Nothing alters the psyche of a sprinter quite like an early victory and Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvole - CSF Inox) arrives at the Tour of Qatar on something of a high after beating no less a figure than Mark Cavendish on the second stage of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina last month.
Now in his fourth season a professional, the 25-year-old Modolo is part of an emerging stable of Italian sprint talent, but so far has perhaps lacked the marquee wins of Andrea Guardini or the consistency of Elia Viviani. He is aiming to improve on both counts in 2013.
"For a sprinter, your job is to win, so it's important for morale to start winning straightaway," Modolo said in Doha on Saturday. "In the first races, you always have doubts about how well you're going, no matter how much training you've done. Getting a win early gives you a bit of reassurance about the work you've done over the winter."
Last year, a second-place finish behind Viviani at the season-opening GP degli Etruschi prefigured a deeply frustrating spring for Modolo. As the wait for that first win of the season grew longer, negotiating the frenetic closing kilometres ceased to be an instinctive process and gaps in the bunch seemed only to snap shut and never to yawn open.
"I didn't get my first win last year until the Tour of Turkey at the end of April, so for the first few months of the season, I was carrying around a lot of uncertainty with me," Modolo said. "That certainly doesn't help things."
Modolo certainly won't be short of early opportunities to add to his running total of victories in 2013. While in previous years, he has followed an almost wholly Italian programme ahead of Milan-San Remo, Modolo has never raced as often and as early as he will do in the opening weeks of this season.
"Doing San Luis, Qatar and Oman means that I'll around 15 extra days of racing in my legs by the middle of February," he said. "With that in mind, I started training a bit earlier than normal too, but I did quality rather than quantity for a change. I'm realising that you can build up your endurance just by racing."
Unusually for a young sprinter, endurance is a quality that Modolo has demonstrated from an early stage. As a neo-professional in 2010, he took a surprising fourth place at Milan-San Remo and the distance of the classic clearly does not perturb him. A more pressing concern for La Classicissima this year, however, is that his top-end speed might suffer as his Bardiani squad has not been invited to Tirreno-Adriatico immediately beforehand.
"We might do some races in Holland and a training camp instead, to try and simulate Tirreno a little bit," he said. "We'll have to try and compensate in some way or another, but I think you can be strong on the day without riding Tirreno."
Mark Cavendish recently told Gazzetta dello Sport that he would be travelling to Milan-San Remo more in hope than expectation, claiming that the speed on the climb of Le Manie has reduced his chances of surviving to the finish on the Lungomare Italo Calvino to the minimum. Modolo allowed himself a smile before giving his take on the Manxman's analysis.
"I think he's being clever with the media and talking down his chances a little bit - if you can win it once, like he did in 2009, you can win it again," Modolo said. "Of course, it won't suit him if it's hard on Le Manie, but if he survives that, well, it's always very, very hard to beat him in a sprint."
The prospect of going toe to toe with the likes of Cavendish on a more regular basis was one of the motives behind Modolo's attempt to switch to Lampre at the end of last season, but he was ultimately persuaded to see out his contract after receiving guarantees about Bardiani's early-season programme, something he hopes will stand him in good stead come March 17.
"This year, I'll spend my whole run-up to San Remo racing against the best riders in the world, which is better than doing second-level races," he said. "Here, I'm racing every day against guys like Cavendish and Cancellara and that makes a big difference."
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