At the finish of the Richmond World Championships in 2015, Matteo Trentin helped Giacomo Nizzolo to 18th place. For a nation that had won the title four times during the halcyon days of the 2000s, Nizzolo's result sent few shockwaves reverberating through Italian cycling.
Expectations ahead of Richmond had been low, but that result behind Peter Sagan represented a new dawn for the team. Team manager Davide Cassani had been installed a year earlier, but his Richmond squad was a blend of experience and youth, with the former Ariostea and Gewiss rider keen to build for the future. As Trentin stood at the finish, he expressed the need for patience in Italy's line-up, and he argued that time was needed both for him and his teammates.
Almost three years on and Trentin and his teammates are genuine contenders on the world stage. The Mitchelton-Scott rider won Cassani's first major men's title on Sunday at the European Championships, while more wins followed in both the women's road race and the track programme.
"The generation of the riders has changed and we've evolved," Trentin told Cyclingnews from his home in Monaco after Sunday's triumph.
"In the last three years it's riders more of my age who are in the championships. We're a really good group and we work well as a team. As a national team it's always hard to find a good balance because you only race once or twice a year together, but we showed on Sunday that we can make good races together."
Since Richmond, Italy's men have risen to the challenge. Trentin narrowly missed out on the podium at Worlds last year, while their captain Vincenzo Nibali came close to winning at the Olympics in 2016. Their chances at this year's hilly Worlds in Austria primarily rest on the Bahrain-Merida rider's shoulders, although the rest of the squad will take heart from their ride in Glasgow at the Europeans.
"It all depends on the main leader, Nibali," said Trentin. "We had second last year in the Europeans, fourth in the Worlds, and Nibali crashed out when leading the Olympics, so we've not had the top spot but if you go back to Richmond that was a really good starting point and since then we've shown improvement."
For Trentin, Glasgow was arguably one of his greatest victories and, while the Italian's palmarès may lack a Monument, he has now won seven Grand Tour stages, two Paris-Tours, and a European road title.
His latest win comes after a difficult season owing to two separate crashes and resulting injuries. He cracked a rib in January in a training ride crash, and then fractured his spine at Paris-Roubaix. He aimed to rebound for the Tour de France but a lack of racing halted his progress. A summer of rehab and rebuilding has ensured that he goes into the second half of the campaign with momentum behind him.
"This season was more stop than start. The injury with my rib wasn't too bad and I could recover but the one with the vertebra was a real accident. It was painful and it took me out for a while," said Trentin.
"When that happened I actually made the European Championships the first target of the year. In a way, the season started again for me on Sunday. There were a lot of emotions but one I had was relief. As a rider you go through bad moments in racing and coming into the year there were a lot of expectations. I had zero results and had to spent time away from my family to prepare for the second half of the season and Sunday made it all worth it."
Trentin will line up at EuroEyes Cyclassics Hamburg this weekend in his new European champion's kit - white jersey and black shorts, if that matters - before turning his attention to the Vuelta a España and then the Worlds. Of course, repeating his exploits from last year's Vuelta will be difficult. He won four stages 12 months ago and the sprint field will undoubtedly be stronger this time around. That said, Trentin is back on track, and after a difficult start to the year, is eager to make up for lost time. And if anyone understands the importance of time, it's Trentin.
'I want to win as much as I can," he says. "I want to keep going after the Europeans and try and do my best."
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