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Italian pro cyclist now rides to deliver medicine during coronavirus outbreak

Italian pro cyclist Davide Martinelli uses his bike to help deliver medicine to elderly residents of his hometown in northern Italy.
(Luca Bruno / Associated Press)

There are no fans lining the road. No teammates providing support. And there is no race to win.

Professional cyclist Davide Martinelli has achieved a moral victory, though, by using his bike to help deliver medicine to elderly residents and others in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The service is of great use in Lodetto, Martinelli’s hometown in the hard-hit Lombardy region of northern Italy. The village has neither a pharmacy nor a supermarket.

Martinelli makes a daily trip to Rovato, the next town over, to pick up supplies.

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“I’ve got a bike and two legs in pretty good form, so riding 10 kilometers [6 miles] a day is no big deal,” Martinelli said in an interview this week. “I wanted to help the people who always support me during the season. It’s time to give back to them.”

Don’t drink that espresso too close to me, and stay out of St. Peter’s Square. The Italians are living through the quarantine of the coronavirus.

Martinelli joined up with a Facebook group called Lodetto Solidale (Supporting Lodetto) where those in need can place their requests online, by phone or message.

Martinelli receives his orders each night and maps out a route for the following day.

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“I go to the pharmacy, and when I arrive outside, I put on gloves and a mask,” he said. “If I go for three or four people, there’s less risk of contagion.”

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With a population of 1,500, everyone in Lodetto knows who Martinelli is. Or, rather, they know who Martinelli’s father is.

That’s because Giuseppe Martinelli is one of the most successful team directors in cycling, having guided the likes of Marco Pantani and Vincenzo Nibali to Tour de France victories and a handful of riders to Giro d’Italia wins.

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The elder Martinelli said that what his son is doing now is “a step above a victory for one of my athletes, because it’s gratifying to him and to us because he’s part of our family.”

Davide Martinelli is also part of Giuseppe Martinelli’s Astana team — the squad that Lance Armstrong rode for in 2009 when he came out of retirement.

Still, Giuseppe Martinelli said he had nothing to do with his son’s initiative besides offering fatherly advice: “I just said, ‘Be careful. Be safe. Don’t touch anyone. Use a mask and gloves when you enter the pharmacy.’”

At 26, Davide Martinelli likely still has his best racing years ahead of him. So far in his career, he has won only two stages in minor races — both in 2016. This initiative has brought him more recognition than anything else he’s done on his bike.

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Professional athletes were at first allowed out to train during the nationwide lockdown in Italy, but the government ordered them to remain home after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed to 2021.

Elite competitors face a different reality today since the pandemic upended their training and competition schedules for the Summer Games in Tokyo.

“But don’t think for an instant that there’s some sort of training strategy behind all of this,” Giuseppe Martinelli said of his son’s initiative. “Eight out of 10 times he goes out with normal running shoes and his mountain bike. ... So we’re talking about 30 to 40 minutes twice a day and sometimes only once per day.”

That’s hardly even a warmup for pro cyclists, who often ride more than five hours per day.

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“I won’t deny that having the chance to be out in the fresh air helps me relax,” Davide Martinelli said. “Sure, there’s a risk of contagion when I enter the pharmacy, but you can’t dwell on that. When you decide to do something, you’ve got to do it without overthinking it.”


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