Italian young gun fires off biggest shot of career to date
A breakthrough victory for Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox) in the teeming rain at Serra San Bruno has seen one of Italy's most promising young pros achieve the biggest win of his career.
Battaglin is a name to be reckoned with in Italian cycling, something which is both a blessing and a curse for the 23-year-old Enrico when it comes to the ever expectant tifosi: Giovanni Battaglin won the Giro and the Vuelta in 1981 and comes from the same area of Marostica - although they are not related.
Widely rated as an upcoming Italian star together with Cannondale's Moreno Moser - Francesco Moser's nephew, who has won the Tour of Poland and the Strade Bianche in the last 12 months - Battaglin, now in his third year as a pro, recognised that after 2011, when he took the Coppa Sabatini, he had slept on his laurels - until today.
"As an amateur I had won a lot, but then I didn't do so brilliantly, I eased back a bit too much and got over-confident," said Battaglin, who finished 74th in last year's Giro, his first Grand Tour. "But last year I did a lot of training over the winter and now I'm in the top league."
Pulling no punches, one Italian journalist asked him directly: who is the strongest, you or Moser? "At the moment, Moser is doing better on results. But we know and appreciate each other very well, and last year he did brilliantly. This year, though, is going to be my year. In 2012 I probably underestimated everything, I thought I was going to win so easily.
"Yesterday (stage three) I felt good and I did try, but it was more like a GP Motorbike race. Today I knew that the climb was good for me, and it was a very long sprint and I was lucky enough that Di Luca had some problems in the closing metres."
Battaglin was asked about whether Italian cycling is back on the right track. "We're definitely doing well, but maybe we still need to be successful internationally," Battaglin said - although Moser's victory in Poland would suggest the contrary.
The press conference then abruptly switched generations of Italian riders as 36-year-old Italian Luca Paolini (Katusha), the Giro d'Italia race leader, told reporters about what had been a challenging day in pink.
"It was actually very hard to keep the pink jersey today. It was very difficult for me, the squad worked so well since the very beginning. But the rain made the road slippery and dangerous," Paolini said.
Talking about Paolo Bettini, his old friend and ally whom he helped take a spectacular Milan-San Remo, Paolini said, "I saw him after the race, we hugged and he told me to enjoy it, because we know it is a very special experience."
Asked how he had got through the final three, very technical kilometres, Paolini said, "The objective was not to take the stage but to keep in the lead. My focus was to stay upright, and stay close to the GC guys, Ag2R pulled a long time to close the gap. I didn't have the legs to go for a sprint today."
Young star Battaglin, though, most definitely did, and between the two of them kept the Italian flag flying in the country's blue riband stage race.
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