The long guttural roar let out by Sonny Colbrelli as he crossed the finish line on stage 4 of the Tour of Oman showed just how much victory meant to him. It was the first of the season for him and also his Bahrain-Merida team and, amid some doubts, provided confirmation that he's on track for the Classics.
"Today was the first time I felt good here," Colbrelli said, explaining that he'd struggled to adapt to the Middle Eastern heat on the opening three stages. "That's good for the morale ahead of the next races."
Like many riders in Oman this week, Colbrelli, who started his season at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana earlier this month, is preparing for the spring Classics.
As a sprinter who packs a punch, and as an Italian, Milan-San Remo – where he has twice been top 10 – stands out on his to-do list, but he is also looking to make the next step in the cobbled Classics. He finished 10th in the Tour of Flanders in 2017 and last year was eighth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and third at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
He will once again line up at those two races – known collectively as the 'opening weekend' – in 10 days' time, although he conceded he needs to save his very best for Milan-San Remo, which comes later in March and precedes the main cobbled Classics period. He is also set to head to the Ardennes later in April for Brabantse Pijl, which he won in 2017, and Amstel Gold Race, where he was ninth that year.
"The opening weekend is very important for me as I very much like racing in Belgium and it’s the start of the Classics. I'll be looking for victory there, for sure, but I don't think I’ll be at 100 per cent," Colbrelli said.
"This victory proves I am in good form but I can still improve some more. For sure, I want to be at my top condition at Milan-San Remo and after."
As for what he can achieve at the biggest one-day races, Colbrelli, who joined Bahrain-Merida from Bardiani-CSF in 2017, is aiming big.
"For sure, a good result in the Classics is my big objective for this season. I learned something more about these races last year and I feel I'm improving every year," he said. "I am aiming not only for top 10s or top fives but podiums."
Asked if he felt ready to win a big Classic, he answered emphatically in English: "Yes."
As for which, if he had the luxury of choosing, it's not, somewhat surprisingly, Milan-San Remo. "For, the number one is Flanders. My dream is Flanders."