you're just you and your bike. So I still think that cycling is something that you have to be just you, so like running swimming, like tennis. So I have preference for sport that involve just you.
So you're not a team sport player?
You're an individual sport player.
I have to say yes. I tried volleyball but I didn't like much.
So you grew up playing a lot of sports I guess, and you just gravitated towards individual sport.
Yeah, I did many things and also swimming for a while but the thing is, I was in running a lot of fears. When it started to be like kind of professional activity, I decided to stop because I wanted to concentrate the studies, so that was the point when I moved to Oxford.
So when you were a kid, you're a girl, you're looking at what you wanted to do in the future, did you want to be a math professor? Did you want to be a professional athlete? What was a seven year old Vittoria thinking about?
There are many things around because my parents always said to me, "Oh, you have to become a doctor because it's always good to have a doctor in family." But then it's always your parent that give you advice but then you decide what to do and at some points, I really wanted to do athletics in my life. But then I met a teacher at the school and I just fall in love with mathematics, I even didn't know about mathematics specialization at university also because I did the classical studies in school like Latin, Greek, because I was more-.
So your undergraduate degree was-.
Not undergraduate but high school.
Okay, your high school. Okay, let's focus on-.
So I did Latin and Greek. So because I was oriented more on my parents suggestion, so to be a doctor, to be like what we can say like a standard job. So a classical study would have been the best thing to do so I did classical study and then I met this teacher in the school. She said to me, "You are good in maths, why don't try?" And was a nice challenge.
What class was it? Was it like a high school geometry or-?
Yeah, really basic because I don't know if you have here in US, but we have this specialization school which is very, more for literature, Latin, Greek, history and we do not much about mathematics. So we had like two hours in total, for week of mathematics so it was really basic. So it was completely a new challenge for me to then go to the university in maths because there you meet also people that come from scientific school so they do like three times what we do in the classical school.
You must've had some kind of innate talent because it's not easy to catch up if you've just been doing a lot less hours of mathematics. Did you just always have a knack for just visualizing the theorems? I'm a computer scientist by background and did a lot of math and I was a person doing math competitions in middle school and high school, but I really respect folks like yourself who've been able to complete a PhD in pure math.
It was hard.
It's hard to visualize. This is not like you can do quick computations in your brain, this is not like mental math little tricks, this is like can you visualize very abstract concepts and write proofs for them. So I'm just curious, just go from your perspective, does this is like sort of naturally click for you? Like when you're going from high school math to being a budding math academic, what was that process like for you?
My talent is that I can spend a lot of time on something. I am really focused person, I'm really constant when I do a program, I respect my timetable and everything, so I completely concentrated full time trying to learn mathematics from the basic. So I think I was like sleeping four hours every night to catch up with the other and at the end of the third year, when I got the first degree, I was the same level of the other and maybe more because I was really trying to catch up with others so I've more motivation maybe than other people say. And then at the end of the third year, you have to decide between applied maths or pure maths and I fall in love with pure maths, so really abstract theories that have not much to do with reality and I specialized in algebraic geometry. And then I start to dream about going out of Italy for studying.
So you're probably dreaming like hyper dimensional space, like manifolds, right? It's always something that I wish I kind of spent more time in college looking at because I think it is not necessarily practical in real life, but these are interesting topics to be able to grapple with in school. That's an interesting story because like you basically we're able to catch up and it sounds like you credit a lot of that to your work ethic and discipline, did you always have that? Did you just grow up as a kid just being more disciplined than everyone else or was this a personality trait that you created for yourself? Where do you think that comes from?
You mean the organization, the-
Yeah, the work ethic, right? Like if you're just sleeping four hours a day just to do math and I guess what, doing math 18 hours a day, 20 hours a day?
Or less, yes.
I definitely was not that disciplined. I wasn't doing math and computer science for 20 hours a day at Stanford. What was that difference? What clicked for you?
I think I was born like that, seeing the life or white or black, so when I start to do something, I want to perform at my best. It doesn't mean that it's the best, but it's just my best.
Like I always say, I want to be the best at what I do too. And I'm sure the listeners I think that are listening to this program are also motivated people, but I think there's a difference between, yes, I want it to be the best I can be and then translating that to I'm going to do 20 hours of math a day for four years.
If you have passion, if you have like a goal, I think you can do that. It's hard, every morning, that's the worst thing, so wake up, go out of the bed and you know that you have this kind of day. It's going to be like every day will be the same for a long period of time because you need to be like constant and you need to have a routine in your life without much other things around and be concentrated on what you want to do. And so when you wake up in the morning, you really need the motivation and it's the same when I did the Hour find the motivation every morning, I think it's the key.
Yeah, and what was that motivation for you? Is that just internal, like you just had a fire?
Were there ever days where you were like, ah, I don't want to do this. Thinking for myself, it's not necessarily easy to sustain that kind of pace for such a long period of time, right? But not for you, apparently.
For me something that works is that when I wake up in the morning, I say at the end of these days, I don't want to have regrets and I want this day is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today. So like you are constructive this way and you see like your life like constructing every day, day by day your dream and at some point, your dream are very close. The dream is approaching but you need to think like day by day. So I have the main goal, but in approaching the main goal, I don't have big goal. Like I see just one day and I say okay, I want to live this day 200% and at the end of the day, I want to be happy and without regrets about what I've done.
So you break down this really, really long journey into tactical steps and just make steady progress every single day. That's inspiring in a lot of ways because I think when people look at people that break world records, it's like, oh, how does one become the best in the world? And it's like a very impossible long journey, but if you can decompose that problem with small steps, then every day it's not something that you can't do.
