How do you solve a problem like Nacer Bouhanni? That's the maddening question for Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) after he claimed his third second place finish of this Giro d'Italia at the end of stage 10.
In Bari, Foligno and now Salsomaggiore Terme - almost the length of Italy - Nizzolo has been pipped to the post by Bouhanni. Indeed, for good measure, his third place finish in Belfast was also just behind the Frenchman. The fact that he seems to be inching ever closer to getting his lines right must surely only increase Nizzolo's frustration at being the chief understudy in the sprints.
After being floored by Bouhanni's acceleration in the finale of stage 7, Nizzolo looked to get his retaliation in first on Tuesday and he scorched into the lead inside the final 200 metres, having been among the clutch of sprinters who avoided the crash on the final curve. With 100 metres to go, it looked as though Nizzolo might break his duck, but instead Bouhanni conjured up the speed to overhaul him.
"I tried to anticipate because I thought today might be the right time and that final climb might take a little something from Bouhanni's legs but instead it didn't go like that," Nizzolo told Cyclingnews just past the finish line. "When you can see the finishing banner coming up in front of you, you always believe in your chances, but obviously, I faded a little bit after that and he made up the ground. Niente - it's another second place, now let's look ahead."
The technical finale of Tuesday's stage included a short rise on the run-in to Salsomaggiore Terme that briefly threatened to discommode Bouhanni. The French champion languished near the back of the peloton under Sky's forcing in the final six kilometres, but gamely dragged himself back into contention for the sprint.
The black jerseys of the Trek squad were prominent at the head of the peloton in the closing kilometres, and as he soft-pedalled back through the finish area towards his team bus, Nizzolo stopped to thank his companion Fabio Felline for his efforts. The complicated nature of the run-in, however, meant that Nizzolo had to negotiate the final throes of the sprint alone.
"In the finale, the team did the maximum it could to help me out," Nizzolo said. "There was only Boy [van Poppel] with three kilometres to go and it wasn't possible for him to make it to the final kilometre, so I have to thank him and all of the team."
Opportunities for the sprinters are always at a premium in the Giro d'Italia - or at least, they have been since Alessandro Petacchi famously clocked up a total nine sprint wins at the race a decade ago - and as the corsa rosa heads towards its crescendo in the high mountains, time is running out for Nizzolo to chalk up a maiden victory here.
The 25-year-old reckons that there are three more potential sprint stages remaining in this Giro - stage 13 to Rivarolo Canavese, stage 17 to Vittorio Veneto and the grand finale in Trieste. "We'll try to get one any way we can," he said.
But what precisely can Nizzolo do to beat Nacer Bouhanni between now and Trieste? "I don't know. If I knew that, I'd have won," he smiled, shaking his head. "If I knew that, I'd have won."