Italian who returned to cycle racing in Hong Kong, 20 years after retiring, tells us how he trains and stays motivated

Fresh from a five-day race in Thailand he lost by a few seconds to a pro cyclist 14 years his junior, Paolo Caputo explains why he got back in the saddle and what keeps his competitive juices flowing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 June, 2017, 5:24pm

Rarely does someone have the opportunity to put their athletic career on hold only to pick it up again decades later. Fewer still return to competition or take home trophies that second time around. Paolo Caputo, a 42-year-old Italian expat in Hong Kong, a competitive cyclist as a youth, has done just that.

Caputo fell in love with cycling at an early age. “I raced my first road race at 10 years old and went on until 16, racing all over Italy. I won about 100 trophies, various regional championships, and won over 50 races.”

However successful his athletic career looked, Caputo put down his bike in 1990 to finish his education. In 2002, he moved to Hong Kong and started a job with coffee manufacturer Lavazza a day after arriving. The job lasted a few years before he started working for an Italian company that specialises in toys and collectibles.

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Twenty years after retiring from competitive racing, married and with a nine-year-old daughter, Caputo had a happy professional and personal life but felt something was missing.

Why did you get back into cycling?

Back in 2010 my daughter was two and we moved from Causeway Bay to Clear Water Bay. The reconnection with nature, and the need to detach my family life from the urban chaos of Hong Kong, made me suddenly realise it was the bike I was missing. I decided to go back to cycling.

It all came together. I was introduced to a group of riders, all neighbours, who ride together at least three times a week around Clear Water Bay and Sai Kung in the early hours, the RMRH (Real men Ride Hirams) group. We’ve been friends ever since.

What was that first race in 2010 like?

It was a criterium race [laps around a circuit] at [the] Science Park [in Ma Liu Shui]. It was great to be part of a team again. I took fourth place and helped my teammate win it. My family came and my daughter got her first Hong Kong trophy (I donated it to her). I knew I wanted more days like that.

You’ve competed in and won many races since. Have you competed in any recently?

This year I participated for the first time in the Tour of Friendship Thailand, a five-stage road race which is quite a famous event in Asia for its competitiveness and hard course, including scorching heat. I won one stage, came second the next day on the queen mountain stage, and missed winning the final general classification by less than seven seconds.

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The guy who won the overall is a full-time professional from France, 14 years my junior, so it isn’t so bad for a businessman and family man like myself.

Where do you train in Hong Kong?

I live in Sai Kung, so I am lucky in that I can ride straight out of my door. I mostly spend my time in the eastern New Territories, from Clear Water Bay to Tai Mei Tuk [and] Tai Mo Shan. Safety comes first; you need to look out for roads with less traffic and keep flashing rear lights on even in broad daylight.

What do you say to people who think their competitive edge lies in their past?

The physical limit for this sport, which is arguably the hardest one out there, comes down to what you set your mind to. The mind is stronger than the body and tells the body what to do. As I tell my wife and fellow cyclists and friends, when my head tells me to go, I go.

How do you fuel the fire as an older competitor?

I feel as young and as strong as ever. I live a very stable and healthy lifestyle because you always need to live as an athlete, every day, not just cut the alcohol because you’re approaching a race. All in the right measure, for general enjoyment, a good glass of vino for dinner is always at our table.

And with a Japanese wife and me being [an] Italian who loves food and cooking, eating a balanced diet of Japanese and southern Italian home-made food is my best-kept secret.

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Will you ever put your bike down again?

The bicycle truly is the last toy you put down as a child only to pick it up later in life. It’s an organic mechanism, a rediscovery and, more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle. I have no reason to stop enjoying this truly ingenious way of moving yourself around. You can’t beat the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle.

Does your daughter have the cycling bug?

Ami is my biggest fan and truly enjoys riding her bike with me over Tai Po Promenade while our dog runs next to us. She’s more of a multisport lover, practising tennis, gymnastics, and ballet. She loves playing music too. Sport at a young age has to be for social and physical development, so I think at the age of nine it’s good to practise more than one.

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How do you share your love of cycling with your family?

They are very supportive and very proud of what I do. To keep it all together I often take them with me to multiday overseas races when we visit nice places like Okinawa or Thailand, so we can all enjoy a family holiday with a bike race thrown in there, which only takes away a few hours in the morning and leaves the rest of the day for other activities. Everyone’s happy.