Sacha Modolo can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible. Twenty-four hours before his second sprint win in Lugano, the Lampre-Merida man endured the most arduous day of his Giro d'Italia to date, as he and a doughty band of sprinters battled the mighty Mortirolo and the time limit just to stay in the race.
"Me? I was cursing all day long," Modolo quipped when asked how he had made it through Tuesday's tappone. Cruelly, the peloton had to climb the Campo Carlo Magno as soon as the flag was dropped in Pinzolo. As he had anticipated, Modolo was quickly jettisoned out the back.
"I knew that stage would be tough for me," he continued. "I lasted about the first 1,500 metres in the peloton before I was dropped and soon after that a gruppetto formed. We were worried about the time limit and we went very hard – harder than we needed to as it turned out, since the limit ended up being around 38 minutes. I could still feel the effects today, and it was hard to get going on the first climb."
The amiable Modolo has been perhaps the most loquacious stage winner on this Giro, and when he sat down for his press conference in Lugano on Wednesday afternoon, he gave the impression that he could have talked all night. But then again, Modolo explained, since his last trip to the press room after his win in Jesolo on Friday, he has spent most of his time alone.
"Between the time trial on Saturday, two mountain stages off the back and the rest day, I felt like I hadn't seen anyone for the last few days," Modolo smiled. "I mean, I'd see [Diego] Ulissi in the morning at breakfast and then I wouldn't see him again until we sat down for dinner in the evening."
Modolo didn't lack for company in the finale of stage 17, as he was once again piloted through the closing kilometres by Max Richeze and Roberto Ferrari. As in Jesolo, he had generous praise for his teammates' efforts. "If I've done well at this Giro, it's thanks to Max and Ferrari," he said. "This stage should really be divided in three."
While Richeze has plenty of experience in leading out sprints, it was a new departure for Ferrari, who was essentially usurped as Lampre's number one fast man following Modolo's arrival from Bardiani last year. Their nascent train endured some teething problems in the spring, when Modolo failed to match the same early haul of wins he ran up in the early part of last season, but they have made amends at the Giro.
"I could have done the sprints at the Tour of Qatar by myself and I might have done better if I had, but insisted on using the train and working on it, because Ferrari was still finding his way as a lead-out man," he said. "But now, I think Max, Ferrari and me are one of the strongest trains and the peloton is using us as a point of reference now. Like Lego, when you put the right bricks together, you see the results."
Wednesday's short, rolling stage from Tirano to Lugano seemed to offer fertile terrain for a successful breakaway, but fast men managed to survive the tricky, uncategorised climb to Croce di Menaggio and their teams succeeded in thwarting the late flurry of attacks.
"This was much harder than Jesolo," Modolo said. "It was our stage, because Max, Ferrari and I are atypical sprinters, in that we can hang tough on climbs, and we showed that again today on the last hill."
Modolo was heralded as the future of Italian sprinting when he claimed fourth place at Milan-San Remo as a raw neo-professional in 2010, and while he steadily amassed victories during his first five seasons in the peloton, his first Giro stage wins seem to mark something of a turning point in the soon-to-be 28-year-old's career, though he ruled out a Tour de France debut this July.
"I won't do the Tour this year because by the end of June I'll have done almost 60 days of racing. I'll need a break if I want to keep racing to October," Modolo said, refusing to be drawn on whether his victories over Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani mean that he is the fastest Italian sprinter in the peloton.
"It doesn't matter. I've never seen myself as a champion, I accept whatever other people say about me," he said. "It's up to you to say who the strongest is. Results talk for themselves."
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