Former F1 and Champ Car star Alex Zanardi has revealed how winning the handbike category at the New York City Marathon at the weekend allowed him to bounce back from the news of Marco Simoncelli's death.
The Italian, who raced unsuccessfully with Williams
and Lotus in F1 but found considerably more highs in the USA after switching to Chip Ganassi Racing, has been competing in handbike competitions since finding new direction in the wake of his near-fatal CART accident at the Lausitzring in 2001. Aged just 35, Zanardi lost both legs in the incident, which came when he emerged from the pits while leading the race, forcing him to look elsewhere for his competitive thrills.
However, competing in the Venice marathon coincided with a black weekend at Sepang, where young MotoGP charger Simoncelli was killed in a freak accident, forcing the normally ebullient Italian to tone down his celebrations.
"On Sunday 23 October, I lived an unforgettable experience with Francesco Canali at the Venice Marathon, the nicest birthday gift I could do to myself," Zanardi wrote in his latest press communiqué, "Unfortunately, once crossed the finish line, I was told the terrible news of Marco Simoncelli passing away and, honestly, I lost all the enthusiasm to tell you this memorable experience in the way it deserved. I will do this in the right time, I promise but today it is not that moment yet."
Instead, Zanardi headed back to his happiest hunting ground, looking for success in New York to bolster his bid for a place at the London Paralympics in 2012, coming away with handbike in a time of 1hr 13mins 58secs, despite a few fraught moments along the way.
"Something else happened last weekend that I want to talk about: the New York Marathon," he enthused, "I travelled to States with my family and a bunch of my dearest and nicest friends and we had a lot of fun, despite a very tight schedule. We managed to do all the things that have to be done in the 'Big Apple' [but] what is there to say if, before coming back home, you manage to win a marathon - 'the Marathon' - in front of your friends and of thousands of people packed around the course?
"It has not been a walk in the park though. On Friday, when I got my number I also had a look at the entry list and it immediately seemed to be an 'easy' one. In reality, despite the absence of some strong athletes that usually run the race, I did not see the name of Dane Pilon, a strong American athlete on my same category that already won this marathon twice. I realised I had not seen Rafal Wilk's name either, an athlete that is not as strong as Pilon in sprints but that, on the distance, would have not been an easy one.
"The sun and temperature were excellent and I started the race pushing but in a controlled way. The start was uphill - on Verrazzano bridge the course was climbing for more than two kilometres with a slope ranging from 4-6%. I set my pace finding myself in front [and], as foreseeable, three of us were left on top of the bridge, the three main contenders. Without pushing too hard in descents and climbing up again on ascending plateaux (the slope of the course is never constant), I warmed the 'car' up as best as I could and I admit that I tested several time the resistance of my rivals using nearly all my resources.
"I tried to do this on the ascending bits of overpasses, on bridges like the Pulaski that marks halfway, or on the Queensboro taking [the course] down to First Avenue.