SEG Racing was set up to establish a team where the best U23 riders could go and race and prove themselves before stepping up to the top tier of the sport. Up to this point, the team has had notable success, both in regards to pro races, U23 races and achieving their goal of helping riders develop to go pro, sending five riders to the WorldTour (graduate Koen Bouwman, now of LottoNL-Jumbo, won the KOM jersey and a stage at the Dauphine this season). The team has also sent a lot of riders to Pro Conti teams and has clearly established their goal of becoming one of the best U23 teams in the sport.
The team races lots on the Classics roads of Belgium and Holland, but has a very much international roster that has featured not just mainland Europeans, but Americans, Brits, Australians and even Chinese riders. To match that international roster, the team has an international calendar that doesn’t just feature lots of flat races or cobbled races, but sees the team take part in lots of U23 races, some of which are anything but flat. For their 2017 roster, there was one surprise inclusion on the team: an Italian by the name of Edoardo Affini. However, despite looking like this was not the team for an Italian rider on paper, Affini quickly set about proving he is not the stereotypical Italian and Affini and SEG look like a match made in heaven after their first year together. Nearing the end of his season, the talented 21-year-old spoke with U23 Cycling Zone to talk about his team and his status as the “Unorthodox Italian”.
Affini reveals that after training well all winter he was really keen to get his season going, but something just didn’t feel right. Despite going for tests, he was shown to be in good health and Affini had no choice but to persevere and hope he felt better, which he thankfully did.
“The 2017 season has a sort of double face for me…I had a really good impact with the whole team and I had a nice preparation in the winter with the two team camps in Loutraki, so I was really looking forward to start the season. But after a few races I had to stop to do some medical exams due to strange feelings that I had during the races. Luckily all of these were negative, but I lost a lot of condition and I had some trouble to come back, but with the support of the team I was able to restart racing at the national road race. It was a new beginning and from there till now it was a constant improvement for me. I think I can say that it was a positive second half of the season.”
Affini, unlike many young Italian riders, is a strong time triallist and actually believes this is his biggest strength. In fact, his eighth place in the U23 Worlds ITT was the first time an Italian had gone in the top ten of the race since 2010.
“Since I started to do the TT, I’ve always had good results in this discipline and this year I did also the team time trial and I really enjoyed it. I think that yes, it probably is my best strength but I have to keep working on it to improve as much as possible. but focusing on it is probably more important, but I also want to work on the other skills like sprinting and climbing, to try to become a more complete rider.”
Affini, who joined SEG Racing from Colpack, one of the most famous and best development teams back in Italy, says there is a certain dogma Italian cycling is trapped in and he felt he would develop best away from his homeland, and SEG was the perfect place to do so.
“It is true that I rode for Colpack as a first year and it was a great team, but I didn’t feel suited there and I was really close to joining SEG already for the 2016 season. Instead of that, in the end, I decided to stay in Italy it was the worst decision but I recognised during that season that it was the worst decision possible, so when SEG gave me another chance for 2017 I quickly accepted. I think that cycling changed over the years, the level of quality in U23 has increased and probably in Italy we are a bit stuck in our dogmas, without opening to new challenges and without going to any or little international competitions, but we are trying to close the gap that we maybe have with the other nations. I think that race in a team like SEG, it is the best way to improve as a rider and also as a person.”
So, having spent one year racing with an all-time great development team back home in Italy, and one year racing with the Classic specialist and highly reputable SEG Racing, what are the major comparisons Edoardo has drawn so far?
“It’s different, first of all here sometimes you race also with the pros so you can really feel the difference in the pace and in the way they conduct the race. But it is also different for the terrain, as you mentioned here there’s often races with cobbles, echelons etc, but this is what you’ll find if you’re able to turn pro, so I think it’s really useful to get experienced at the U23 level. In Italy, this is not so common and there’s a different mentality, honestly I think that the SEG way of racing suits me more than what I was used to in Italy.”
Speaking of cobbles, Affini has said in an interview on SEG Racing’s team website that his favourite race is Paris-Roubaix, again something that is very un-Italian. In fact, the country hasn’t won the race since the turn of the century when Andrea Tafi won in 1999. Vincenzo Nibali looked great on the cobbles at the 2014 Tour de France and Gianni Moscon seems like he can win the race after fifth this season, but aside from that duo, Edoardo seems to be the only Italian who loves the race. Affini raced the junior event before, but his bad feelings and loss of shape meant he wasn’t part of the proceedings at the U23 race this year. Affini says he think he has the skills to do well here, but acknowledges sometimes his racing style doesn’t always go to plan.
“I did the junior edition in the 2014 and it was hard, but I really enjoyed the Hell of North. Because of my characteristics, I like to attack and fight, maybe sometimes also too much wasting energy and I have to work on it, but this is my nature…I prefer to give everything I have and explode, taking nothing, than just stay sitting in the bunch all day.”
Edoardo was then asked just how much of a goal the 2018 U23 edition of Roubaix is. He confirmed it is something he is looking at, but he has other, more open goals he hopes to achieve too.
“My main goal for 2018 is to continue my whole development so I can try to deserve the next step. For sure Paris-Roubaix will be a target for next season, as will all the TTs, but together with results, I think it is important to see that my performances have improved, so I will know that I’m growing up.”
Affini, who along with his eighth at the Worlds U23 ITT, was also third in the Olympia’s Tour prologue and 6th overall. After his strong end to the season, it was clear he was back on track and both Affini and SEG Racing indicated they were keen to work together again in 2018. Affini exclusively confirmed to U23 Cycling Zone that he would be remaining with the team, who have indicated they are not just interested in shipping riders off to the pros, only preferring to do this once they know their rider is ready to make the step up. After Affini missed some racing earlier in the year, both he and the team decided in August he wasn’t quite ready to be a pro and he needs to build a stronger foundation in the coming season if he wishes to achieve that dream.
Affini knows he has one season now to show just how good he is and secure a professional contract. He is with a team who believe in him as much as he believes in them and he is hoping for a full season at full health an avoids the problems that took his form away early in 2017. He was just 19 seconds off third place at the Worlds ITT and, given his talent, is hoping to prove in 2018 that he is not just one of, it not the, best TT riders in the U23 category, but also an up and coming Classics star too. If he can achieve that, then Edoardo Affini will really be breaking the mould of the stereotypical Italian.