Rémy Di Gregorio was hired by Astana as a potential domestique for Alexandre Vinokourov, but he got to take advantage of a chance for his own victory in Paris-Nice's stage 7. There he took the most important win of his seven-year professional career. The 26-year-old Frenchman survived the apocalyptic, bad weather conditions to claim an emotional solo victory in Biot, near the French Riviera.
"I've been awaiting this win," said Di Gregorio. Since turning pro, his only other win was during stage 8 of the 2006 Tour de l'Avenir, one year after he signed with Française des Jeux in 2005.
"Mentally, I have changed. This is my seventh pro season. I have more experience in these races, too. I knew I was able to do something like today, but I didn't always have the luck to succeed," he said. "In 2007, I rode 120 kilometres with a broken elbow. In 2008, I was away in the stage to Hautacam and other riders rode behind me. This time, luck was on my side."
Di Gregorio's early fame earned him a noteworthy salary increase from the French lottery for the past two years. "I deserved it," he said in Biot. "I didn't steal it. Maybe the figure was a bit high, but I'm not the only one responsible. I don't know if it was a mistake. What's done is done. I look ahead, not behind."
"I only want to build a record for myself. I'm an offensive rider. I'm not the one who said I was the future Richard Virenque, the media did," he said. "It would have been easier for me to stay on a French team, even to stay with the same team, but I needed a new environment."
The Frenchman from Marseille is rumoured to have signed for Astana for much lower pay than he was earning. "A great person in cycling believes in me and that boosts my confidence," said Di Gregorio in reference to Vinokourov, who has looked after him since he joined the Kazakh outfit.
The Frenchman was hired by Astana as a domestique, possibly for the mountain stages of the Tour de France. That's why he got the nickname of "Di Gregario" ("gregario" is the Italian word for domestique). After finishing fourth in stage 4 of Paris-Nice, won by Thomas Voeckler, he delivered Astana's first win of the year on Saturday.
"It's not symbolic of my move to Astana, it's just a pleasure," Di Gregorio said.