Giacomo Nizzolo seized Trek-Segafredo's fifth win of the week Sunday at the Vuelta a San Juan, beating the Quick-Step duo of Max Richeze and Alvaro Hodeg in a blistering sprint after a long day of racing in the Argentina heat.
Nizzolo, who said at the press conference before the stage race started that he hoped 2018 would make up for his injury-and-illness-plagued 2017 campaign, appears to be off to a good start.
"This victory tastes very good to me, especially after a very difficult year," Nizzolo said. "I have to say thank you to my team because they did incredible work , and I want to dedicate this victory to them, and also to my family because they were with me all the last year that was very hard for me."
The 28-year-old Italian started the week with fourth place in the opening stage won by Fernando Gaviria before the Quick-Step sprinter crashed out of the race, and he improved two spots during the stage 4 sprint won by Quick-Step's Max Richeze.
He timed his effort perfectly on Sunday, coming off Richeze's wheel with about 100 metres to go and then holding off a charge from the Argentinean fastman at the line.
"It was a very complicated sprint to read because it was very fast and without curves in the final," he said. "You have to choose the perfect moment to start your sprint.
"In the first part I had a lot of support from my team, and then I decided to follow the wheels of the Quick-Step team because I knew they are the best in the sprints."
To separate breakaways went off the front during stage 7, a seven-man group that the peloton pulled back with 50km remaining, and a smaller three-man move that stayed until only 9km remained.
Trek-Segfredo helped with the chasing throughout the day, and then positioned Nizzolo near the front as multiple sprint trains competed for dominance.
"Our strategy as a team was to try to have the race controlled," he said. "There were some breakaways, but my team was very good controlling the breakaway, and then in the final I had to improvise with nothing clear.
"I knew Quick-Step was the best team because they have a lot of guys for the sprint, and when I saw they were starting to push hard, I was in [Richeze's] wheel.
Nizzolo's win on Sunday follows wins by Trek's Ryan Mullen during the stage 3 time trial in San Juan, John Degenkolb's two sprint wins and Challenge Mallorca and Toms Skujins' solo win in Mallorca as well.
More importantly, the win is Nizzolo's first since taking stage 1 at the Abu Dhabi Tour in October of 2016, and it marks the start of what he hopes will be a comeback of sorts after suffering through so much disappointment last year.
"As you can imagine, this victory means a lot to me after 2017 was really bad," he said. "The last victory was in Abu Dhabi in October of 2016. So what can I say? This victory gives me the morale to work even harder to improve my condition for the Classics, which is one of the goals this year.
"I have learned a lot, more than when I win," he said of his 2017 season. "Because in the bad moments you can learn a lot and take a lot of experience. I think this will be very good for me to try to be better in the future."