It's too big if you think about the word project. It's the same, The academic career or the Hour record or my next project. So it's too big if you look at the end of the tunnel-
While you were at university, there's like a party that you wanted to go to or your friends wanted to go to a concert, how did you deal with that kind of social peer pressure? Because I think maybe one thing that is more of a commentary on society at large is I think a lot of people don't necessarily have very clear visions of what they want to do in the future and it's easy to low your own standards in some way. How did you combat that? Was that an issue or did you just avoid people that didn't have dreams and goals?
I don't avoid people that don't have dream, but I think the main problem is slightly different from my point of view is that people are scared to be alone with themself. So if you stay alone with yourself for long period of time, it's hard. It's challenging. So the thing that move people to go out and hang out a lot, too much sometimes, is that they just don't want to come back home, be alone with themself and think about the future. You have to be brave to decide about your future. You have to be brave to say, I want to go there, it's a big dream and it's not easy. So be with yourself and be honest with yourself, it's something that many people try to avoid. Sometimes I try to avoid and there are periods of my life that I didn't have any dream, any goal. And it happen, it happen to anyone.
So you've always been comfortable being by yourself then, so that wasn't an issue?
It's a process. I worked a lot on that, to be alone is scary. For example, when I have to go to altitude training, I have to be higher than 2,000 meter in a hotel at the very top of the mountain and there is nothing around, so you spend your days alone because you wake up-
Yeah. You wake up, you have to go on the bike and then you come back, you have lunch alone and all the afternoon is alone. And this have to be for at least four weeks because if you want the altitude to be effective, need to be at least four weeks-
Yeah, you need to adapt for-
So you have to be prepared to be alone and your house is too far away so you cannot go sometimes to your friend, TO your partner, so you have to be prepared to that.
And similar to when you're doing your math career as well, you were just-
Yeah, and math career is the same because-
You were able to sit down and just-
Yeah, you have to be alone with your thoughts and with your ideas. I've seen many people, for example in Oxford, going to some coffee shop to work just because they don't want to be alone. And I did sometimes, but that is something that give me the idea that people are scared to be alone with themselves. It's not that they don't have dream, but accept that you have a dream means also that you have to be brave, you have to sacrifice.
I think that's something that strikes close home for myself, that thought of introspection of thinking about-, being in your own thoughts and realizing your weaknesses, and areas that you need to improve. I think it's something that I've spent a lot of time in my own head because I think when you are trying to create a dream or goal, you need to really assess honestly where you are at today and where you need to go. I agree with you, I think a lot of people don't ask the hard questions about themselves in terms of okay, what am I not good at? What should I do to actually change my life trajectory? Sometimes these are hard questions to ask themselves. I think you lie to yourself that you think you are better than you are or there's some excuse that you have. Often times it's like no, just no excuse, you're just not good enough right now. What can you do to change to be a better version of yourself?
Exactly. Work on your own weakness, and try to sacrifice something because that is your weakness, and you have to work on that. It's not easy, it's not something nice to do, so people just don't want to do that, but you have to do if …
It sounds like, especially for what you do with the Hour, you almost are comfortable with the pain. The pain is not something to be scared of, it's just like okay, it's a natural process.
No, that's not completely true.
You still don't like the pain?
Yeah. I'm so scared about pain, I'm working a lot on that. Again, when I wake up in the morning, I know that I have to suffer. So how you motivate yourself, you need such a big motivation to convince yourself that you are prepared to suffer for a couple of hour at least. Also the routine, so wake up and do your usual breakfast, you don't have to change anything because you know that your stomach is okay with your breakfast, and timetable have to be really precise, because you want to avoid any digestion problem. It's hard because every day is the same as the other days, so there is nothing that change, so you it's hard to convince yourself that you're ready through the day. You need something really big as a motivation.
That's interesting. Even now you've spent what, hundreds of thousands of hours training, even like the incremental a thousand and one, the like ten thousandth hour of peak suffering, that's just as scary or you have just as much anticipation for that?
Yeah, I think it's physiological. Your mind want to protect the body from suffering so every training at some point when you have to suffer the mind send to the body the message, please stop, stop, is like a message that …
You told your brain to be like shut up< I know what I'm doing.
Yeah, exactly. That's the most difficult thing so when the fatigue arrive, you have to be prepared and welcome the fatigue. Understand okay, I'm doing fatigue, that mean that I'm working in a good way, I have to keep going because is this the moment in which I will grow up as an athlete?
Somehow though, you could say you are an expert in understanding your own physiological limits and pushing past them. Do you feel more confident that you've done that so many times, that you feel more confident for the next times you're asking more from your body?
I can say I'm more confident, but the nice thing about sport is that your body surprise yourself everyday if you go beyond your limit. That is the most interesting thing about sports. How your body react to the message of the mind to say okay, let's stop now because you are done. If you go beyond your limit, then you be surprised then you can go really really far from that message. That is the most beautiful thing I guess.
I feel like for me I kind of revert back to my norm sometimes because I work really hard to run this extra pace or this extra pace or this extra distance. Often times for a lot of athletes you'll have like a new set point. When you make a breakthrough, you're able push beyond your typical limit, but oftentimes a lot of people revert back to that same set point. They have a good day and then they'll revert back to their previous standard. But obviously for you, you are able to push your set point further and further and further where you have like a new baseline. Is that just a discipline, your body responding well to the training, what do you credit that in terms of being able to push that set limit beyond any other person?
