Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) landed yet another third place at the Tour of the Alps in Cles on Thursday, but after a difficult 2018 season and his last victory coming during the 2017 Vuelta a España, the Polish climber and Grand Tour rider is just happy to be back at the sharp end of the action.
In the absence of teammate Peter Sagan, Majka and Davide Formolo will lead Bora-Hansgrohe at the Giro d'Italia, with Pascal Ackermann the German team's designated sprinter.
Majka is using the Tour of the Alps as a final test and block of racing before the Giro d'Italia and found optimism and satisfaction even in defeat.
"I tried to win the stage today, but I got another third place. But I'm happy, day by day the condition is coming," he told Cyclingnews after finishing behind Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and just ahead of race leader Pavel Sivakov (Team Sky).
The quartet lit up the final 30km of the 134km stage with a series of thrilling attacks and chases amongst the apple-orchards of the Val di Non. Majka and Nibali tried to work together, taking turns to attack the Team Sky duo. However, Majka was left to suffer out front in the final kilometres and then paid for his efforts. His only consolation was moving up to third place overall, 31 seconds down on Sivakov.
"I needed to work with Nibali better…" he admitted. "We tried something but it didn't work out. But Team Sky were strong, especially the two young guys," Majka said.
"I'm happy to be back to my level after a bad period last year, and so I'm so happy when I have a lot of power in my legs," he said.
"We're normal people as well as professional athletes. A bad season doesn't change who you are and your qualities as a rider."
Majka finished third at the Vuelta a España in 2015 and fifth at the Giro d'Italia in 2016. He won the polka-dot mountains jersey at the 2014 and 2016 Tour de France and also took three stage wins, but the overall classification at the Tour de France has proven a tougher nut to crack.
Now 29, Majka hopes to be back to his best in May, when he will face Nibali, Egan Bernal (Team Sky), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
"I'm really motivated for the Giro d'Italia this year," Majka said.
"This is the my key final preparation for the Giro, and I'm so happy to feel back at my best. Now I need some rest, but I'm sure I’ll feel even better. I'm looking forward to the Giro d'Italia."