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Schmid unleashes his inner Cancellara to win on dirt roads at Giro d'Italia

Mauro Schmid (Team Qhubeka Assos) wins stage 11 at the Giro d'Italia
Mauro Schmid (Team Qhubeka Assos) wins stage 11 at the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images)

Mauro Schmid (Qhubeka Assos), winner of stage 11 at the Giro d’Italia paid a fitting tribute to his childhood cycling idol Fabian Cancellara as he followed the wheeltracks of the multiple Strade Bianche champion to take a prestigious victory on the Tuscan sterrato in Montalcino.

“Guys like Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) and Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious) are a big inspiration now, but Fabian was my hero when I was younger, I was a big fan,” Schmid told reporters afterwards after he outpowered Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) in the sprint for the line.

Schmid’s Swiss compatriot Cancellara won both Strade Bianche and Paris-Roubaix, the Classics most similar to Wednesday’s Giro d'Italia stage 11, three times during his career. For Schmid, a second-year pro and Grand Tour rookie, the Giro stage win is the first of his career and the first, too, for Qhubeka-ASSOS in the WorldTour this season.

But the 21-year-old said that he had had his eye on the sterrato stage since before he started the Giro, after racing in Strade Bianche this spring, saying “and I discovered it was a race I loved.”

Given he had targetted the gravel stage, Schmid said he had always planned to get in the break of the day, but he was surprised at how quickly the move had managed to open up a gap of over quarter of an hour on the main peloton.

“We realised quite quickly we would make it to the finish and from that moment on I tried to save my legs,” Schmid told reporters.

“I had tried to make a move to reduce the group and it didn’t work out, but I saw everybody was suffering on that last hard climb,” he said. “And then after we [Covi and Schmid] had got away, I stopped pulling and started waiting for the sprint, even if it was a bit risky because I had no idea how much time we had on the guys behind.

“Then in the last kilometre, my sports director told me to take the last corner on the front because the finishing straight was quite short. He [Covi] came up close after that but then at 100 metres to go, I pushed harder again because I thought it would be tough for him mentally if he saw me pulling away. Then with 50 metres to go, I realised I’d do it.”

Schmid was logically delighted to have claimed his first professional win in such a high-profile event, saying he wasn’t even expecting to do a Grand Tour this year.

“But the team believed in me and I got the chance to do the race. And the Giro means a lot to me personally, too.”

With riders like Mäder and Hirschi taking major wins as well, Schmid recognised that Switzerland was currently turning out an impressive crop of new talent. He himself did a lot of different kinds of racing, he said, both on the track and in MTB as well cyclo-cross, which he said helped him develop considerably as a rider across the board.

“We raced together as juniors, and then you see what they can do, so that really motivates you, too,” Schmid said. And with Cancellara another one of his heroes, Schmid had more than enough examples to follow to triumph on Wednesday in the Giro d’Italia.