There are many days in training that your body doesn't respond well, that's one. Because we are not machines, so sometimes there are just days in which the legs are tired, or you are not focusing enough. There are many days maybe more bad days than good days. What to do in case of a bad day, that's really difficult answer to give, because I'm first one to throw the bike and stuff to cry and say it's the end I'm not going to do that. Then it's the thing I said before, you want to have no regrets at the end of the day, so okay, let's go back home this day wasn't good let's try tomorrow, or let's agree with the coach another day of recovery. Have a plan for the future not a big plan but just for the next days help you to understand what's going on. It can be there are bad days, it can be that the weather is bad and you cannot train, so you have to take another day of recovery, and you took already a day of recovery the day before. You just have to get answers because you are recovering too much. There are many obstacle in training, and also you have a personal life. Sometimes it's just you have a discussion with your boyfriend, and you don't want to go out. It happen because we are human and that's the most interesting thing.
It sounds like another way to say what you are saying is that you have to be consistent over a long period of time. There's going to be variation on your performance, but if you can sustain that level of dedication for a long period of time, I think people can be bursty in terms of I want to be really really motivated for three days, and be really passionate for three days. But I think to really be someone that sets a world record or break what's previously possible, you need to be able to hold that passion for years. I want to talk about that, but I want to just close the story around you're a full time math student, math academic. You went to Oxford to do your PhD in algebraic geometry, right? You weren't working out, were you exercising too?
Just like casual running.
You were casually just keeping somewhat in shape but you were not, like the goal of being a professional athlete was not there?
Not in my mind absolutely.
Let's close that lip, what was the story that got you back into hey I'm going to be a cyclic professional.
Okay I decide to stop was never nice decision for me. I always kept my agonistic side in my heart, in the deep side of my body I always had that fire that I want to go back to sports.
What's the decision point? Why did you decide to go to math, versus being a track and field athlete?
I don't want to give responsibility to my parents, but when you are 20 years old you are young, and you are really influenced by your parents. Also because I have a lot of respect for them and their career, so I was looking at them like I want to be like you and I want to have this kind of life. I think it's normal when you are not a child but you are in that kind of age that you are a little bit undecided about your future. Parents have a good influence, they always give me freedom to decide but I was influenced by them.
Sort of the role models kind of education okay.
They suggested me to run with university, and they gave me freedom to go out for studies. I was lucky enough to be able to study without working, which is a privilege because not everyone can study full time at such a good university like Oxford. I think I was lucky I don't have regrets about that, also because I still love math and I miss math. Then bad thing in my life I lost my father. That was really a long process because he got a stroke. I was commuting one year between Oxford and Rome my city, to visit him in hospital. It was like really suffering period for my family. When you go in hospital and you see suffering of people, your point of view about life change. Also it was completely unexpected episode in our life, and it shake all of our family. When he passed away I decided to finish my PhD, but I wanted to change my life. I didn't realize at that moment it would have been in cycling or in sports in general. I just wanted to do something big, like live life in a really party way, giving like 200% of myself in every day. Live like it was the last day of my life every day. I had more energy when he died, it was like living for two people. I had more energy to do anything, and then it was scheduled actually. At some point I bought a road bike and decided to cycle. I started with triathlon because I was a runner before, and it was the only thing I could do running, so I was not really good on the bike. Triathlon is really common in UK, so I start to do triathlon but I still didn't have in mind to do something big. I had obviously this thing in my mind at some point it will come. When I did my first race in duathlon, I realized that I was good in cycling and I said okay let's focus on cycling.
You just realized you had some talent there, even though you had trained as a runner for …
Yes, I think that the motor that athletics gives you to your body is good enough for good cycling. Not really like elite cycling, I say it as good cycling but if you'll train in a good way then you can grow up really fast. I start to race and then I was contacted at some point from a professional team in Italy and I was like at my third year of my PhD, so almost finishing the PhD, so I decided to move back to Italy to meet the team.
How did they find you? They just saw like you had some good results?
Good results and also the manager of the team was in UK. We got in contact with the team, because he suggested me okay you are good probably in the propeller zone, so let's try to contact the team and let's just try first stage. I did the stage and it was good, so I decided to move back to Italy and finish my PhD just by email because it was at the end of the day it was just writing the final thesis so I didn't need to be there. In the meantime I was working also as a post doc in their college from Italy. Then I started my cycling adventure. After a couple of years I realized that I found what was the original thought after the death of my father. It was like do a world record. The most prestigious thing in cycling is the hour record, so I said I want to do the world hour record.
You locked in on that. I think what you said with living life for two people is really a stunning quote. I think that definitely resonates with me, that you are able to take such a painful loss and turn it into such a motivating factor and driving your life. Hopefully none of our listeners need to have such a physical loss to take some of that motivation to drive and create their own dreams. Hour record you basically kind of transitioned and respired as a cycling talent, and that kind of kicked off this cycling journey. I think a lot of people that end up setting world records, the typical story is that there's a seven year old kid that just wanted to play football, wanted to play something and just did that for their entire lives. Then just like keyed in on it and had parents who trained them or coached them up. You are kind of a triathlete, you are a kind of runner, cycling. Your cycling was just good enough to ramp up really quickly. This isn't like atypical for you because you kind of did the same thing with math right. Then I guess similar story of cycling.
I'm scared about what will happen next.
What was the timing on this? You've got your first professional cycling pot, and then you wanted to attempt the hour record and pursue that. That was like not a lot of time it was like a couple of years or something right?
