Matteo Trentin finished his first season with Mitchelton-Scott on a high note after getting off to a rough start with a crash at Paris-Roubaix that fractured his spine and knocked him out of competition for more than two months. The 29-year-old Italian strongman was able to bounce back from the disastrous spring, however, to win the European Championships road race in Glasgow in August and then add another win at the Tour of Guangxi late last month.
Before he even got his inaugural season with the Australian WorldTour team started, Trentin cracked a rib in a pre-season training crash. He recovered in time to start his season in Spain at the Volta a Communidad Valencia in January, and he appeared to be on form going into the Classics season with 11th at the E3 Harelbeke and seventh at Gent-Wevelgem. Then the crash on the d’Haveluy à Wallers sector of cobbles in Roubaix sidetracked his season.
"For sure it wasn't the best start for me at Mitchelton-Scott," Trentin said in an interview published on the team's website. "You know, you join a new team that has a great vision and a nice project, you have ambition to do the best you possibly can, and then you turn around and it's basically gone to shit.
"The first injury – with the ribs – I could recover quite quickly from. Not easily, but fast, and I felt like I was always chasing something, but not quite getting there. But then at Roubaix, it was a heavy crash and it was quite serious, so I decided that I had to have a real break, let the body heal and completely reset."
X-rays revealed that Trentin had sustained a stable compression fracture of his thoracic spine. Doctors expected a full recovery, but Trentin would need to spend some quality time at home recovering before he could race again.
"I only had maybe 35 days off the bike before I could get on the rollers indoors, and of course in that period my second son arrived, so it was busy, and I didn't have the time to feel like the injury was a drain mentally or too much of a challenge," he said.
"It was a great period of family time, to be there helping around the house as much as I could. It made part of the recovery process easier. To be honest, with this type of injury you can only do what your body allows, so as soon as you try to do something over a certain limit, you feel pain and ease off. I waited, let everything heal and then, 10 days later, so 45 days after the crash, I went out on the bike."
The recovery required patience, but Trentin admitted that even before he was out of hospital, he was thinking about what remained of his season.
"To be honest, the European Championships were in the back of mind when I was in the hospital bed two days after the crash. Athletes are always like this: you suffer a set back and you start thinking about the next achievable objective. It's also a lot to do with positivity and having goals," he said.
“I thought, 'OK, this is something I can do. The time frame is right, and if everything goes well with the recovery process then I could realistically target the European Championships road race as a comeback goal.'"
Trentin returned to racing with the Italian national team on June 20 at the Adriatica Ionica Race, finishing seventh with Mitchelton-Scott in the opening team time trial and scoring 10th in the stage 5 sprint won by Elia Viviani.
"I spoke to Davide Cassani, the national team coach, and he allowed me to join the team and race despite the condition I was in, and it was really good all round," Trentin said. "The race came at the right time for me and gave me an opportunity to get back into the routine of racing – both physically and mentally.
"From there, I went up to Livigno to train at altitude, raced the national championships, went back up to Livigno and then finally came back with the team in a WorldTour race at the Tour of Poland only a week before the road race in Glasgow."
Trentin notched two top 10 finishes at the Tour de Pologne, boosting his confidence ahead of the European Championships.
"Getting in the mix in the sprints in Poland did me a lot of good, and coming third on the opening stage showed that the hard work was starting to pay off and that my form was coming."
The racing in Glasgow took place in wet, grey Scottish conditions, but Trentin made the most of his opportunity that day. Trentin joined a 10-rider group that got away from the bunch with about 55km remaining, and then a crash on the wet roads with just under 10km remaining took out several of the riders, leaving only a high-powered group of Trentin, Wout Van Aert (Belgium), Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), Davide Cimolai (Italy), Jesus Herrada (Spain) and Xandro Meurisse (Belgium).
"Man, it was cold," Trentin said. "And wet. It was pretty bad weather on the day, and a super technical parcours, and a really hard race day. There was uphill and downhill, but mainly it was just a very technical circuit made harder by the rain, and it just got harder and harder.
"The strongest teams had riders in there, and after close to 200 kilometres in those conditions, there wasn't going to be anyone who could chase our group down on those circuits. We were two of us [from the Italian team], with Davide Cimolai and me, and I said to Cimo, 'Give it a pull. Let's go and try to win this one.'"
Cimolai was the first from the group to jump with 7km to go, while Van Aert led the group up to the Italian. Even with 500 metres to go, the group stayed together, with everyone apparently setting everything on the sprint. Van Aert was the first to go but was unable to follow Trentin, who immediately set off.
"I expected attacks for sure, especially from the two cyclo-cross riders, Van Aert and Van der Poel, but after the crash split the group in half with just under 10 kilometres to go, Cimo and I were still in there, so then we started to play a little bit.
"I was waiting for an attack on the climb, but it never came so I thought, 'OK, everyone else is also hurting,' so I just concentrated on doing the best sprint I could do, and it was. Tactically we played the numbers and it worked out well. I felt good at the end, when we'd finished and won, but during the race you never know until the end."
The Italian claimed the title ahead of Van Aert and Van der Poel, saving a season that otherwise may have been a disappointment. Trentin went from Glasgow to the EuroEyes Cyclassics Hamburg, where he finished fifth, and then on to the Vuelta a España in support of Simon Yates' winning effort.
"It was like I'd had a big stone on my back, and all of a sudden it came crashing down as soon as I crossed the line," Trentin said of his European road race title. "After all the bad luck, the setbacks, the hard work, it's something special to win this race because you are marked differently for a whole year. You have a champion's jersey that distinguishes you from everyone else in the peloton, which is very special.
"To go from there to the Vuelta in the champ's jersey and to help the team and Simon win our first Grand Tour made everything more special, and I'd never been part of a team that went deep into a three-week race before, so to do that for the first time and come away as part of the winning team, well, it gives me a 100 per cent record for Grand Tours so far."
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