After eight years, Henrique "Ave" Avancini is leaving Cannondale Factory Racing. Longtime CFR photographer Michele Mondini reflects on his time with Ave, on both sides of the camera, over their many seasons together.
Every time I get a task assigned, I prepare myself to take out the best from the new experience. Even if it’s not an easy job, I’ve learned that passion, an open mind, and commitment can make a huge difference in the final result. When I received the call from Cannondale HQ asking for a recap of Avancini's life with the Factory Team, I only just started to dig into my photo archive when I discovered it was not going to be one of those easy jobs.
I guess that many cycling fans out there have memories of a victory or that special moment. It could look quite simple to create a summary of a career. If you just look at the stats – Marathon World Champion in 2018, World Cup Winner in Nove Mesto 2020, first Brazilian to win an XCC race in Andorra, multiple-time stage winner with CFR teammate Manuel Fumic at Cape Epic from 2016-2019, or many others – you understand quickly we are speaking about a talented athlete, sure, but you also miss most of the story.
I started my research of pictures with the 2017 season. Not sure why, but in my mind, I had this year as a turning point of Henrique's career.
That season began with a few changes with the riders in the team, and Avancini – or “Ave” – had the chance to show his personality. Together with his idol (and teammate) Manuel Fumic, he was able to show signs of his future, by winning a few stages of Absa Cape Epic in South Africa, wearing the leader’s jersey and finishing fifth overall.
The good results in South Africa probably convinced him of the possibility to reach for the marathon rainbow jersey in Singen, but he finished far away from the podium. Over the rest of the year, he had solid results in Brazil, but he was still missing something to emerge into the top 20.
But maybe it would be better to start the story from the beginning. I started my photography adventure around 2009, but the first big jobs came a few years later. One of my dreams was to travel around the world taking pictures of the best riders on the circuit. My first time in South Africa was the World Championship in Pietermaritzburg in 2013. That was the first time I saw our Brazilian superstar riding for a national brand.
A few years later, in 2015, I was lucky enough to join CFR (Cannondale Factory Racing). This was Avancini’s first season, too. At that point, not many people were convinced about the potential of this guy, but he was dreaming big.
Ave and I both went to the Cape Epic in South Africa for the first time in 2016. My English skills were definitely poor, and the only two people I could speak with were the mechanic Giacomo and Henrique, who could also speak fluent Italian. That trip allowed us to build a strong relationship.
I guess that nobody was expecting that CFR would be able to take the leader jersey at the untamed Cape Epic. I still wonder if that result was also the outcome of the good time we had together in the field.
“The President” – another one of his nicknames – was frustrated to quite often miss the goal, and he was investing more and more time in training. During one of the long travels to a World Cup during 2017, I still remember we had a chat about this situation. I ended up saying something like, “Be sure to not lose your focus; bear in mind that to go up you must first hit the bottom.” Of course, it was not my speech that changed the situation, but the Cairns World Cup, where the three CFR lions missed the podium just by few seconds.
That high point at the end of the 2016 season gave Ave the motivation to work hard during the short winter season. In December we were already together in South Africa to prepare the athletes for the course and the heat.
Frustration gave way to smiles. Henrique started the 2017 season with renewed energy. Training camp in South Africa delivered multiple top ten finishes, with CFR claiming the title of Fastest Team. As a result, the crowds around the podium got bigger and bigger.
XCC Short Track is the real news for 2018. The UCI, trying to create a more interesting format for the fans, introduced a fast race of 20 minutes that determines riders’ starting position for the subsequent XCO race.
At the beginning nobody really understood how this race would impact on the weekend. The teams were a bit skeptical about having it open the racing weekend. But tactics become clear after a few events, and in Vallnord, Avancini takes his first win in a World Cup Event.
The dream of a rainbow jersey passes through Italy in 2018. This must be a sure sign for him. Auronzo, the place of Marathon worlds, is really close to the small village where Avancini was based back in the early days of his time in Europe.
The difficulty of that race, with the technical descents on the Dolomites singletrack, play a crucial role in the season’s result.
When my search landed on the 2019 folder, I had to take a breath. In a race season like this one, it was definitely hard to choose what to pick and what to drop.
Whoever said that new energy and good vibes creates a positive whirlpool is right. Everyone involved in CFR team life was feeling proud of the overall results, and everyone was working hard to deliver the best they could.
Avancini’s impact on the team was becoming clear. Every day he was spending a huge amount of time with interviews and media meetings. A Brazilian company decided to send a video crew to follow his full race season, showing the real life behind the handlebar.
2020 was supposed to become the sequel of the previous season, but the pandemic shuffled the cards and hit everyone hard. We were in and out of South Africa when we heard the first confused news about the Coronavirus. Europe was in a panic, but in our bubble, our usual routine wasn’t that different. After two training camp sessions in South Africa and the quick adventure at Tankwa Trek, we were ready to face another Cape Epic. That was supposed to be a special one, marked by the pending retirement of Manuel Fumic as a professional rider.
Things changed suddenly and we had to fly home as quick as possible as Europe was beginning a lock down.
The dream had to wait until October, but in the end, it would not become reality.
After the huge achievement of the XCO World Cup win in Nove Mesto, things didn’t get any easier for Avancini.
In 2021, traveling was still difficult, and for a few months he couldn’t even reach Europe.
His motivation got hit hard and he had to invest a lot to stay at the top of the UCI Ranking.
If I’m right, during a conversation at the beginning of the year, Ave mentioned he would love to have a World Cup in Brazil, and that he was trying to find the right place and the support to make it happen.
On this occasion, “The President” made the right moves, and with the announcement of the World Cup Calendar 2022, we had the confirmation that another goal was reached.
Never in my life had I been as happy as I was flying abroad to shoot an event like the one at Ave’s home. It was unbelievable to see the size of the crowd and their love for athletes and sport.
I’m quite sure that weekend changed the minds of many people!
Well, I guess I already took so much of your time, yet we have not yet reached the present day.
There’s not much else to add. Maybe that everyone at Cannondale and CFR feel so lucky to have shared a tremendous amount of time together over the last eight years of Henrique’s career.
I had the opportunity to connect with him directly, and I learned from him that dreams can become true.