Yeah because in 2013 I bought the bike, and I was still falling down because I couldn't clip the shoes from the pedal. It was embarrassing I have to say because of the girls lights, you are not still used to unclip the shoes because the shoes for cycling are not normal shoes, so you have to unclip the shoes. At the beginning you have this like embarrassing falling down because you cannot unclip the shoes. That was in 2013, then in 2014 I was like in Fiandre, which is so funny because I was already in the professional team in the propeller zone. I have to say I wasn't ready for that because riding professionally with that velodrome in races like Fiandre you don't need just the leg, but you need to know how teams work, and tactics, strategies and stay in a peloton of 200 rider, really aggressive peloton. My experience was not really good in road racing, because I realized that okay, I have legs but it's not enough. The races that were good were time trial where I was alone, just me against the clock. You need technicalities in time trial too, but not as Fiandre or big races in the velodrome.
I didn't grow up as a cycling fan but I've obviously gotten to know the sport a little bit working with you and other cyclists. I think a lot of Americans some are cycling fans but I'd say like probably majority of people know about the Tour de France. What is the strategy? What are the tactics? Obviously I can speak a little bit towards this but what are the things that you obviously saw firsthand that aren't obvious to someone who's never done or watched professional cycling? What are the tactics that are non-obvious in a road race?
You have to imagine there is a peloton, and at some point there is a rider that try to escape the peloton.
Yes so is a break away. Now you have radio that connect to the car, and from the radio you know which rider is the one that is in the breakaway. In that break way at least one rider of every team should be there, because the break way is going to go for the win, you need to make sure that every team put one rider in the break way. That moment in which the break way one is really chaotic, because you can imagine that every team want a rider in the break way. If the break way doesn't contain your rider, the team have to catch the break way and close the break way. This movements it means that the peloton is really chaotic in the time that is like five minutes even less I have to say. Now maybe not less.
Yes, less than a minute. If you are in the back of the bunch you have to move forward and go on the front, and try to escape or to catch the break way or to close the gap. If you are not used to that the first time, you lose the peloton.
There's also like huge difference between tailgating or catching people's break right?
Yeah. Also there are strategies in moving the peloton because it depend on the wind, if there is headwind or lateral wind. Then sometimes the car call you to take water for the captain, and so you have to go back to the car and take water, and go through the peloton, and give water to all team member so it's hard. If there is a climbing you have to help the climber the leader. There are many things that require a lot of time.
It's like non obvious definitely there's so much nuances at the very high level. It's like when do you time the breakaway, how do you draft off people.
That's the reality I have to be honest with myself. For example in team training I realized that I had good legs with respect to the other, but it was not enough in the race because I didn't have this smart mind to know what to do in which time. I spend like two years trying to learn in professional team I race a lot around the world it was really important for me. The time was telling me that I was good not in road racing but just time trial, me a time trial bike cost of 20K, 30k so an effort of 30, 40 minutes. Much more similar to athletics where you have to run in the truck 40 minutes maybe 30, 40 minutes if you do 10,000 meter for example. It was really like parallel the effort, I analyzed that maybe I have to focus on that. Just time trial was not enough, so I wanted to do something more and that was a long time trial that last one hour, is the Hour record. It's funny because when I realized that, I also realized that I wasn't able to stay on the track because I never entered in a track. Stay in the track means that you need to peddle on a bike that is not like a road bike. Is a bike without brakes, which is something that already like scare me.
Has no brakes on it?
Yeah, because it's dangerous because the thing that keeps you high in a velodrome is the speed.
It's dangerous if you break, because you fall down.
I didn't know that I didn't know the velodrome bikes had no breaks.
You have a fixed gear, so you have to pedal always otherwise you fall down again. I spent the first year in 2016 trying to understand how can I stay on the black line in the velodrome track.
Can you set some context on the hour record, so it's one of the oldest most previous records in cycling, it's a very pure record, because it is again you, your bike in the velodrome.
Weather condition are all the same for everyone.
I know that there's been an interesting history with that record because in a certain time gap people could have custom bikes that were very optimized just for the velodrome like almost lying down very weird designs and now I think over the last few years they just standardized the types of bikes that could set this proper hour record.
It is kind of pity for me because I enjoyed that part of being creative with your aerodynamics, with your position. There were a lot of study around the several position that they adopted in the past. Honestly I'm a fan of science so I don't find really nice to cut …
Eliminate just into like the standard bike.
Yes if I want to investigate on some weird position, why not? Point of view some point you have to standardize everything I understand that, but from the other point of view it's a limit to the mind to research.
I think that is sport does, sport is kind of a human defined limit of how you could score things. It's pretty random why is a three point basket this line two point, everything is almost arbitrary. There is some arbitrary limit now but this is the standard way that people measure who is the best pure cyclist for that hour. Let's describe the velodrome so it's like a curved track. What's the steepest bank like a 45?
The steepest part is a 45 degree angle?
Yeah, it keep the same for the wall so when you go out of the flat part it's already at 45. It's just more scaring when you are up, because you see all the velodrome under, but yeah it's still the same.
When you see the black line that's the first track?
It's the first line that you meet after you leave the flat part. It's as closest as possible to the flat part. You'll have to stay on the black line because if you stay there you are safe meter. You can ride everywhere in the velodrome, but when you do the Hour record you want to be as tight as possible.
As efficient as possible.
If you go too far out?
You lose time, you do more meter.
You do more effort per meter, because you are drifting, you are not pushing your energy straight in that line?
Yeah. Also because the length of the track is 250 meters, but is measured on the black line. If you go out of the black line, you maybe do 252 meters.
You are not getting credit for it.
That two meters every lap at the end of if you have to do 200 laps it's a lot of meters.
