Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) is better known as a sprinter, but the 23-year-old from Piemonte managed to pull off a very impressive victory in stage 14 at the Vuelta a España on a day of intense cold and rain.
It was Ratto's first Grand Tour stage victory, and just the second win of his career, but it is not the first time - curiously enough - that an Italian not known for his climbing had won a Vuelta stage in the Andorran Pyrenees. In 2008, just a month before he took the World Championships, Alessandro Ballan soloed to a win in the Alto de la Rabassa, more than two minutes clear of a group of overall favourites.
Fast forward five years and Ratto's victory was arguably even more unexpected. Not only was the weather far worse - to the point where Ratto's teammate Ivan Basso abandoned - but as Ratto said, he had only got in the early break with the idea of helping Basso later on. Instead, with Basso abandoning, as a shocked Ratto discovered live on Spanish television, the Cannondale rider provided the upside to an otherwise difficult day for the Italian team.
"It's a very important victory for me personally, because I haven't won for three years," Ratto, who scored a win in the GP Industria back in his first year as a pro, 2010, said afterwards. Even though his seven minute lead shrank to just half that by the summit of the Collado de la Gallina, though, he was still so delighted with his win he did a couple of bunny hops before crossing the line.
"I came close in the  Vuelta a Burgos, but I was disqualified," - for an irregular sprint, with Anthony Roux (FDJ.fr) taking the win - "but here it all came good.
"I'm normally a sprinter, so for me to win this day is pretty unusual. And leading the King of the Mountains competition is great for me, but equally strange."
Ratto explained that he had suffered from cramps on several of the descents because of the cold, although the way he used his foot as an extra ‘brake' coming off the Cornella, the third climb, is apparently "something I've learned from motorbike riding" and had nothing to do with that.
"I had no idea Basso had quit, that's a problem," he said. "It was very cold, and there was even a bit of snow falling on the highest climb. I know Ivan was in good shape and could have gone for the podium."
Ratto recognised though, that if the stage did not suit his leader, who reportedly quit because of hypothermia, he was more used to it.
"I was born in the mountains and I can do really well in the cold," he enthused. "Races like the Vuelta al País Vasco really suit me." - and so, it seems, do the high mountains of the Vuelta a España.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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