In the final part of the 2018 season, Gianni Moscon produced a remarkable sequence of results on returning from the suspension he received for aiming a blow at Elie Gesbert on stage 15 of the Tour de France. The Team Sky rider claimed the Giro della Toscana, the Coppa Agostoni, the Italian time trial title and the Tour of Guangxi during a purple patch that also saw him place 5th at the World Championships in his adopted home of Innsbruck, Austria.
The opening weeks of 2019, by comparison, have been rather more subdued. After a block of altitude training in Colombia, Moscon's seasonal debut at the UAE Tour was beset by crashes. Following an anonymous outing at Strade Bianche, he abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico on stage 2 and then missed Milan-San Remo altogether.
Moscon was a late addition to the Team Sky roster at the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday as he bids to compensate for his lack of racing days ahead of the forthcoming trio of Classic weekends. He made an appearance on the front of the peloton in the finale in support of teammate Kristoffer Halvorsen, before rolling across the finish line a little over 6 minutes down on winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma).
"It went quite well, but we'll see day by day," Moscon said afterwards, adding that he was unsure what impact missing the bulk of Tirreno-Adriatico would have on his Classics campaign. "Look, I don't know to be honest. I'm just trying to do the best I can now and see what I manage to do."
Although Moscon did not appear to sustain any specific lasting injury in his brace of falls at the United Emirates, Team Sky cited the lingering impact of the crashes as an explanation for his premature abandon at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"Gianni didn't feel great since UAE, he had a few nasty crashes. Then at Tirreno he wasn't going well so he decided to take some rest and recovery and that's why he's riding here now," directeur sportif Servais Knaven told Cyclingnews on Wednesday. "He had a hard training block in Colombia and went to UAE to build up his form, but then the crashes had an impact on everything.
"In the end, you have to make the best decision. OK, of course it's never nice to miss Tirreno, especially when you're already at the start. It was not really expected, but you have to make the best decision for Gianni, because he's one of our key riders for the Classics. The best option for him to be ready for the Classics was to take some time off. He didn't train a lot since then, but now it's about building up the form, starting with this race."
Received wisdom says that completing Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice is an essential component in any Classics contender's build-up, even if there have been occasional outliers in recent years. Mat Hayman won the 2016 Paris-Roubaix after all of March with a broken arm, while Silvan Dillier placed second in the same race last year after breaking his thumb at Strade Bianche.
"I think there's more than one way to Rome. In the past, it was always Paris-Nice or Tirreno, that was what you needed, but now I think more and more riders are seeing it's not really necessary," Knaven said.
"It's similar with other Classics. We've had a look at the riders who were top 5 in the Ardennes in recent years and many of them didn't do the Tour of the Basque Country, for example, so there are many ways ultimately to be in good shape. Having some races in the legs is good but the better you train before, the less you need those races. I think Gianni trained really well the whole winter. After a few crashes, recovery was more important than finishing Tirreno and maybe coming in 20 minutes behind every day."
It remains to be seen what impression Moscon will make over the coming fortnight following his truncated build-up. A 5th-place at Paris-Roubaix in 2017 as a 22-year-old demonstrated his aptitude on the cobbles, but he was unable to replicate that display a year ago in a subdued spring campaign.
"For sure for the moment he's not one of the big favourites for those big races coming up, but let's see," Knaven said. "It's hard to say, because Gianni is one of those big talents who doesn't need a lot to be already good. We don't know, we have to see, but we have faith that it's going to be alright."
Moscon is expected to line up at both E3 BinckBank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem this weekend, though Ian Stannard and the on-form Luke Rowe look to be the men who will lead the line for Team Sky in the coming days.
"It's certainly a chance to train," Moscon said. "Every race I do now is a chance to train and build form. If a result comes, that's great, but in any case, I'll get a lot of racing kilometres in."