After launching his searing attack on the last rise before Tropea on stage 8 of the Giro d'Italia, Oscar Gatto (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) expected to find the collective force of the sprinters' teams chasing him. Instead, as he looked over his shoulder to survey the situation, the Italian was shocked to see none other than Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) in lone pursuit.
Speaking at the winner's press conference, Gatto could afford to joke about his first thoughts on seeing the race favourite home into view behind.
"My initial reaction? If he comes close, I'll bring him down," Gatto laughed, before describing the pair's gripping pursuit match through the streets of the Calabrian town.
"I turned around four times. The first time, I didn't see anybody. The second time, I saw a Saxo jersey, but I said to myself 'that can't be him.' Then I looked again and I saw it was him alright."
In spite of the lofty credentials of the sole pursuer, Gatto realised there was little to do except grit his teeth and press on, even if the Arrivo banner seemed to take an eternity to arrive.
"At that point, I just said to myself, 'Vai Oscar, and don't think about who's behind,'" Gatto explained. "Then, the last time I looked around I saw that I was going to win. Of course having Contador chasing behind added a little to the win."
Although Gatto had earmarked the stage as one where he could make an impression, the 26-year-old said that his move in the final two kilometres was largely instinctive, so much so that he couldn't recall what gear he was pushing when he ripped clear of the peloton on the sinuous approach up to Tropea.
"I don't know to be honest, I just went purely on instinct," he said. "It was something that just happened on the spur of the moment."
Gatto did conduct a reconnaissance of sorts, watching footage of Italian television analyst Davide Cassani's stage preview, the night before the stage.
"I sort of knew it without having come to see it as I watched Davide Cassani's stage description, and I watched it more than once," Gatto admitted. "But what happened on the day came about by improvisation."
The Tropea triumph was Gatto's second win of 2011, and his first also came in Calabria, at the beginning of the season, at the Giro della Provincia di Reggio di Calabria.
"I was thinking of that coming down here," Gatto said. "This year, my first win came in Reggio Calabria right at the start of the season, so it was very important. So I think Calabria brings me a bit of luck."
Re-finding himself at Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli
After a glittering amateur career in the respected colours of the Zalf-Fior team, Gatto struggled to find his feet as a professional level at Gerolsteiner.
"As an amateur, in my last year I won more than anyone else in Italy," Gatto said. "I always won a lot in the juvenile ranks too. Then I went to Gerolsteiner, which was a really big team. But for two years, I didn't understand what it meant to be a professional. When you've been used to winning and then you don't win anymore, you lose belief in yourself, and that's what happened to me."
The turning point for Gatto arrived in 2009, when, after the collapse of the Gerolsteiner team, he teamed up with directeur sportif Luca Scinto at the ISD-Neri. His first victory arrived with a stage at that season's Giro di Sardegna, and since then Gatto has edged closer and closer to a bigger breakthrough victory.
"Thanks to Scinto, I had the faith of a team, and that led to me starting to have faith in myself," Gatto revealed with a proud smile.
With his Giro account opened, and Alberto Contador put the sword, Gatto's career was put back on track in Tropea in spectacular fashion
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