That's a world record. If you go too far in you fall off the …
You cannot because there are obstacle on the flat part, so there are like sponges. You can go on the sponges, but they are going to slow you down. Also if you go like 48 you cannot stay on the flat part, because you will just re-slip. You have to stay on that range. They say that four fingers on the black line is the best part to stay, so four finger up and four finger down. Is like maybe 10 centimeter of line, so your trajectory for one hour have to be in 10 centimeter.
Right so you are basically staring at this black line as you are pedaling for your life as hard as you can, and trying to truck as closely as possible and you do that for an hour. Is that a way for folks that are listening to visualize how experience is kind of like? It's like you are staring at a line and pedaling as hard as you can, and trying to keep your bike on that line.
Yeah you have to practice a lot, because if you try the first time you will say okay is impossible. Probably you will be able to keep that for two laps maybe, but you have to keep practicing also because the position is uncomfortable. Your head have to be really low, so I don't see far away, I don't see in front of me anything I just see the black line. Also my hand are hiding my head yes, because you have to imagine a kind of superman position. The hand have to hide head to cut the wind the higher seasons, so the head is really low, and you look just a little bit in front of the wheel. Visually you see the wheel, let's say like half a meter in front of the wheel.
You're not really seeing much?
No, I don't see anything. That's why for my position it was impossible to have indication of the lap speeds from our computer. Because some coaches use the computer to show you on a laptop the time of your lap speed just at the board of the track. For me it was not possible to see the laptops so my boyfriend was just shouting to me the lap speeds every lap.
You were able to hear?
Yes. We practice a lot of also that.
I was going to say like would you be distracted if someone's you know your boyfriend's yelling at you?
No, you have to practice everything, almost the most obvious thing like communicate with someone, you have to practice because it's not easy. Usually is really bad because you feel alone, because one hour is really long and you don't have any interaction with anyone.
Yeah, when you're in there, you're in there.
So it's just you and the black line that's it.
Let's talk about your attempts and then your successful attempts. Obviously you has a big push in September of 2018, but you had a first attempt in 2017 right?
Yeah, in October.
Let's talk about that trajectory and your training and when you got the confidence that yes this is what I want to focus the next few years my life to be the best in the world at. As you are going off to professional cycling teams you realized that you have talent for time trials, then you started practicing on the velodrome. At what point when you are playing on the velodrome where you are like okay, I'm going to go for the world record.
When I started to think about this world hour record, it was 46 kilometer so 173 meter. After few months it rise up to 47.980 meter. It was scaring because I was training for another distance, and at some point I have to say okay I have to add more than one kilometer, and I have to look at a new distance or go over 48 km/h. Which is still scaring for me to say, because it's really fast for one hour. I realized that I would have been able at the end of 2016. After one year of practicing in the track I said okay, with some adjustment to some position and material I can try to do that. That was the point when I started support from sponsor technical sponsor so the bike, the skim suites and so on.
Your training data showed signals like hey.
Yes, I decided to go to altitude because it shoot up the performance. That's something that I'm not completely sure about, because it depend on how your body react to the altitude. I really suffered the altitude, so I never did a good test at the sea level to compare the two things. It's something that's remained a mystery for me about one hour at sea level.
It is pretty standard most of the records have been set at altitude right? The theoretical trade off is that while you lose some oxygen, you get the aerodynamic efficiency of having less air to go through. That's something that I've been interested in from a training perspective because it is sort of conflicting data. It was interesting I mean obviously you made a decision to break the record at altitude.
There are many factor actually around that, I'll either be polemic maybe but …
I think there are so many conflicting variables.
It's just not about numbers, is also about like cause of are you in the track? That's the main point that's something that I'm really angry with that. Because in Europe if you want to hire a track one hour, cost like one month in Mexico. Hiring the track in Mexico for one month cost the same of hiring the track for one hour in Europe. That can be United Kingdom velodromes.
That's ridiculously expensive.
Yes. Can you imagine an athlete that doesn't have a professional team like weekends at the sky, so with a lot of money to ride in London track? For me was not really possible to train and hire the track for the day of the event. It would have been like an amount that I can even imagine, and also in Europe you have to warm up the track because you don't have weather condition that you have in Mexico. If you have to warm up the track you need to pay a lot like temperature that are ideal for the hour. I want to say that people say okay you go to altitude so is easier. I go to altitude because mainly economically it's easier. It's something that annoys me because I have to go to Mexico to train.
I didn't know that that's an interesting part of the story. When Bailey Reagan set the men's I record he was doing it in London?
In London but he said also I'm staying also at sea level because I did some test in altitude is not convenient. The main thing is that your body can react not really well to the altitude. It's personal there are some people that take just few days to adopt, for me it takes long. Even when I adopt it, I lose too much in term of power. I think the same but honestly if you are not in a professional team, and you don't have a big budget it's impossible to try to do one hour ever at sea level at the moment. I'm thinking about Australia also it's the same it's too much for example I did some winter training for the Hour, and they ask you to stay in Majorca to go there for training in the winter. The price are just like more than 200 Euro for just one hour training. Whenever we went for the hour I had to go to Mexico even in the winter to train.
How many hours did you spend on hundreds thousands of hours?
Let's say six hour a week, so three times two hours every time so is like 1,200 Euro per week who can do that? Even if you are a really big sponsor you really need something else. Some agreement with the track or something like that. Italy was the same I'm really thankful to the national team that allow me to train with them, otherwise I would have spent like millions of Euro.
It's an interesting subtle point around the business of sport it's interesting. What other things were you really dialing in obviously aerodynamics, obviously selection of the course and didn't have enough hours on the course you are really comfortable with the course. You mentioned weather as an interesting variable, because if there's certain types of storm funds or types of aero density that would impact the attempt. Nutrition what are some of the other variables that you had to really dial in that you can share with our audience?
