Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has a tattoo on his arm that says in Italian, "Solo la vittoria è Bella" – "Only victory is beautiful" – and the Frenchman was delighted to finally add an Italian semi-Classic to his palmarès with victory at Milano-Torino on Wednesday.
Pinot is French to the core, but he loves racing in Italy, preferring aggressive, open racing to the tactics and expectation of the Tour de France.
"I want to win every race, and I think my wins in Italy are my greatest," Pinot explained in French, but promising to learn a little more Italian with each success.
"I love racing in Italy, from starting the season with Tirreno-Adriatico and then ending it with Il Lombardia. This final 10-day block of racing that leads to Il Lombardia is my favourite."
Pinot has always performed south of the Alps, dating back to his amateur days and his breakout victory at the 2009 Giro della Valle d'Aosta. As a young professional in 2011, Pinot claimed the Settimana Lombarda, attracting covetous glances from Italian teams. More recently, he was third at Il Lombardia in 2015 and fifth last year. It is the only Monument Classic he has ever ridden.
When it comes to the Italian Grand Tour, Pinot won a stage of the 2017 Giro d'Italia and finished fourth overall. This season he was fighting with Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) for a Giro podium spot until pneumonia struck after the final mountain stage. He fought to finish in Cervinia but was unable to travel to Rome for the final parade stage and even spent several days in hospital in Italy.
The Italian Alps could be seen from the Superga finish near Turin after Wednesday's Milano-Torino, but Pinot seems to have overcome the painful memories of this year's Giro.
"As they say, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,'" he said. "The Giro was a huge disappointment because when we started in Jerusalem, the goal was to finish on the podium. I didn't think I could win because I know my limits, but I was set for a podium place and was very happy. Then the stage [to Cervinia] happened, and it was a terrible blow. I felt cheated.
"It took time to recover and come back. It was very frustrating, but I trained hard, and, thanks to overcoming it all, I'm now having a good end-of-season. I now realise that what happened helped me to come back mentally stronger."
A show of form before Il Lombardia
Pinot's second place at Tuesday's Tre Valli Varesine and victory at Milano-Torino on Wednesday confirmed he is one of the contenders for Saturday's Il Lombardia. With a strong team to help him in the final Monument of the season, Pinot is not afraid to show his hand.
"I don't think I'm a big favourite, as there are a lot of favourites for Lombardia," Pinot argued. "I’d put the EF-Drapac duo of [Rigoberto] Uran and [Michael] Woods as the biggest threat, and there are the likes of [Alejandro] Valverde, [Vincenzo] Nibali, and others, too.
"I don't think I've shown my cards today because I said after the Vuelta a España that I wanted to win at the end of season. I don't make calculations when I race. I really wanted to win Milano-Torino because it's one of the most beautiful semi-Classics.
"Now I've got an Italian race on my palmarès, so it was important to win. Il Lombardia is another race. Saturday is Saturday, and we'll see what happens."
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