Reggio Emilia is the birthplace of the red, white and green Italian tricolore flag and Alberto Dainese took Italy's first stage win in this year's Giro d'Italia, defending Italian pride after years of cycling's gradual decline in the country.
With no Italian WorldTour team in the peloton and Vincenzo Nibali confirming he will retire at the end of the season, there is a sense of demise in Bel Paese after decades of success.
Yet a change in the tide of fortune could be on the way. Former Italian national coach Davide Cassani confirmed that he is working on creating a ProTeam for 2023 and has apparently secured a pasta brand, a coffee brand and Bianchi bikes as title sponsors, with the team's roster set to be packed with Italian riders.
"Italian cycling is not dead yet," he said in the post-stage press conference.
"We don't need to learn from anyone else, we've just got to keep doing what we know how to do and the success will return.
"Italians are always quick to criticise but there are always cycles of success in pro cycling and it's not easy to stay at the top. We've got European champions, World Champions and Nibali is one of the greats of the sport but a generational change always needs time."
Dainese has been close to Grand Tour success several times before but never managed to combine his late surge with a clean run to the line.
In Reggio Emilia, he was not even Team DSM's designated sprinter but took over when Cees Bol had a bad day. He seemed too far back going into the final kilometre but surged through to get past Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) on the line. Another Italian, Simone Consonni (Cofidis) also snuck past Démare for third.
In the past four Giri, Italy has won stages in the first week, and Filippo Ganna won the first stage and maglia rosa in 2020 and 2021. The last time the host country had to wait past the opening week to win a stage was in 2017 when Nibali won stage 16. Dainese finally ended the drought of 2022 on stage 11 in Reggio Emilia.
"I actually woke up not feeling great, I didn't sleep well and felt I was on a bad day but you've always got to believe in yourself," Dainese admitted.
"Cees should have done the sprint but then we swapped. It went well for me and it's just incredible to win. I was a bit behind and so couldn't accelerate when I wanted but had the speed to then came from behind."
Dainese turned professional in 2020 after winning the under-23 European Championships and racing for the SEG development team in the Netherlands. He left the comforts of Italy to polish his sprinting talents and joined Team Sunweb in 2020, immediately winning a stage at Jayco Herald Tour. He was second in the Vuelta a España sprint in La Manga in 2021 and had two third places.
He shares sprinting responsibilities with Bol at Team DSM but destiny smiled on him in Reggio Emilia, allowing him to show his speed, beat some of the greatest sprinters in the peloton and take Italy's first win of the 2022 Corsa Rosa.
"It's not been easy since I turned pro," Dainese admitted. "There were a lot of expectations after I won the European title. Winning perhaps seemed easy but pro cycling is not like you see when you just watch it on television. It's hard. You never think you can beat the greatest sprinters but now I've shown it's possible."
Dainese was quickly compared to Mark Cavendish for his stature and sprinting speed. He gave up playing basketball when he failed to grow tall enough to slam dunk but is convinced jumping and shooting hoops helped develop his sprinting speed.
"Cavendish isn't my idol as people have suggested but he's one of the strongest sprinters out there and perhaps the fastest. But let's not forget that Italy also had Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi who were two of the best.
"Every generation has its great sprinters. I just hope to join them but even though I've won now, I'm not there yet."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.