My experience was that position was one of the most crucial thing. For example, my previous attempt, the one that I failed, was mainly because my position was not started in a very good way in the sense that I was trying to be too much aerial but biomechanically, I was not efficient. So you really need to find a good compromise. My sponsor, Endura, that allowed me to go to the wind tunnel, so we did some tests, was the first thing that we did after the first attempt to really see okay, maybe I go higher in position. Aerodynamically, I lose something but I'm much more efficient in pedaling, I don't lose power and things like that. Sometimes we are obsessive with being aerodynamics as much as possible but you always have to think about how your body reacts. It's the same discussion of the altitude. It's like okay, theoretically it's like that but this kind of thing you have to consider personally how your body react to position, to altitude, nutrition is the same. I cannot be on too strict diets because I get crazy so I prefer to be obsessive by for example, eat healthy but not too much strict diets.
Interesting. So I think a lot of our audience members play around with fasting, ketogenic diets, low carb diets. So how would you describe your diet?
I try to avoid unhealthy food but if I am hungry, I don't restrict myself too much. If I want a dish of pasta which is more full of usual, I will just go for it. Not every day, it has to be a good compromise so not every day I feel hungry and I want a lot of pasta. It's just sometimes if I want it, why not? Because I don't want to be too restrictive because I come from training, I suffered a lot and it's like a prize. Sometimes you have just to give prize to your body, to your mind.
Yeah. There's individuality towards what the body responds better to and I think for people that have weight management issues, when they're an athlete then you might want a more strict dietary intervention but if you don't have weight management issues then you just want things that give you ample amount of power. It's just figuring out what works for you, right? So for you, you just are less strict on the macro ratios, you're not really calorie counting and any of that.
No, I tried. I tried to count calories-.
Is it not useful for you?
It's useful if you can do it but it depends how you react psychologically. I feel too stressed about counting calories, so I just said okay, let's be focused on trying a good compromise. Some days you are more hungry, let's eat a little bit more if you feel that. Trying always to avoid a lot of oil, topping and these kind of fried things. I think I found a good compromise. It's different for example always about with ration, about integration so I'm really obsessive about being really precise on nutrition around usual food that we have for lunch and dinner. Integration of protein, drinking HVMN Ketone at the right time, on the right quantities and investigate about why I have to take protein, why I have to take ketone at this time of the day-.
Okay, so it became about timing. That's very important.
Yeah, exactly. Timing and quantities, don't forget to get your vitamins every day, your shake every day so I'm quite obsessive about this side of nutrition.
Do you have tight eating windows? Because some athletes have shorter eating windows or they have a lot of meals all the time right after workouts. Do you try to tighten your eating windows, for example, in the instance that you have a late breakfast or you do fasted training sometimes, do you play around with puredizing diet with your training blocks or is it pretty regimented every day? Like you have a set day and you don't really change up your routines?
In the winter I change it because fasted ride are really common in the winter because you're starting again so you're a little bit fat because you come from holidays. Every athlete on holidays just eat like … I think it's normal, it's good to kind of break the rule during the holiday so you need to start again with fasted rides and-.
It's good training for your metabolism, ramp up your fat oxidation because it will help all this glucose and ketones floating around. You need to train your muscles to be able to dig into its reserves.
Yes, I play a little bit in the winter while during the race time, my timetable, my food and every day I have to be consistent with the order. Also because on the race day, I don't want any surprise so the day before I prepare everything in chronological order on the table and I'm really really precise. Really obsessive because I suffer a lot of stomach problem so if I don't respect my quantities and my time to eat and drink, in the race I really have problem.
Yeah, that's one thing I think that a lot of non-athletes don't realize the impact. I wasn't necessarily a serious athlete and GI issues for fueling just seemed like, how's that even a concern? But as I've gotten more into training myself and of course talking with professionals like yourself, GI’s a huge factor for all this stuff. It's surprising that it's such a big impact. GI is such an important thing to manage which is kind of surprising for non-professionals. You think, oh, I don't really have diarrhea problems but when you're exerting that hard, you really have those kinds of issues.
It depend on the effort you're going to do. In training sometimes you can have small change in your diet. It will affect you but the thing is that you never reach in training the effort you have to reach in race. Don't ask me why, probably it's the adrenaline of the race that you push yourself really beyond your limit much more than in training. In training you can do a little bit of changes also because there are many more days of training with respect to race so it happen that sometimes, for example, the day before you can have a dinner out with friend and you drink a glass of wine, for example. You feel that in the day after, you feel everything so it can be that you are not perfect everyday in training but in the race if you do something wrong, you will pay that. So it will be a moment in which you have so much problem, your legs feel heavy, you have headache because digestive problem. So I'm really careful about that.
So what does the meal structure look like? What are the typical things that you eat?
The first thing in my day is coffee. I try to avoid sugar and then I have a pot with milk, semi-skimmed milk so I avoid fat milk. And then usually I have protein pancake or some integral bread with some protein like ham or smoked salmon and then it depend on the effort I'm going to do. If there are strong effort like race test or something like that, I stop eating like four hours before the effort, three or four hours.
Are you kind of snacking up towards it or you just like, you have breakfast …?
I was used to have some snack since I had tried ketone but ketone was a revolutionary part of my life because when you drink ketone then you don't feel the necessity of eating more so I drink my ketone when I know I have to drink it and then I'm okay. Maybe I just drink some carb drink or electrolytes drinking but not much.
It's a little bit of liquid just to keep your mouth-.
