Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) tested his legs and opened his lungs on the testing final circuit around the Superga climb at Milano-Torino on Wednesday, ending the race confident that he can perform at Saturday's Il Lombardia.
The Irishman became a father to twins on September 19 after quitting the Vuelta a España after stage 9 so that he could be at the birth.
He has only ridden the World Championship road race in Innsbruck, Austria, since then, but he has clearly been mixing training with parental duties at home in Andorra in recent weeks, and was strong enough to be part of the front group that formed on the first climb of Superga.
Martin suffered more on the second climb up to the finish and crossed the line 1:13 behind winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) but close to many of the riders he will face in the final Monument of the season on Saturday. His performance meant Martin was upbeat about how he felt, and as a consequence his hopes for Il Lombardia.
"I'm really happy because I only flew to Italy on Tuesday and came from altitude in Andorra, so I was struggling to breathe. With a couple more days of adaption, I think I'll be good," Martin told Cyclingnews.
"I really enjoyed riding Milan-Turin without any pressure, and I hope to do the same on Saturday. Hopefully we can get a result.”
Martin was carefully to use 'we' as he talked about his UAE Team Emirates squad. Fabio Aru also showed signs of form at Milano-Torino, going deep on the climb to Superga to finish ninth at 43 seconds, one place and a few seconds better than Egan Bernal (Team Sky). Another teammate, Jan Polanc, was in the top 25, while Rui Costa was again there to lend a hand.
Of those three teammates, however, only Costa featured on the provisional start list for Il Lombardia a couple of days ahead of the race
Martin won Il Lombardia in 2014 when the race started in Como and ended in Bergamo. He attacked before the final corner to beat a certain Alejandro Valverde – the new 2018 world champion, who'll line up for Movistar again on Saturday looking for his first Lombardia win – while Costa was third that year after he, Aru and others had emerged on the climb up to Bergamo Alta and fought it out on the descent to the finish below.
The year before, Martin had crashed on that same final corner while in the mix for a podium finish, but had no qualms about giving it everything to take the victory in 2014.
He is less of a favourite this year, with Pinot, Valverde, Michael Woods and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) leading the list of contenders. However, it would be foolish to write off Martin.
"I'm not too keen on the course that finishes in Como and includes the steep Sormano climb and then the Civiglio. I haven't raced well on that course, but of course that won't hold me back," Martin said.
"I used to like the last San Fermo climb, but that's been replaced by a slightly easier road due to a landslide. But we'll still try to win.
"ll Lombardia is a beautiful race – it’s my favourite race of the year. It'd be really good to finish off the season with a really good result."