While Nairo Quintana (Movistar) understandably hogged the majority of the headlines after his supreme ride in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana at the weekend, the little-known Italian Manuel Senni was riding towards a well-deserved podium after a fine performance on the stage 4 summit finish.
Senni, 24, is in the third year of his contract at BMC Racing and rode the Giro d'Italia in 2016 but you would be forgiven for not recognising the climber. Until Valencia, Senni had not registered an individual top-10 result inside Europe – bar 4th in the national time trial championships in 2015 – but on the Mas de la Costa he finished 11th and secured his third place overall standings behind Quintana and BMC teammate, Ben Hermans. He also wore the yellow jersey after BMC won the opening team time trial.
"At the end of last year, we could already see that he was strong and that he was improving with his results in races like Milan-Turin," BMC directeur sportif Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews.
"He was a little bit young when he came into the WorldTour but it takes time when you come from U23 and move to the highest level with the biggest champions. In a lot of races in the first two years he was asked to work for the team. When you do that with a young rider, it's not always easy for them to get results."
Senni was, in fact, a late call-up to the BMC team ahead of Valencia after Manuel Quinziato was hit with illness. The young substitute played an important role in helping BMC win the opening team time trial in Orihuela. However, it was his ride on the summit finish on stage 4 that cemented his place on the podium and drew everyone's attention. When Quintana danced away, having decimated the peloton with one surge, it was Senni who led a select group of riders in pursuit as he buried himself in support of Hermans. A number of riders were able to come around the Italian on the final slopes of the climb but he clung on to take third overall by 20 seconds.
"He was an amateur in Italy but at the time we had Andrea Agostini as our press guy. He's a good friend of Senni, and he told us, 'I've got a good rider, he's not ready but he's a climber and he's improving,'" Piva said. "Then we were at the Tour a few months later and Andrea came to us and said, 'Look, Senni won a stage in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and then the day after he comes to us again and says, 'Senni won again in the same race.' Jim Ochowicz was there and he said, 'We need some good young climbers, why don't we test him?'"
Senni would go on to finish third in the Italian stage race and claim the points jersey. BMC were true to their word and invited the Cesena-born climber to the lab.
"We contacted him and Max Testa tested him. We saw that he had the numbers, and the right attitude and from there we took him to the team," said Piva.
Piva admits that Senni is an ambitious rider and although it's too soon to determine whether he has a major future in Grand Tours, BMC will seek to get the best from him.
"GC? I don't know. Not for now. He had results in GC as an amateur. We'll push him in some short stage races and see," Piva explained. "He's a good climber but his time trialling needs work. He's a good kid and he's learning a lot. He's well integrated and he works hard for the team every time he's asked to. He knows he's in a big team with a lot of champions, but he has his ambitions. When you come into a big team, like BMC, it's easy to just sit in the corner but with this result I hope that he moves in another direction."
Next up for Senni is the Abu Dhabi Tour, while he is also on the long-list for the Giro d'Italia.