He can hardly have envisaged that the partnership would have lasted quite as long as it did, but new Cannondale arrival Oscar Gatto says that he has no regrets about spending the past five seasons riding at Pro Continental level under the tutelage of Luca Scinto.
Gatto began his career in the ProTour with Gerolsteiner, but dropped down a level to sign for ISD (later Vini Fantini and now YellowFluo) in 2009. In spite of interest from the top flight in the intervening period – his reputation was burnished by his stage victory at the 2011 Giro d'Italia – Gatto remained in situ until the beginning of this season.
"During the five years with Scinto, I was still always able to do a lot of WorldTour races," Gatto told Cyclingnews. "Maybe not every year, but we usually did the Giro d'Italia, Paris-Roubaix and the Belgian classics, so for a rider of my characteristics, it suited me quite well to stay in the team. What's more, I was always treated very well on the team. But then this year, I had the chance to make a bit of a change, and I grabbed that opportunity."
Gatto's memorable Giro win at Tropea three years ago, when he punched his way clear in the sinuous finale and then held off the pursuing Alberto Contador on the approach to the line, was the keynote win of his time in fluorescent yellow, but it was a more recent win – last season's clever triumph at Dwars door Vlaanderen – that sealed his transfer to Cannondale.
"That Giro stage win was back in 2011 and maybe people were starting to forget it a bit," Gatto said. "But winning that race in Belgium last year brought me back to the level that I had been at before. It added to my value as rider, and ultimately, it's probably what allowed me to come and sign for a WorldTour team."
Scinto himself maintained that Gatto's development had been stunted slightly by Filippo Pozzato's year-long cameo with Vini Fantini in 2012, conceding that Gatto had been inhibited somewhat by the addition of a high-profile leader.
"No, I was very happy to ride with Pippo, first of all because he's a friend," Gatto said. "Besides, when you've got a strong rider on your team, you can always learn something from him, and I certainly learned a lot from Pippo. Sure, having a rider like that could preclude you from riding your own race 100 percent, but I'm convinced that once a rider shows he's going well, he'll always find space."
Finding the freedom to shine in Cannondale's line-up for the classics could be problematic, however, given the presence of Peter Sagan. Second in Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders last year, and primed for a tilt at Paris-Roubaix in 2014, the Slovak is the undisputed leader.
"We know already that for certain races, Peter will be the leader, and that's only right," Gatto said. "But races like that are always full of difficulties and twists, so you never know when you might end up with an opportunity for yourself."
In any case, the early part of Gatto's season is designed squarely around performing strongly on the cobbles, and he is pencilled in for a full tour of duty in Belgium this spring, from Dwars door Vlaanderen through to the Tour of Flanders, while Paris-Roubaix may also figure on his agenda.
Although he didn't race in the Middle East last year, Gatto maintains that the Tours of Qatar and Oman are the best possible early-season preparation for the classics. Omega Pharma-QuickStep's exhibition of echelon riding has been the standout feature of the week, but though impressed by Tom Boonen and company, Gatto was hardly surprised.
"Every year, they're the patrons of the race, so I can't say I'm shocked by how it's been this year. When I first did this race back in 2007, and you could see the same superiority from them," Gatto said. "But Qatar is certainly a particular race and, fortunately, a unique one too. But in any case, it's very useful for me ahead of going to Belgium."