Giacomo Nizzolo hopes his injury woes are behind him after undergoing knee surgery in December, and victory on the final stage of the Tour of Oman on Thursday confirmed his belief that he can get back to his best.
The Italian claimed seven victories times in 2016, including the Italian road race title, and went close to victory on several occasions at the Giro d'Italia. However, this was only his second victory since then.
Nizzolo only raced for 28 days in 2017 as he battled tendinitis in his knee. Despite winning at the Vuelta a San Juan, the problems continued into 2018, which ended with a hip fracture. Ahead of his first outings with Dimension Data – having left Trek-Segafredo – the decision was made to go under the knife.
"I had something under the kneecap that was rubbing all the time. They have taken it out, and now it looks like it's fixed," Nizzolo said after a visit to the podium in Oman.
"I was always training and stopping, training and stopping, and stopping for a long time. Like this, you cannot get your best level. Let's hope now it's finished and I can continue."
As for whether he can return to his 2016 self, he said confidently: "For sure I can be back at this level."
The road ahead
In that context, his Tour of Oman victory was an important step. Nizzolo had finished fourth on the opening day but triumphed on the Mattrah Corniche with a powerful long-range sprint along the right-hand side of the road. While Andre Greipel (Arkea-Samsic) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) clashed with Niccolo Bonifazio (Direct Energie) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Davide Ballerini (Astana) tried to go down the right, Nizzolo opted for the shortest line on the left.
"It meant a lot," Nizzolo said. "After years, let's say, that it means a lot to me. I had a hard winter, because I had the surgery on my knee in December, so I was not really ready for the races.
"For sure things are going well since the surgery. I'm just a bit behind. My shape is not the best because I started late with training. I'm really happy and this gives me confidence but I have to be realistic. I still know I have to work to reach my best condition but of course this gives me extra motivation for the upcoming races."
Nizzolo has not yet decided if he will race the 'opening weekend' in Belgium next weekend, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne often being an opportunity for sprinters, but he will definitely ride Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of Milan-San Remo and a few cobbled Classics. After a short break, he will begin his build-up to the Giro d'Italia, where the aim will be to finally break his duck and win a stage.