While Adriano Malori (Movistar) was considered an outside favourite in the flat, 9.1km time trial that concluded Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday, conventional wisdom put the best hopes for a stage win on a trio of riders with very deep palmares against the clock: current and three-time time trial world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), four-time time trial world champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the 2012 Olympic time trial and Tour de France champion.
Malori rolled out of the start house approximately half way through the 156-rider start list in San Benedetto del Tronto, and while his time of 10:13 for the 9.1km course toppled the previous benchmark of 10:32 set by Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) the heavy hitters were still to come. One by one, however, they fell short of Malori's time: first Tony Martin (10:28), then Bradley Wiggins (10:24), followed by Fabian Cancellara (10:19).
When every rider had completed the stage the 26-year-old Italian, a former U23 time trial world champion and both U23 and elite time trial national champion, had won his second time trial of the year and a monumental victory for his palmares.
"It's the most beautiful victory in my entire life," said Malori. "Looking at the classification, it almost feels like a dream to win in front of the best specialists in the world. I still can't believe it myself."
One year prior, on the same concluding time trial course at Tirreno-Adriatico, Malori placed second to Tony Martin by six seconds. Sitting in the hot seat, Malori could only watch and hope that the outcome would be different this year.
"When I crossed the finish and saw the time, I compared it to other years and saw it was really good, but I didn't think I could win until Tony Martin came through the line," said Malori. "I had dreamt of winning this TT for the last four years, having already taken second last season and third on two more occasions."
After spending the first four years of his professional career at Lampre, Malori moved to Movistar for 2014 and has started the season in good form. In his first race of the year, at Argentina's Tour de San Luis in January, Malori won the stage 5 time trial. He followed that up with a seventh place result in the Dubai Tour's opening time trial and ultimately finished seventh on general classification. Then, the Italian placed second to a flying Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in the time trial stage at the Volta ao Algarve prior to Tirreno-Adriatico.
Brimming with confidence, Malori now has his eye on the Classics as well as the Giro d'Italia. In particular. Malori is hoping for another good performance against the clock in the first individual time trial of the Italian Grand Tour, 41.9km from Barbaresco to Barolo on stage 12.
"I'll be focusing on Milano-San Remo and the first Classics in Belgium before getting ready for the Giro. There, I hope to perform well in the Barolo TT, though the course will be pretty hard. I hope my condition will be better than it is right now."
Malori has contested the Giro just once prior in his career in 2012, but it proved memorable as he spent one day in the maglia rosa earned from his second place stage finish and time bonus at the conclusion of stage 6 in the city of Porto Sant'Elpidio on the Adriatic coast.
"The Adriatic coast has always brought me good luck, with my victories as an amateur and the maglia rosa in the Giro two years ago," said Malori, hoping for another strong performance in late May.