Matteo Trentin looks back at the 2018 season with a contrasting sense of suffering and of celebration, remembering the pain and disappointment of a cracked rib and then a far more serious vertebral fracture at Paris-Roubaix, but also the joy of winning the European road race title in Glasgow and so wearing the distinctive blue, white and gold.
The two emotional extremes have cancelled each other out, leaving the pragmatic Italian from the northern Trento region hungry to confirm his status as a true Classics contender in 2019.
"I want to get back to where I deserve to be and where my career trajectory was sending me," 28-year-old Trentin tells Cyclingnews.
"For sure the first part of my 2018 season was, well, pretty crap... I was up there in Gent-Wevelgem, I was up there in E3-Harelbeke but my cracked rib in training left me one step behind everyone else. In professional cycling if you’re not at 100 per cent of your ability, you’re going to get found out; 95 per cent and a good day isn’t enough to win anymore.
"Fortunately things came around when I won the European title plus a final win at the Tour of Guangxi in China. It meant I ended the season on a high and made me optimistic for 2019."
Showing his stoicism
After six seasons at Quick-Step Floors, starting as a neo-pro in 2012, Trentin was head hunted by Mitchelton-Scott to lead their Classics hopes in 2018.
He had won Grand Tour sprints and been given lesser leadership roles in the Belgian super team but had never made the step up to team leader for the Classics. He bravely gave up a quieter life in Quick-Step Floors blue for more space, more leadership and more responsibility at Mitchelton-Scott.
Trentin and the Australian team were expecting big things after five stage wins at the 2017 Vuelta a España and a second win at Paris-Tours. However, the cracked rib left him chasing his rivals and then the vertebral fracture during Paris-Roubaix forced him to throw in the towel and reset his season.
"There was nothing I could do, the cycling gods were racing against me in the spring," he says.
"I then missed a big chunk of the season, from April to July, but to be honest I’m just grateful to have made a full recovery. I could have perhaps never been able to walk again, so I’m just happy to back on the bike. Our vertebrae are pretty delicate and so it was important to do things right and make a full recovery. I didn’t want to take the risk of having problems in the years ahead or for the rest of my life."
The burden of disappointment weighed on Trentin’s shoulders as he waited for his vertebrae to heal but he is known for his stoicism.
"It was a difficult moment. I’d changed team, joining Mitchelton-Scott, and I had some important goals and hopes for the spring. Fortunately the team gave me the time to recover and work carefully and the comeback worked out well for everyone."
Creating a cycling masterpiece in Glasgow
Italian national coach Davide Cassani was supportive and dangled the carrot of leadership at the European championship in Glasgow in front of Trentin as special incentive to return in time for early August.
Cassani knew that the rolling course and expected sprint finish was perfect for Trentin. While the likes of Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews and Alexander Kristoff would head to Scotland tired or injured after the Tour de France, Trentin had something to aim for.
Cassani motivated Trentin by including him in the Italian team that rode the Adriatica Ionica Race as he got back into training and then frequently checked up on him as he trained hard for a block of 30 days at altitude in Livigno.
Two top-ten placings at the Tour de Pologne indicated that the hard work had paid off and so Trentin and headed to Glasgow with growing confidence. The cycling gods were now looking down on him more kindly.
The cold and wet conditions cracked Peter Sagan mentally and physically after just 100km but Trentin made the most of his opportunity. He made sure he was part of the select group that got away from the peloton with 55km remaining, and then avoided a crash on the wet roads with 10 kilometres remaining that took out several of the riders.
Only Trentin, Wout Van Aert (Belgium), Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), Davide Cimolai (Italy), Jesus Herrada (Spain) and Xandro Meurisse (Belgium) were there, and Cimolai played the team role and produced a perfect lead out, rightly celebrating with his arms in the air as Trentin hit the line and started his own celebrations. He was back where he wanted to be.
"Glasgow was a capolavoro [a masterpiece]" Trentin says proudly.
"The tactics and the performance of the Italian team made for a perfect race and then I finished it off to pay them back. Bike racing doesn’t get much better than that.
"It was a team victory but also a personal victory for me because it had always been one of my big 2018 goals and I never given up even when I was lying on my bed in pain. I could have come back gradually at the Vuelta but I accepted the challenge of being ready for the European championships. Winning the jersey and wearing it for a year has paid me back for all the hard work and sacrifices."
Trentin was happy to show off his standout European champion’s colours at the subsequent Vuelta a España and other races in the final months of the season. He’s not interested in any kind of cycling Brexit and is looking forward to standing out in the 2019 spring Classics peloton as he targets every big race from Milan-San Remo to Paris-Roubaix.
He also has his eye on the World Championships in Yorkshire, which should produce a race similar to the European championships in Glasgow.
"I’m enjoying wearing the European champion’s jersey. I’m proud to wear it,” he says. "It stands out in the peloton and symbolises a hell of a lot. For European cycling and of course for me, it makes all the pain and disappointment of the first part of the season worthwhile."