Giacomo Nizzolo stood out in the peloton at the Tour of the Alps. The Italian is far from a big guy, but compared to the featherweight climbers at the stage race, he might as well be Jonah Lomu or Mike Tyson. Lining up on the final day in Lienz, he looked like the only man who would be able to cope with the chilly rain.
The Alpine stage race is not designed for sprinters. There were 15,035 metres of climbing across the five days, at an average of 3,007 metres a day. The intermediate sprints classification was won by Thibaut Pinot, not noted for his speed.
Yet Nizzolo was there, and while he failed to finish the final stage in miserable conditions, won himself plaudits for making it round the vertiginous course over the first four days.
The Israel-Premier Tech rider explained: "It has been tough, but it has been nice. It has been good training, I have felt good on the climbs. For my circumstance, obviously, not as a climber."
He ended up here as a result of fate; the Italian broke his hand in a crash at Milan-San Remo last month, and was therefore forced to come to the Tour of the Alps in order to train for his big objective this year, the Giro d'Italia.
"I'm looking forward to the Giro," the 33-year-old said. "I think it was a really good preparation.
"It was weird, but in the end I knew it would happen. After the crash I had in Milan-San Remo I didn't have the chance to go to the classics, so I had to race. This was the race that was probably the best to do before the Giro. Now I'm just going to go home and focus a bit more on the sprints. I'm going to [Eschborn-]Frankfurt, and then we'll get ready for the Giro."
The climbing in the Alps is probably a good preparation for a race as tough as the Giro, where there are always some monster days across the mountains of Italy.
"The Giro is always a challenge with the climbs, especially the last week," Nizzolo said. "As I said, I cannot complain about my condition, and hopefully I can bring some good results at the Giro."
Last year was a huge one for the Italian, as he finally won his first stage of the Giro, after an astonishing 11 second places, including two last year before the dam finally burst in Verona.
"It's always nice to go to the Giro with the feeling that I can carry on with wins," Nizzolo said. "Mentally I will approach the Giro as every year, full focus, full motivation, and every chance there is I will try to take it."
This year will see him lineup at the Corsa Rosa with a new team, Israel-Premier Tech, after moving from Qhubeka NextHash following its demise.
"We are all feeling good, and we're all looking forward to have a great Giro together," he said. "Every sprinter would like to have a train, and luckily this year I have a good one."
The race begins with a punchy finish in Budapest in a fortnight's time, a stage that Mathieu van der Poel is thought to be targeting. It could be an option for the sprinter, but he's not sure yet.
"The first stage is a challenging one for me," Nizzolo said. "Maybe it's a bit too hard, but as I said I would like to check it once I'm there. In general, to be ready for the Giro you need to climb."
After a heavy week at the Tour of the Alps, the Italian deserves a rest, but he will certainly be happy with the condition built over tough week. Time will tell if he has found his form for the Giro.
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