Alberto Bettiol still hasn't won a race, but he's not getting worried. He's confident it will happen in 2018.
Many predicted a breakthough victory for the Italian after a number of high placings in major one-day races in 2016 earned him – almost by stealth – a spot in the top 10 of the WorldTour rankings. There was more of the same this season, with sixth at the Clasica San Sebastian, 10th at E3-Harelbeke and fifth on stage 3 of the Tour de France – but, crucially, no victory.
"My season went pretty good, but my only regret is not taking any victories – that was one of my big goals at the beginning of the season," Bettiol tells Cyclingnews.
"But anyway I improved my skills, even in the Grand Tours because I finished the Tour de France pretty well, better than expected, and I had the fifth place on the third stage, that was totally unexpected. I showed everybody that I'm still young and I'm improving year-by-year. I did a lot of WorldTour top-10s so I'm pretty happy, but the only pity is I didn't take any victories."
Bettiol, just turned 24, has been a key breadwinner for the Cannondale-Drapac team in the past two seasons in terms of WorldTour points, and perhaps that's why he's not yet been able to raise his arms aloft. Ever since turning pro in 2014 his calendar has, for someone so young, been heavily populated by top-tier WorldTour races.
A more logical progression would have been to do more smaller races and pick up the confidence and experience that goes with the act of winning.
"This is a job for me," he responds. "Doing sixth in San Sebastian or fifth on a Tour de France stage is like winning 10 small races, because it's so important. All the world is watching you.
"So yeah, sometimes it's better to win but I'm happy to finish third overall in [The Tour of] Poland. The races are so difficult and hard and tough you have to be so prepared. I mean, yes, I would like to win, because my last win was five years ago, but I can understand that the WorldTour teams are happier to see me top five or top three in a very important race – it's like a victory for them. I get paid to do my job."
Moving to BMC Racing for 2018
Bettiol, however, will not settle for top fives for the rest of his career, and he is changing teams this winter to take that 'next step'. After four years with Jonathan Vaughters Cannondale-Drapac team, he's off to BMC Racing for 2018.
"I chose BMC because it's one of the biggest teams in the WorldTour, because they love time trials, because they love the northern Classics, and because they really want me at the Tour de France," he said.
"They were pretty keen to invest money in me, so I choose BMC because I felt that they really wanted me. I think it's the perfect team to do that step that I need."
Bettiol is a versatile one-day rider. Hilly races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege are – at least for now – beyond him, but he excels when the terrain is moderately hilly, and has shown what he can do in the northern, cobbled Classics.
"I'd love to win Milan-San Remo because I'm a Italian guy, and I fell in love with Tour of Flanders this year. I think I can also win San Sebastian and Amstel Gold Race, but Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders are my dream races.
"Maybe later on in my career I'd like to try to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege but I understand that it's more for the Grand Tour riders. This year on the climbs in the Tour I was pretty good, I could stay with 30 riders, so maybe later on I can decide to do Liege. Perhaps Il Lombardia as well maybe… for example the edition of this year from Bergamo to Como could suit me, but when you start from Como and arrive in Bergamo it's pretty hard, maybe too hard."
Bettiol doesn't see himself purely as a Classics man. His predominant strength as a junior was time trialling – he was European champion in the discipline in 2011 – and the move to BMC will see him get back in touch with those roots.
"At Cannondale we never talked about the time trial, it was not a goal of the team," he said. "Also the brand I think is not ready – the bike, they invest a lot in disc brakes, but the time trial bike, no. BMC likes time trialling, it's a different goal, a different investment.
"I started to do other things and I left the time trial discipline, the training and stuff – I almost never used the time trial bike. BMC likes time trialling, and team time trialling, and they have staff only for the time trial, and so I'd like to come back to that discipline because basically my first big victory was when I was European time trial champion. I'd like to come back."
An improved time trial, along with greater resistance on the climbs, could just turn Bettiol into a general classification rider in the future. If he can finish third overall at the Tour of Poland last year, then the potential is there for the less extreme week-long races.
"Why not?" he says.
For now, though, he just wants to continue his improvement in the most general sense. He turned pro quite early - barely 21 - for someone who didn't have the heaviest of race loads as an U23. As such, Bettiol seems to have been around for a while but there's the sense he's still only just arriving.
"Now, I think because I'm still young, and because when I was younger I never did a lot of race days because I had to study, so compared to other guys I'm less ready but now in these four years I've improved and even my body is growing up, and so I keep on improving my skills, and then in the next years I'm sure to do that step and BMC will help me," he says.
"I turned pro very young, and I think I was not ready enough to race at such a high level, where I'm riding now. It was a risk, but I thought at the same time at least I'm a pro rider and I could learn faster how this world works. After two years, in 2016, I started to find myself, and this year I confirmed again that I can compete at such a high level, so the goal for sure for next year is to keep improving, and for sure to catch some victories as well."