Damien Monier wasn't even supposed to race the Giro d'Italia, but after his teammate Tristan Valentin fell ill, the Frenchman took over his spot, beginning the path to the highlight of his career. On stage 17, Monier attacked his two breakaway companions, Danilo Hondo and Stefan Kruijswijk, and soloed for three kilometres to his first professional win.
Already in his eighth season with the Cofidis squad, Monier explained that his veteran status belies his young age.
"Probably I turned pro too young, only four years after starting cycling at 17," the 27-year-old Monier explained in a post-race press conference. "I almost returned to the amateur ranks because I didn't have the level of professional cycling.
"I fought for results and only last year I started to get some," said Monier who finished 4th in the 2009 Tour de l'Ain and was courted by other French teams after that.
The Cofidis team has now been rewarded for their patience with the former U23 French time trial champion (2003) twice national pursuit champion (2005 and 2008).
"We knew he had a big engine but he also had a lot to learn in road racing," directeur sportif Bernard Quilfen told Cyclingnews in Peio Terme.
Prior to the start of stage 17, all of the Cofidis riders were encouraged to enter breakaways, but the management said it would prefer to see David Moncoutié or Monier in the move. Because the break went before the first major climb of the day, it was Monier and not two-time Vuelta a España king of the mountains Moncoutie who entered the escape.
"Damien succeeded while I lacked the experience to beat Jérôme Pineau on stage 5. That makes the Giro d'Italia a success for Cofidis," neo-pro Julien Fouchard, who finished second in Novi Ligure, told Cyclingnews.
Monier's win makes it two for France at this year's Giro. The other Frenchman to win a Giro stage before Pineau was Christophe Le Mével five years ago. This is also Cofidis' fourteenth win in 2010. The Pro Continental French team is the third best scorer of the current international season at the same level as Saxo Bank, while HTC-Columbia and Liquigas remain the most successful teams.
"I had a strong motivation to win today," Monier said. "I wanted to get such a result for my dad who passed away last year. When I crossed the line, I didn't believe I had won. A few seconds later, I said to myself 'finally! I've seen the light'. I don't know why but when I left home for the Giro, I told my wife I'd win a stage."
Monier's wife, Jin Xiaoyum, is Chinese originally from Shanghai. She went to France to study in Clermont-Ferrand, the town of cycling legend Raphaël Géminiani who was Fausto Coppi's teammate and Jacques Anquetil's directeur sportif. One and half year ago, Monier became the father of a little girl called Chloé in French and Kai Ling in Chinese.
"Now I hope to get a start at the Tour de France as well," the happy stage winner concluded.