In a small town in northern Italy, a little more than 900 miles away from cycling’s grandest stage, a racer toils in anonymity.Instead of pedaling for oversized prize checks, Woody Creek native Alex Hagman has been racing for 50-pound hams and a flat-screen television. When you’re a young cyclist trying to break into stage racing in Europe, you’ll race for whatever they’re handing out at the finish line.So said Hagman during a recent phone interview from a bar in San Giustino, a tiny town on the border between Umbria and Tuscany.”The hams will get you through the next week. The TV I won, I’m planning on selling it to make some money,” said the 23-year-old local. It’s not the summer Hagman originally envisioned for himself when he signed up to race with a team consisting mostly of British riders and managed by a U.K. businessman who lives in Italy.Despite only competing in one stage race so far, Hagman is enjoying the experience.For the past couple of weeks, he has been living at the house of his team manager in San Giustino and training every day in the surrounding countryside. After hard rides, the team relaxes by the pool. The team has also been competing in regional “Gran fondos” – unaffiliated single-day races that attract swarms of professional and recreational cyclists, and offer a host of strange rewards, including large hams.”They’re a great training venue for a bunch of professionals where it doesn’t matter if you win or lose,” said Hagman, who won a mountain biking short-track national title in November while racing for Fort Lewis College. “It’s almost like a circuit that travels every weekend. The bigger ones can attract 10,000 people. The smaller ones can attract as little as 150. The biggest one I did was 2,000.”The lone stage race Hagman entered was in late May in Ireland, where he joined with another team for the RS – a nine-stage tour that covers 1,233 kilometers, most of it on the country’s rolling hills. He finished ninth in one stage and 14th in another, and came in 25th overall.The opportunity to race came about because another team of British riders was looking for someone to fill out its roster. Former professional cyclist Keith Butler was managing the team, and Hagman jumped at the chance to learn from him.”He has raced in all the classic spring and fall races in Europe,” Hagman said. “A real smart cyclist. Every night he’d sit us down and have a meeting. We went over everything – what to look for in the next stage, what we had just finished, where we had made mistakes. It was just a great learning experience.”The same can be said of the tribulations Hagman has encountered as a young cyclist trying to break into bigger races amid a deep pool of talent. Hagman admitted that his current team has yet to make good on some of its promises.”Ultimately, one of the key factors that brought me over here was the promise to get into [International Cycling Union] races and stage races,” he said. “It’s lot of promises that haven’t been kept. You just have to take it with a grain of salt and do the best you can.”This spring, while finishing his fourth year at Fort Lewis, Hagman contacted a number of teams to see what kind of offers he could attract. His former sponsor, Cannondale, wanted him to enter domestic mountain bike races this summer. Another U.S. road biking team also showed some interest. The chance to race in Europe was more enticing, however. The competition would be better, and the team would cover the lodging and entry fees, Hagman said.Hagman doesn’t regret his decision to head to Europe – in spite of the setbacks he has encountered so far.”It’s a two-way street,” Hagman said. “It’s amazing just living here and being able to train in the countryside. The mountains here make Colorado look flat, and the countryside is just beautiful. It’s a little disappointing, because I was hoping to get into some rally hard races and just get my ass kicked this summer so I can build to that level. I’m making the best of the situation. Drinking some Italian Chianti, soaking up some sun. I’m still having a lot of fun.”For more information on Hagman, check out http://www.alexhagman.comNate Peterson’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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