Italian cycling has a new sprinter. Jakub Mareczko is just 20 and is riding his first race as a professional but has already won two stages at the Vuelta al Tachira and will go up against Mark Cavendish next week at the Tour de San Luis.
Mareczko won 13 races as an Under 23 rider in 2014 and was the most successful rider in Italy. He was quickly signed by the troubled Neri Sottoli team, which has since become Southeast after the Chinese steel company took over as title sponsor and saw the team wear a grey kit instead of fluorescent yellow. Mareczko was born in Poland but moved to Brescia in Italy with his family when he was five. He is 1.69m tall and weighs just 68kg but is a pure sprinter who loves to use his finishing speed to win.
“I love the sprints more than anything. I even prefer to watch a sprint or a Classic than a mountain stage in a Grand Tour,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport after his second victory at the Vuelta al Tachira.
“Watching a whole race on television can be boring but a sprint is pure adrenaline. That's what my day revolves around and then it's over in an instant. You don't have the time to think about it but everything is at stake. That's what I live for. It's pure passion.”
The Southeast team only decided to send Mareczko to the Vuelta al Tachira two weeks ago but have quickly realised he could help save the long-term future of the team if he can continue to win sprints. RCS Sport is set to name the five wild card teams for the Giro d'Italia on Wednesday. Southeast is expected to have a place, meaning Mareczko could also contest some of the Corsa Rosa in May.
"It'd be great to be able to finish on the podium with Cavendish and riders of his calibre," Mareczko told the Spazio Ciclismo website in a recent interview.
He has been selected to ride the Tour de San Luis with the Italian national team under the guidance of national coach Davide Cassani. He will be ride with Enrico Battaglin but it has been confirmed that Vincenzo Nibali will not be part of the Italian team.
Mareczko describes Cavendish as one of his heroes, along with Fabian Cancellara, with Gazzetta dello Sport suggesting he will ask Cavendish for a photograph before going head to head with him in the sprints. Mareczko will face the Manxman, Ariel Richeze (Lampre-Merida), Davide Apollonio (Androni Giocattoli) and other sprinters from South America during the San Luis sprints. When he returns to Europe he will team up with new teammate Alessandro Petacchi, who was part of Cavendish's lead-out train in 2014.
“I'd heard that he was close to joining the team. He was the best sprinter in the world for four or five years and I can't wait to know him. I'll listen carefully to what he has to say and I hope to try some sprints together,” Mareczko said.
“Of course, I know that everything is different now I'm a pro. I know I've got to improve on the climbs, to learn to suffer. Because if you can't stay on during the climbs, you don't even get to contest the sprints.”