After three years in the wilderness, Ivan Santaromita is finally starting to feel at home again.
Despite not being back in the WorldTour, the Italian is nevertheless back at a native team in the form of Nippo-Vini Fantini – a welcome sanctuary after a miserable two years at the Australian Orica team and a misplaced 2016 with Skydive Dubai.
"My mind is in a much better place," Santaromita told Cyclingnews in Argentina on the final day of the Vuelta a San Juan, his first race with his new team.
"Now I feel better because I'm in an Italian team, with friendly people. It's more familiar, more like a group. I feel part of the family of Nippo-Vini Fantini. I feel better for sure."
Towards the end of the 2015 season, Santaromita revealed the discord that had emerged during his tenure at Orica, which he joined from BMC in 2014, and he later expanded on the clash of mentalities between the two nationalities, commenting that "the longer it went on, the worse it got".
He knew he needed to get out and, though he pined to return to supporting Grand Tour leaders as he had done with Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans, he wound up at the Continental-level Skydive Dubai outfit.
"It was another difficult year," he says with a sigh. "The team had a good project, with good people, but in the end it didn't turn out so well."
Towards the end of last year Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the team had money problems – somewhat surprising given much-publicised wealth and glitz of the Arab Emirate – that resulted in delays to the paying of wages and the cancellation of some race plans.
"The team had a lot of problems. With the Arabic [management], it was not so easy to understand what happened, but in the end we didn't end up doing lots of the races that were in the programme. The team couldn't afford to go to races. That wasn't good. I did very few races – maybe 35 race days. It wasn't a good year, for sure."
The move to Nippo has not been without disappointment of its own, however. The team was denied a wildcard for the Giro d'Italia – the most important three weeks of the year for an Italian team – and Santaromita will have to endure a third successive season without a Grand Tour in his legs.
"For an Italian rider the Giro is the biggest race of the year, and not being able to do it is not good. But that's life. Now we change the main goal, and see what happens this year," he said, on message but barely concealing the frustration that is clearly coursing through the team.
"I don't know what to say. For the 100th edition of the Giro, surely it would be better to have four Italian teams," he said, referring to RCS Sport's decision to invite the Russian Gazprom-RusVelo team and the Polish CCC-Sprandi outfit, with Androni-Gioccattoli also snubbed.
"Also because now there is no Italian team in the WorldTour, it would have been good for Italian cycling. I don't know. Maybe they found a new sponsor or something like that."