As a 26-year-old in his third full season racing on the Continental level, Canadian Matteo Dal-Cin is itching to test himself against the sport's best.
Dal-Cin got a glimpse at the top level last September while representing the Canadian National Team at the WorldTour races in Quebec City and Montreal, infiltrating a six-rider breakaway in Montreal with teammate Ben Perry and then helping Perry win the climbers' classification before Dal-Cin had to abandon with two laps remaining.
"It was a fantastic experience racing in the front," Dal-Cin told his hometown paper, the Ottawa Citizen, afterward. "To be up front in a race of that calibre, you see how teams operate and how the most powerful teams dictate how it goes."
His pursuit of more opportunities to compete against the best, especially in Europe, led Dal-Cin to move in the offseason from the Canadian Silber team to Rally Cycling, which is currently competing in Europe and will start the Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal later this week.
"The opportunity to race in Europe was super appealing to me," Dal-Cin told Cyclingnews during a January training camp in Southern California. "It's just a bigger program, not to knock Silber, but there's definitely more opportunities to get to the bigger races here.
"That's something that I really wanted to accomplish, getting over there and doing some UCI races,” he said. “This will be my first opportunity for that."
Dal-Cin previously dipped his toes in European racing in 2013 when he was 22 years old, competing in Belgium Kermesses and at the Francophine Games, but he did not progress through cycling with a steady diet of high-level junior or U23 racing like many of his contemporaries, so European racing and how he will fit in remains a bit of a mystery.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what the style of racing is there," he said. "I know the roads are tighter and the depth is greater, so it's just seeing what I can do over there."
Dal-Cin's first foray in Europe with Rally started last week at the Volta ao Algarve, where he dropped out during the final day, a 180km stage that featured four classified climbs before the summit finish on Atlo de Malhão. He'll get another opportunity this week at Alentejo.
Putting it all together for Redlands win
Dal-Cin, whose parents were both cyclists, has been racing from a young age, but he got his big break halfway through the 2014 season when he signed with Silber from a local bike shop team in Ottawa. Although that first season included a handful of DNFs in big races, Dal-Cin showed enough promise to get a return ticket for 2015, and he rewarded the team's faith with an overall win at the Grand Prix de Saguenay.
It was the 2016 season, however, when Dal-Cin put in a breakthrough ride at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, winning the overall at the US national calendar opener, the first Canadian to do so in the race's 32-year history.
"That was the first time I put a traditional GC-type race together with a time trial, hilly finish day and then the other stages that fill out the rest of the race," he said. "For me, that was important just to sort of get a stage race where all the different aspects are involved."
The Redlands win showed Dal-Cin what it took to win a proper stage race.
"You have to make sure you put something good together each day and also learn how to use your teammates and trusting that if they're executing a plan for you, they're going to do your part and it's up to you to do yours," he said. "You have to have faith in that, then follow through and do it day after day."
It was the beginning of a run that saw Silber establish itself as one of the top teams on the North American circuit, and Dal-Cin played a big part of that success with several more solid finishes at the Tour of the Gila and Saguenay.
Finding out how far he can go
Like any up-and-coming cyclist, Dal-Cin aspires to race at the top level, but for now he'll continue to challenge himself to find his limits. He knows now that he can contest shorter stage races on the national level, but can he take that to the next level with more days and deeper fields?
"I don't really know because I don't have any experience with that," he said. "I don't know what will happen in terms of whether I have the ability to sustain that kind of consistent performance for a longer period of time. I would like to continue to try and chase some success in that aspect if the opportunities present themselves for some of the longer ones to see what I'm capable of."
When Dal-Cin returns from Rally's current European trip, he wants to continue his focus on developing his stage-racing skills.
"So I'm hoping to get to Joe Martin, Gila, Redlands, or any combination of to try and refine that skill," he said, adding that the Amgen Tour of California is his ultimate goal, although it's not clear of the team will get into the race now that it is a WorldTour event.
"I don't know what the field at California is going to be like – I don't know if anyone does," he said. "The first step would be whether Conti teams can race, whether we get in and then whether you make the team. But that would be really cool. That's the biggest race in North America, and I've been hoping to get there for a number of years. If it happens that would be awesome, but it seems like it's a bit of an uncertain year, so I'm not holding my breath for that one. We'll see what happens."