Giro d'Italia rookies Eolo-Kometa ended up capturing one of the biggest prizes on offer in the race on Saturday as 25-year-old Lorenzo Fortunato took a spectacular solo win on stage 14 up the Zoncolan, the first of his career.
Fortunato formed part of the break of the day, his first of the race, and made the selection on the lower slopes of the brutal climb, bridging across alone after Jan Tratnik (Bahrain Victorious) had jumped away with 10 kilometres to go.
The Italian then made his winning move 2.3 kilometres from the line, powering away from Tratnik and grimacing hard as he battled the steepest upper pitches of the Zoncolan, including a section touching 27 per cent.
He finally claimed the triumph by 26 seconds over Tratnik, giving the UCI ProTeam, managed by former Giro winners Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso – the latter a winner on Zoncolan in 2010 – their first win since a stage of the U23 Giro last year, and on the most prestigious scenario possible.
"Ivan took me to one side this morning in the team bus, told me to go in the break, get onto the Zoncolan and win, and that's what I did," Fortunato said. "I think he believed in me more than I did.
"I watched Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) the closest in the break, but then after Tratnik went for it, I tried to bridge across."
"After I dropped him, though, it was so hard it felt like the finish line was never going to appear."
Fortunato said that he had not allowed himself to think on the final part of the climb, just focussing instead "on keeping pushing as hard as I possibly could. If I'd started thinking, I might have cracked.
"I hadn't looked at the stage before this morning, I was really relaxed. The team didn't put me under any pressure, and I can't thank the management and Eolo-Kometra enough, without them I wouldn't be here."
Fortunato has not won much in the U23 category before turning pro in 2019, he said, after spells as a trainee both with Tinkoff in 2016 and with Bardiani-CSF in 2017. Earlier this season he took seventh on the Alto del Naranco summit finish at the Vuelta Asturias, while last season he was eighth overall at the Tour de Langkawi.
"But now I train more and the results are coming," he said.
Originally hailing from Castel dei Britti, the same town in central Italy as the country's skiing legend Alberto Tomba, Fortunato began racing thanks to his father Marco, who had raced as an amateur.
"He showed me what cycling was about, but without any pressure. I just did it because I enjoyed it. I just kept going and kept going and finally I've ended up winning here, on the Zoncolan."
Fortunato says that he will try to attack again on another Giro stage, but in the long-term, his next goal will be to try and "do well in Il Lombardia", where he finished 44th last year.
"My girlfriend comes from Erba, a town on the route, so I'd like to get in a move there if I can."
For now, in any case, Fortunato has claimed Italy's fourth ever win on the Zoncolan after Gilberto Simoni in 2003 and 2007 and Ivan Basso in 2010, and given his team a victory that ends their drought in the most impressive way possible.
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