Let’s start by saying: I knew it. I knew a repeat would have been hard, possibly too hard, since the day the Italian Championships’ route was disclosed. The issues I had made it even trickier, but the classification at the finish in Ivrea speaks clearly: it was not one for Nizzolo, even for the Boario’s version of Nizzolo. Boario, where one year and a day ago I was raising my arms and wearing what has become my second skin for a year.
How to describe this campaign, in a few words? It’s easy to split it into two: the final six months of 2016 were amazing, unforgettable. The first six of 2017, really not so much. But that’s only the sports point of view. Then, there is everything that jersey has meant.
When displaying the Tricolore jersey, something changes in the eyes of people. Sure, it makes it easier to spot you, but for the fans (Italian, and beyond) your presence suddenly gets a different meaning. You become a symbol, and that’s what pushes people to not only recognize you, but rather wishing to know you, understand something more about you, to actually realize what’s behind that helmet and glasses. It was beautiful to seize this special feeling with people for a year, seeing the people’s affection grow every day, and also hear and read the words of support when, in 2017, I could not make our flag shine in the way I would have hoped to. These feelings will stay with me forever, and I am really grateful for that.
NEXT ONE UP
Now it is up to Fabio Aru, who put on a dominating display in Piedmont. The strongest on the day won the Tricolore jersey, and I feel happy that he made it, for several reasons. First of all – believe me, it’s not just rhetoric – an Astana win after all that happened has somewhat of a special taste. On a day like that, everybody is in the race to win, but I think all of us smiled, possibly with watery eyes, seeing Scarpa’s jerseys on the top step of the podium.
Second reason, but just as important, is that one of the top riders in Italian cycling has the jersey, and will have the opportunity to show it at the Tour de France. It’s such an important showcase for Italian cycling, particularly at a time in which we are not bagging so many results: hopefully, Fabio can make something important for himself and the Italian fans.
Being the former Italian champion, I would like to give Fabio two pieces of advice – and clearly not on the sports side of things, as he certainly wouldn’t need any of those.
The first one is to “fight”, as much as possible, for an Italian National Champion’s jersey that actually honors our beautiful flag. This is a symbol to be proud of, full of meaning for the Italians as well as abroad – you will see that yourself, Fabio. Last year, my Trek-Segafredo team acknowledged and shared my desire for a “real” Tricolore jersey, and even let me contribute to the design: it was beautiful to don it, every day. Hope it will be the same for you.
The second one is to enjoy every minute of this year. Every start where even more people will gather around you, because of the jersey you wear. Every time that in the thick of the bunch, you hear a kid call your name from the side of the road, because he spot the Tricolore. Every time they will shake your hand because you are the Italian National Champion, and will discover who you really are. And also, because it does not last forever: if the route allows, I wouldn’t regret taking it back next year…
UP TO THE ALPS (BUT NOT AT LE TOUR)
Right now, I will just pull the plug for some days. Some rest for both body and mind, a crucial “reset” before restarting towards the second part of the season heads-down, like in a sprint. I will not race the Tour de France, but I will go to the French Alps anyway, like last year, from July 12th: some days of training camp with the team, to start re-experiencing the right feelings. Where will I get back in the race? I will let you know. Right now, coming back is all the important.