Giacomo Nizzolo was happy to finally win a sprint wearing the red, white and green Italian national champions at the Abu Dhabi Tour, and proud to have beaten future Trek-Segafredo teammate John Degenkolb and ever-present rival Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
The Italian sprinter has won seven times in 2016, confirming he has stepped up his level but his most recent victories had come as part of the Italian national squad as preparation for the World Championships. He could final show off his special colours and sponsors with a stage victory and the first red leader's jersey at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
The win also helped ease the pain of Nizzolo's fifth place in the World Championships in Qatar last weekend. He kicked first in the sprint but faded and was passed along the barriers by Peter Sagan.
"Winning means a lot, especially after Sunday. "This is the best way to start this race," smiled Nizzolo. "After the Worlds I said let's go to Abu Dhabi and see if I can get one victory more, and we've done it."
Nizzolo timed his run to the line perfectly. He was well placed going through the final chicane curve with a kilometre to go and then timed his effort well into the slight headwind.
"There was the last real corner with 1.2km to go and then a roundabout with 700 meters to go. I asked the team to put me in a good position there. From the roundabout, I just managed things by myself. I was on Degenkolb's wheel and I started my sprint from 200-220 meters to go. I felt powerful and I was confident to reach the line first," he explained.
"At the end the stress is same as in the Giro, Tour, or Vuelta, we're all focused to get the best result we can. Today we started fasted this morning, we didn't expect that but then we went regular because of the heat after about 20km to go. Everyone is mentally fatigued because it's October, so it's not so easy to race but when there's a big finale, every rider is motivated."
Nizzolo admitted that Trek-Segafredo only put one rider on the front of the peloton to help chase the break. He argued that his six-rider team includes stagiaire Jacopo Mosca and other young riders. He knows the Trek-Segafredo will now have to work to defend the leader's jersey.
"I think we did our work. We're not one of the strongest teams here and so we decided that we wouldn't pull," he argued.
"With 25km to go the gap was still big and the break could have stayed away, so we put one guy up there to chase. It was the right idea because we caught the break pretty late."
"We don't have a plan for the GC here in Abu Dhabi and so we will try and defend the jersey on stage two. That means we will have to pull a lot."
A step up in 2016, with Degenkolb in 2017
Nizzolo is now 27 and has won seven races so far this season. He also won the red points jersey at the Giro d'Italia despite not winning a stage. He has shown far more consistency in 2016, swapping some of his many placing for victories. He beat Gianluca Brambilla and Filippo Pozzato to win the Italian title and was also third in the Cyclassics Hamburg WorldTour race. He won the Coppa Bernocchi and the Giro del Piemonte in September to secure a leadership role in the Italian national tam for the World Championships.
He made the vital attack of the race but then lacked a little speed and power in the final sprint that decided the wearer of the rainbow jersey. Despite Sunday's disappointment, he is confident for the future as he joins forces with Degenkolb to lead Trek-Segafredo's sprint and Classics campaign in the absence of retiree Fabian Cancellara.
"I'm happy with my season I think I made a step up in the winter thanks to not having any problems or injuries. I worked well to build a good base. In first part of the season I didn't win what I expected but I felt the step up was there. Then in the second part of the season I got the results I wanted. Now I'm looking forward to next year," he explained.
"My goal in next few years is to improve in the Classics. I don't consider myself just a sprinter but when there's a chance I try to do it. I don't have much experience of say the Tour of Flanders; you need to have ridden it at least once. But I'll go there next year to see what I can do."
"John seems a really nice guy and were here together, so it's a chance to get to know each other. We're both sprinters but there's no going to be any problems between us, hopefully we can have a great season together."