If one tracks the contenders for this year's rainbow jersey simply on momentum and form then Italy would have several riders among the favourites. Whether it's Matteo Trentin, Elia Viviani or Diego Ulissi, their riders simply haven't stopped wining in recent weeks. It's little wonder that Trentin believes that the Italian team can go head-to-head with the likes of Belgium in Sunday's elite men's road race at the World Championships.
Two years ago in Richmond, upon crossing the finish line and regaining his composure after a long and difficult race, Trentin explained to Cyclingnews how the Italian squad was one in transition. The show-stopping names from the mid-2000s had slowly faded from the limelight and a new crop was slowly finding their feet on the international stage. On that day in 2015 the Italians raced to 18th place through Giacomo Nizzolo. It was a result that perhaps didn't do their collective ride justice, but two years on from that experience, the team are in a different place. They've not just gelled as a squad but they've matured as riders.
Trentin, Viviani and Ulissi are all winning races and Italy finds itself with three genuine contenders for what looks like an open race on Sunday.
"We're more or less the same as that team in Richmond," Trentin told Cyclingnews late on Friday evening at the team's hotel.
"I was there, [Daniele] Bennati, [Sonny] Colbrelli as a reserve, Ulissi and Elia. We had the hole between two generations but we're around our 30s now and we're still growing."
Sunday's main event will illustrate how far Italy has come in the last two years. Their team meeting takes place on Saturday night, at which point they will be told of their roles and responsibilities, but few would argue that Trentin doesn't deserve a leading part.
The last six weeks of Trentin's career have seen him transform from an exciting rider who could occasionally pull off a big surprise, to one of the most consistent performers on the circuit. If four stage wins at the Vuelta wasn't enough, Trentin followed that up with a win at the Primus Classic – a 200km race, to which he had already tacked on 50km of riding to just to reach the start line.
"That's why I rode before the race with Gaviria. We had only two hours after the race so we rode behind the car for 50km before the race. Then we had our meeting so there was 45 minutes between the ride and the race. It was pretty good fun but there won't be any riding before Sunday's race. I think it's already long enough."
Trentin's transformation, he says, is not down to a different regiment of training, but what he calls a switch in mentality. Before the Vuelta, opportunities at QuickStep were limited owing to their depth in the Classics, but in Spain he was not just let off the leash but well supported too. That move gave him confidence and he's not looked back.
"Speaking about numbers I'm not better than other moments in my career," he said. "I think something mentally changed at the Vuelta because the team gave me the chance to be a leader. I could switch my mind into the leader role and that was something missing. I don't know how to explain it but like I said the numbers are the same. I'm a bit stronger in the sprints but for the climbs and the rest, I'm the same."
Yet despite Trentin's recent form and that of Viviani and Ulissi, Italy remain one rung below the likes of Greg Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert, Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews for Sunday's race. This is somewhat understandable. Sagan is a two-time winner, Gilbert has a proven track record, Van Avermaet is the Olympic champion and Matthews has won the green jersey and been second and fourth in the last two Worlds.
"We have a really good team. We don't have a big name like a Peter Sagan, a Michael Matthews or a Greg Van Avermaet but I think that we can do a really good race," Trentin said.
"But I've not come here promising a result. The main objective is to come here and do the best that I can but with the condition that I have right now the best I could do might be something good.
"We need to be a team with a capital T and we can't count on the single person. We need to work on our strength as a team."
For Italy to succeed they will need circumstances to play out in their favour but with momentum on their side it could well happen.
"At the Vuelta, I was always in the right place at the right time. When you have that kind of feeling everything is easier."
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