Just a few months after a long-term injury all but wrecked Alessandro de Marchi’s 2015 season, the BMC Racing Team rider rode away into the mist at the end of the Vuelta’s stage 14 for a victory that has put de his career back on track.
“This spring I had a really bad case of tendinitis in my left foot’s Achilles tendon,” De Marchi explained to reporters, “and I could not pedal my bike from April 1st to June 10th.”
“I had started noting the effects as early as December the previous year , but it only really started getting serious in races.”
“It’s been a very hard period but I have to thank the team, and those who have been close to me over these recent months for their support.”
As well as a major rebound on a personal level, De Marchi’s stage win also represented a significant comeback for BMC Racing in the Vuelta. In a rollercoaster race, the squad won the opening team time trial, then lost both Tejay van Garderen and Samuel Sánchez, their top names, to injuries - van Garderen abandoning after the big stage 8 crash in Murcia, and Sánchez just hours before De Marchi won.
“We’ve had some bad news in this race with Tejay and today Samuel, but we’ll keep on fighting in the breaks,” De Marchi promised.
With that strategy already in mind, De Marchi had been one of five riders - together with Salvatore Puccio (Team Sky), José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), Mikael Chérel (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Carlos Quintero (Team Colombia) - who finally broke clear after a hard fought first hour of racing, gaining over ten minutes advantage at one point. When they had a similar advantage at the foot of the final ascent, it was almost a given that one of the five would be getting the stage winner’s bouquet at the top of the climb.
Widely recognised as the most able rider of those present in an uphill finish it had fallen to De Marchi to chase down Mikael Cherel (Ag2R La Mondiale) twice. However, the second time De Marchi dragged the tiny string up to Cherel’s back wheel, Puccio and Rojas launched their own last-minute attacks, giving De Marchi even more work to do.
The BMC Racing rider then successfully shook off Rojas and a tenacious Cherel as he set off in pursuit of his compatriot. But the question of how much energy the seemingly tireless Italian had used up in the process began to be a valid one, particularly as all five had been in a break that had started almost 175 kilometres earlier and already been over one major first category climb.
After passing Puccio with 900 metres to go De Marchi was all but spent, weaving from side to side as he tackled the mist-enshrouded final kilometre. But De Marchi finally crossed the line a clear 21 seconds ahead of Puccio, claiming his second Vuelta stage in as many years.
“Today is a surprise, because I was not the strongest in the break, getting in the break was hard and this spring with my injury has been very hard,” De Marchi, also victorious in a solo move last year in the Vuelta, said.
“We were all keeping back a bit in the break because with ten minutes advantage we knew it would stay away.”
“Cherel was the strongest, I had to shut down his attacks and I was worried about Puccio too. Fortunately I could get ahead of him, but I never expected to take so much away from this break. I won more with head, than with my legs. And with my heart.”
De Marchi's self-confidence has been restored so much and so fast, that when an Italian journalists asked him if he was “expecting a phone call in the evening,” he took it for granted - rightly - that the journalist was referring to his prospects for making it into the Italian selection for the upcoming World Championships. These presumably have radically increased post his stage win and, as the journalist implied, it seems likely that Italian national trainer could be calling de Marchi's telefonino this evening.
“I’m ready,” De Marchi answered the journalist. “I’m not the De Marchi of last year” - where he was a strong player in the World Championships - “but I hope I can come through. Today is a good sign.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.