Everyone was expecting Nacer Bouhanni, Elia Viviani, Tyler Farrar and Giacomo Nizzolo to fight for victory on the last flat stage before the mountain stages begin in this year's corsa rosa. Instead, Canola beat Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli) and Angelo Tulik (Europcar) in Rivarolo Canavese after the trio had the strength, speed and conviction to ensure their attack stayed away.
The sprinters and their teams failed to work together and could only blame themselves for letting Canola enjoy his big day.
Canola won a stage of the Tour de Langkawi in 2012 but this was his first big win after several difficult years of placing, unsuccessful attacks and suffering in the saddle.
"This is what's so great about the unexpected. If things always go as expected, there would be no surprises in life," Canola said, clearly wise beyond his years.
"It's why you need to fight and have the desire to keep going. Today I had that desire and it paid off. Other times I've suffered and ended up with nothing. But things have to balance out in life."
Not afraid to speak out
Canola was paid back for his persistence. He also garnered huge praise after his victory for his stance against doping. Last year he was very critical of Danilo Di Luca when Di Luca tested positive during the Giro d'Italia, and spoke out even more during the stage winner's press conference in Rivarolo Canavese.
"I spoke out last year because this is my job and I love what I do," he said.
"People talk a lot about who wins races and who is strong, but the world of cycling also includes a lot of riders who aren’t talked about very much but are still very good. We all need to talk about them too and be honest with our sport."
"Cycling has changed. You have to do it on 'pane e acqua' (bread and water – do it clean). We can't make the same mistakes of the past and I think it's time to speak out about it."
"I've spoken with riders who are more expert than me, who raced in the period that we all know about. They've told me that if I'd raced back then, I wouldn’t get the results I've got. I'm proof and so are many other riders, that people should have faith in cycling."
"Now we look for an edge in everything we do: training, diet, position on the bike and rest. Whoever is at the cutting edge can do better. That's the reality of cycling now."
Canola is part of a new generation of Italian riders that are slowly shaking off the past and emerging from the shadow of a generation that has been damaged and scared by the plague of doping. He was a talented young rider but struggled to emerge. He also had to overcome the loss of his father, who first put him on a bike and helped him fall in love with cycling.
"As a amateur I lost a lot of races because I was caught in the final metres after going on the attack," he explained.
"It's difficult to break through into professional cycling. I won seven races as a junior. I did some good things as an amateur too but then I hit a difficult moment in my life when I lost my father. It was a huge obstacle. Fortunately thanks to the right people I got over it, changed my style of racing and changed as a person, too."
"Now I'm more open and helpful with my team and my teammates. I like to get on with everyone. Results are not the most important thing in life. It's important to be a good person."
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