And again train without eating anything also because for the Hour you don't train like six hours so you have to do some quality riding so it will be like two hour riding, full gas riding but it's maximum three hour usually. So I'm just careful to eat straight after the training as I don't have any food during training. You have to be careful to have some supplements...drinking, shake, protein, electrolytes, vitamin, amino acids …
Have you tried ketone for recovery as well or are you mainly using it as a pre-fuel?
I use mainly as pre-fuel, I have to say. I do this shake and then I do shower and everything at some point of lunch, a kind of lunch, it's not probably a lunch because usually it's at three o'clock in the afternoon because the routine is quite long, I have to say. So I have this kind of light lunch. I eat everything but the quantities are small like some pasta, rice, chicken and salad; these kind of things. So it's just one dish but with a little bit of everything then a snack before dinner like yogurt or some walnuts.
So you would say fairly lighter towards the end of the day in terms of caloric load?
Yeah, because my breakfast is really big so I can go until three o'clock and I think one of the effects of ketone is that it keeps your-
We definitely should talk offline and figure out if we should experiment with the recovery aspects. The feedback we've heard on the recovery side, they feel fresher with the legs post-exertion so we should experiment with that. I'd love to talk about the attempt in September and then the eventual breaking the world record. So you had two attempts back to back. One, that's crazy because you went like 40 minutes or so.
44 minutes going as hard as you can and then you stop and then you go again the next day then actually break the record. Can you talk us through that? What was going through your head? What went wrong the first day? What's that story?
The story is that I was unlucky with the weather on 12th of September, so the first day, when I wake up …
I remember Michael, we were talking to Michael, “When is Vittoria going to do it?” And Michael is saying, “The weather, we don't know exactly the date anymore.”
I know because there was a storm in the night so when I wake up in the morning, it was so cold and I was many months in Mexico in my life and never it's been such a cold weather. As I was saying before, when you have not really good temperature, the air density change and this means you have to change also your power and so we are speaking about marginal gains. So if the air density is not exactly what you want, it's going to be difficult and struggling to break the world record. So we measured the air density and we decide with my coach to don't try that day because it was really too cold and also there are no warming ventilation in Mexico tracks so it was like 20 degree, even less and it's cold, even for training it's cold. So we decide to go there just for spinning the legs and just for a training to prepare the legs for the day after because I booked the track for two days so it was okay with commissar and everything. So I went there just for training and I was relaxed because it was no more the day of race, it was just a training day so I was relaxed and put the music as usual and at some point the sun came out and the sun in Mexico is strong. So the velodrome in less than one hour rise from 20 degrees to 32, maybe, so it was warm enough, really warm actually and so there was confusion about what can I do now? Why I have to lose a day because now the weather condition are perfect actually to try. So like in 15 minutes I decide okay, I'm warmed up, let's go. It was really stupid because it's the adrenaline of the day, I understand but I should have been more quiet because I decided with my coach not to start, try the next day and I shouldn't be influenced by my anything else but-.
Yeah, I was so emotional that day I took a decision that was the wrong one. So when I started, my legs felt really good I have to say because I was in good shape but mentally, I was never really prepared. I was really close because at 40 minutes I was at 47.920 so just 60 meter beyond, under sorry, the record pace. My boyfriend was shouting to me the lap splits and sometimes he said speed up, speed up because we are close but we are not on the record pace and I just couldn't. That is the difference between training and racing. In racing, you have to really push a little bit than usual training and if you have the right adrenaline, you can push that limit. If you're in training, you push a lot, you feel like dying but it's never like a race and in that day, I was more in a training mood than racing.
Your mental game wasn't there.
Yes. So speed up just a little bit but I wasn't really in a comfortable zone so I said I cannot speed up more so I just said to myself, okay, let's try to speed a little bit, see if I speed up, I wouldn't speed up. So at 44 minutes I decided to stop and everyone was surprised because I was-
You were close.
Yeah. From outside, you cannot realize that you're not breaking the Hour because I was so close but I wanted really to break the Hour record this time so I was confident I could do so I decided to do the day after.
So 44 minutes and you were just, “Okay, today is not the day. I want to stop.”
There was so much adrenaline. It was a decision that was taken from instinct side of your body but when I am back home I realized my choice, I start to cry-.
You were going as hard as you could, right? For 44 minutes that a lot of exertion.
So you were tired, right?
I was so tired and I said I'm not going to do that. Again, another stupid choice, I was wrong with everything. I was wrong with the decision of starting, I was wrong with the decision of stopping, so I was wrong with everything. I said okay, I'm wasting my opportunity but then maybe was the sensation that day if I wouldn't push everything, I would've lost all the last two, three years of my life. That kind of sensation of survival that gave me the extra energy to go, but the first minutes of the ride the day after, it was so awful because the legs were so heavy.
Yeah, I'm sure. Between the 12th and the 13th, you go home, you feel frustrated, angry at yourself, you were crying.
We had a pizza.
Okay, that cheered you up a little.
Yeah, because we couldn't eat again rice and chicken like usually. We just need to relax because there was too much tension. It was just me and my boyfriend there so we were scared, we were disappointed so we said, okay, let's just relax, let's take a pizza, let's see a movie and do some stretching and then go to bed. So we go to bed and I kept-
Did you sleep well?
No, I kept crying like until three o'clock in the morning. I was so nervous because I wanted to find the energy and I wouldn't find the energy I needed for a world record. I was like that I think until the morning.
What, like four, five hours of sleep?
Yes, probably. So everything was against the planning, against the preferred day of a race, so when I entered the velodrome, I realized it was really my last opportunity to give a sense of my last two, three years. I spoke a lot with my father. I'm not religious, so I don't think there is something after the death but for some reason, I said I feel like living two life. So I said okay, we are two people now so we are a team. And I had this extra energy to give it all. And also my boyfriend was so supportive. So that day, actually, it was shouting to me not much the lap speeds but shouting words every lap and after twenty minutes, my legs started to feel better.
