He's only one week into the season, but Julian Arredondo thinks everything is going to be all right. The Colombian rode his way inconspicuously through the Vuelta a San Juan last week, his first race back at the Nippo-Vini Fantini team, but just making it to the end was a sign that his career might be back on track.
The last two years were rough, especially off the back of what came before. In his first year as a full professional, in 2014, Arredondo announced himself as one of the most promising talents in the sport, winning two stages at the Tour de San Luis, finishing fifth at Tirreno-Adriatico, and then winning a stage and the mountains classification at the Giro d'Italia. He was part of the 'new wave' of Colombian climbers, but the likes of Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves have since left him behind.
The Trek WorldTour team quickly signed him up for another two years, but 2015 was beset by physical problems, with constant pain in his pelvis and lower back that no one could seem to get to the bottom of. Results were anonymous, but it would go from bad to worse in 2016 as he completed just 37 race days and racked up no fewer than eight DNFs.
"I was thinking seriously about retiring,” Arredondo tells Cyclingnews at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. “It was just problems, problems, problems – always problems.
Trek began to lose hope and long before the transfer window rolled round in August, it was clear they wouldn't be putting a fresh contract on the table.
Arredondo says he wouldn't have signed it even if they had, and it becomes clear he feels unhappy about the way he was treated at the American team.
"No no," he whispers, shaking his head in dismay, when asked if he felt he received sufficient support there.
"They helped with everything else, but with my own problems, no. It was difficult. In the small teams it's easier to resolve problems, in the big teams it's harder. For them it's very easy just to sign another rider.
"I thought about taking a longer break but the team didn't allow me to because they didn't have enough riders to cover the races. So I had to go to race whatever the case. Whether I was feeling good or feeling bad, I had to go and race."
Arredondo now finds himself back in the colours of Nippo-Vini Fantini, where he landed the results that attracted Trek in the first place. It's a step down to Pro Continental level but hopefully a step down to make a step forward, and the optimism hasn't taken long to return.
"It was a choice between retiring or finding someone who would help me, and these guys have helped, and now things are much much much better," says the 28-year-old.
But so soon into the new season, how can he be sure he's in the clear – that the niggling injuries won't flare up again?
"Because I've done several stages here and I have absolutely no problems," is the response. “Beforehand I'd do one or two races and pull out because I couldn't go on. Now, my condition might not be great, but there are no physical problems, no contortions – all good.
"Now the team has lent my a hand, helped me, and I have worked very hard for three months. I was in Italy for one or two months, doing sessions with osteopaths, then in Colombia doing exercises for pelvis stability. I started to train well again doing three, four hours, a week or two at a time. The body feels good, so I have lots of confidence that this year things will be better."
Disappointment and frustration have not completely left Arredondo alone, as it was announced earlier this year that the Nippo team had missed out on a wildcard invitation to the Giro d'Italia – the most important three weeks of the year for an Italian outfit.
"It's a shame because if we're going to compare the riders on the other teams that were invited like CCC-Sprandi, or Gazprom-RusVelo, they're unknown," he says.
"Here we have Italian riders with lots of victories – Damiano [Cunego], Ivan [Santaromita] who has won there, me who won a stage and the mountains in 2014. It's a case of money. If you have money and you have [business] interests, they invite you. If not… it's a transaction."
That said, just being able to race his bike pain-free is satisfaction enough for Arredondo at the moment, and enough optimism has returned to allow for a cheeky grin and a vow to “win a few races" over the course of the season.
"I'm very, very motivated," he says. “It feels like I'm just starting all over again."
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