Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) savoured and celebrated his victory at Strade Bianche, remembering that a year ago he was returning home from hospital after his terrible crash during the Tour de France time trial, a serious muscle tear caused by contact with a roadside barrier.
He has spent the year working hard to get back to his best and showed it with his late solo attack on the final sector of dirt roads a few kilometres from Siena.
His ride up the steep Santa Catarina climb cancelled the pain of his 2018 cramps and his victorious descent into the Piazza del Campo cancelled any bad memories.
"It means a lot to win. This is a special season for everyone in so many ways so it's nice to say I've won and my season is already good. Not many riders can say that in 2020," he said post race as the emotions sunk in.
"I've worked really hard for today and the coming races. I didn't want to miss any chances. I focused on this race very much and it paid off.
"It's now exactly one year that I came home after two weeks in hospital. If you'd told what would happen in a year, I wouldn't believe you, but I kept the faith even in even hard times, so this is a huge satisfaction after a lot of hard work."
Van Art accepted that he was leaner and on his best-ever form, as the Belgian had noticed and highlighted in the days before Strade Bianche.
"I'm back at the point where I can focus on winning and doing my best," he said after a year with a lot of physio, recovery and training and little success.
"Maybe I can say I'm at my best-ever level, so it's important to think of the positives and not looking back."
Van Aert didn’t hesitate when the race exploded on the Monte Santa Maria dirt section with 50km to go and again on the final steep Le Tolfe climb. He was almost happy to be able to put himself in the hurt box.
"Sport at the highest level is about handling pain better than your rivals. We're all in pain and so the best thing is to not think about it and stay focused on what you have to do," he explained.
"Cyclocross is the same. Road racing is longer but there's always pain to deal with. But when you've not been in the hurt box for a while its good to be back."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.