Right, because you were still sore but you knew that and you were-.
Yeah, the first 20 minutes.
Even during the warm up did you know that-?
You knew you were a little off but your mind was like I'm going to do this. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do this.
Yes. I was so focused. My mind was so focused. Also because I've done hard training. Like Saturday and Sunday, I did already, two consecutive days, I've done many times. So it would be like suffering but at the end of the day-.
You've done it before.
Yeah, I've done it before so I don't have to be scared. So after 20 minutes I start to feel better and the worst part is the middle part because at the middle, you're not fresh anymore and you don't see the end. So the minutes between 20 and 40 were the more riskiest but I felt actually better than the first part. So that encouraged me, after 40 minutes, I speed up so much like riding a 48 and 500 average. So that was the point in which I started to believe it was possible. So the last 20 minutes were the best 20 minutes of my life I think because it was so exciting. I felt so faster and plenty of energy and I was seeing the dream really approaching to me. I was like dreaming about that in the last three years and at some point I said, okay, I'm just 20 minutes away from the dream so it was so exciting. When I stop I didn't realize anything, I was just shouting to release the adrenaline but it took a little bit to realize that I broke the record.
Wow! And when you knew you're on pace and over pace, it sounded like you were joyful that you were living out this dream, wasn't that distracting to think about winning or were you focused on ...? Thinking about winning or breaking the world record, wasn't that distracting while you're still in the attempt?
On the contrary, it was like pushing me.
Yeah, so I was saying, okay, I will do that. So it was really my motivation.
And then when you finished, you didn't even realize it.
No, because actually it was just 27 meters which means like I broke it for three seconds, maybe. So I wanted to be sure and my boyfriend said, "You did it!" So I start to shout, "What do you think?" And the first thing I did was to kiss the track because it's just you and the track. So it was like I was thankful with the track. It's just you have the sensation of respect and love to the track because I spent so much time with her. So the first thing that I did before kissing my boyfriend was kissing the track. I was thankful with my boyfriend because he did everything for me, really. It's not just something that you expect from a human being. He was like psychological support, mechanic, physiotherapist, a friend, so everything. He was my team in that moment because that hours were really difficult because when I stop the first time on 12th, it's like you feel also embarrassed to explain to the world, to your sponsor, that they are believing in you. So it's difficult to give them a justification to say to them what's going on so I just switch off the phone, give to my boyfriend and said okay, give me few hour more and I have to realize this dream for everyone that is believing in me. So we were just two at the end.
It must have been such a culmination of so many different things to finally achieve and break a world record. What did the rest of the night look like? Was it like eat more pizza or just like I just want to sleep?
It's weird to say, but I didn't want to relax too much because I knew that my season wasn't finished. So if I say to my body, I'm done and relax even for one day, I think that my body would have relaxed too much because I was really looking to have some rest. So I have to be careful to keep my body protect from freedom. It's weird to say but I had to go back on the bike the day after to keep training because I had two other races in the season and I know my shape was good so I really wanted to perform well in completion especially with other athletes. Because I was out of completion for two years and for me it was really important to go back to competition. So I wanted to keep like celebration really small, so we had a dinner and the day after was like chatting a lot with friends and photos and journalists from Italy. So it was a party environment but I had my training, I had my food. I didn't change much from my routine I have to say and this pay off because I had my two last races were really good so after the 14th of October, so after one month of training, after the Hour, I could relax and party and enjoy the success of the season.
Well deserved. So looking ahead, what next? I know that, obviously, you have big dreams ahead. When you talk about accomplishing a dream, is there a next dream? What is that next dream? There's always going to be a next dream.
The dream, first of all, would be like keep cycling. Because it's not obvious, especially for a female cyclist, we don't have any contract in Italy especially because it's still not recognized as a job, so it's all about teams and sponsors. So the first dream would be, keep going with cycling and then if I would be able to train, I really would like to do another step forward. So concentrating in time trial races and still doing a lot of track because I think that track training is really the key of a good training on the road too. And I would like to do a good performance on the national and also in the international time trial, so trying to keep my story a little bit particular. So I don't want to be like in a team, in a professional team, I want to keep going with my story and do some quality job in time trial because I've been always thinking that time trial is something different from road racing. So it's still cycling but they are completely different and you need to focus just on time trial if you want to specialize in time trial. So I want to pursue this street of being good quality athletes in time trial and inspire, especially in my country, while the culture of time trial is not so high like in Netherland, like in UK or here in US. There are really good time trial and we don't have really good time trial in Italy so, I would be, like try to ...
Almost build a sport in your home country.
Yes. That would be the main thing. So I'm looking for good performances in time trial.
And hopefully 2020?
It's the dream of every athlete so yeah, it's really a dream for now. It's like thinking about the Hour league three years ago.
Well, I think given your track record and your dedication here, just keep plucking at it every single day. So where do our listeners follow you? How do they keep on top of your story? Obviously, we'll stay updated and continue to have these conversations as your career evolves in the cycling world but how do people follow you?
Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, usually I like to-.
It's Vittoria Bussi?
Yes. Vittoriabussi87 for Facebook. Yeah, you can find me, Vittoria Bussi, I have a personal page and a fan page profile so I like to post some of my training, my adventure out of the bikes. It would be nice to follow me.
It's a rare opportunity to get into the mind of someone who just recently broke a world record. Again, congratulations and thanks for having this conversation.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
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