This coming weekend, a new challenge will await BMW works driver and BMW Brand Ambassador Alessandro Zanardi (IT): on Sunday, 27th September, he will participate in the prestigious BMW BERLIN-MARATHON (DE) for the first time.
However, Zanardi will not compete on his usual handcycle he won two Paralympic gold medals and eight world championship titles with. The Italian will tackle the 42 kilometres through the streets of the German capital on a recumbent handcycle, a sports device he has never used before.
The BMW BERLIN-MARATHON is held for the 42nd time this weekend. It is a real record event: 70,000 participants will compete; one million spectators are expected along the route, which leads through the centre of Berlin and ends with the finish at the famous Brandenburger Tor.
“This is a very exciting event for me and I am really looking forward to it,” Zanardi said. “It is probably one of the most important marathons in the world, with many top athletes from all around the globe, and it is a sporting event that BMW has proudly supported for many years. And most of all, Berlin is a city that is very special for me.”
After his serious accident in the Champ Car race at the Lausitzring (DE) on 15th September 2001, when he lost both his legs, Zanardi was treated in a Berlin hospital: “Berlin is the place where my life was saved and where I was kind of born for the second time. That makes my participation in this event very special for many reasons.”
Over the past weeks, Zanardi has focused on preparing for the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON. He borrowed the handcycle from his friend and teammate in the Italian national paracycling team, Vittorio Podestà (IT), and adapted it to his needs. “From a sporting point of view, it is a completely new adventure for me. I have never tried this type of handcycle before, and when I first jumped on it I had to acknowledge that this is a completely different sport,” Zanardi admitted. While he is riding his usual handcycle in a sitting position, athletes are lying down on a recumbent handcycle. This leads to major differences in many aspects.
“When I am sitting on my normal handycle, my torso moves together with my arms all the time in order to power the bicycle. When cranking, I use every muscle in my body. My abdominal muscles, my dorsal muscles, my shoulders – everything is working. On a recumbent bike, however, you are lying down and just use your arms. In addition, the movements are different to the ones I normally do on my handcycle,” Zanardi explained.
The cranks on the recumbent handcycle are much shorter than the ones Zanardi is used to: they are a maximum of 1,700 mm long, while on his normal handcycle he uses cranks with a length of over 2,000 mm. The rhythm is also different. He usually spins the cranks of his handcycle 80 times per minute, while on the recumbent bike the normal rhythm is between 105 and 110 rpm.
Another factor is the view: “As you are in a lying down position, you are basically looking at the sky all of the time. It is very difficult to look to the front to see where you are going. For me, the view is a big factor because I am not used to that position,” Zanardi admitted. “In addition, this type of handcycle is not easy to ride. It has a decent agility, but it is another thing to learn how to use that agility going at high speed on the road. And I am not used to that like the other athletes are.”
Accordingly, the Paralympic gold medallist and world champion sets his goals for Sunday’s marathon. “If I had to compete against the best athletes in the world in my class with my handcycle, I would come to Berlin with only one objective – trying to win the marathon. But I am going to challenge the best athletes of the world in a different class with a completely different sports device,” Zanardi underlined.
“So if I could finish among the first group of finishers, I would be extremely happy. I would think that I did an amazing job. It would be like a rally driver competing in a DTM race and finishing on the same lap as the winner. I am very excited about this because life is about having new experiences, and this will for sure be a very interesting one for me. I will give my very best and let’s see what this new adventure brings.”
The 42nd BMW BERLIN-MARATHON will start on Sunday, 27th September 2015, 9:00 a.m. The handcycle athletes will take to the track a bit earlier at 8:43 a.m.