‘My best quality is I never give up;’ Injured Italian champ Nizzolo keeps eyes on big picture

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Speaking to Giacomo Nizzolo, one thing in particular comes across from the double Giro d’Italia points winner. Namely, his ability to deflect pressure.

Consider this quote. When asked how important it is for him to win a stage in the Giro d’Italia – having been second nine times in the past – his answer speaks volumes.

“It is important, but it is even more important to do 100 percent to win,” he tells CyclingTips. “When you know you have done 100 percent to win, you are relaxed. You can’t ask for more than you can do. That is the way.

“With so many placings [ie near-misses – ed.] I have got, probably I could react in a different way. But I am still here, trying to win…I think I manage pressure well. That I can say. My best quality is that I never give up.”

That’s just as well, because the past couple of months have been a vexing time for him.

At the Trek-Segafredo training camp in December Nizzolo was in good shape, mentally and physically. He was looking forward to the new season and to showing what he could do. His plan then was to get his racing year underway in the Tour de San Juan in Argentina, then go to the Tour of Qatar.

Soon after that the second of those races was cancelled, but this proved to be a moot point. In the final days of 2016 Nizzolo’s right knee started giving him hassle. Tendonitis was diagnosed and he spent the team camp in Mallorca in January undergoing physical therapy rather than riding his bike.

For a competitive athlete, it was a frustrating time.

“I am honestly getting pissed with this situation,” he wrote in his personal blog on January 11.

On January 23 he wrote that he was still encountering problems and while he was able to ride gently on the bike, things were still not close to being resolved.

Now, almost a month later, he’s still far from where he wants to be.

“The situation of my knee is still not completely clear,” he told CyclingTips. “I can start training very easily but I still have to be very careful not to put too much pressure on my knee.

“I have gotten intense treatment and I hope I can now start building my way back. It will take some time to get back to my top level, after such a long break, but I am confident I will make it back to where I was before.”

At this point in time, his return to racing is uncertain. Neither he nor his team know which event that will be. However it is hoped that riding the Giro d’Italia in good shape will still be possible.

Like all sprinters, he is a fighter by nature. He’ll keep working with those who are helping him recover and, once the problem eases, will do all he can to be ready for his favourite event.

In the red jersey of points leader at the 2016 Giro d’Italia.

“The Giro is always a big objective”

As a young rider in Italy, Nizzolo grew up steeped in the sport. The country is passionate about cycling and he already knew what kind of cyclist he was most likely to be. That’s reflected in the competitors he followed.

“I was really focussed on sprinters, of course, and Classics riders,” he tells CyclingTips. “Let’s say Boonen, those guys, and Cancellara. Those kind of riders.

“When I watched the big Tours, I was more focussed on the sprints. I liked McEwen, Cipollini a lot. And Petacchi too. There were a lot of guys.”

Nizzolo developed well and at 21 years of age, he finished ninth in the Gran Premio della Liberazione under 23 race. That result plus second on a stage of the 2.2-ranked Giro Ciclisto d’Italia helped attract the attention of the Leopard Trek WorldTour team and it duly brought him on board.

He made an immediate impression, netting fifth and ninth in the season-opening Mallorca Challenge races and then taking fourth on a stage of the Ruta del Sol. Subsequent top-three finishes on stages of the Volta a Catalunya, the 4 Jours de Dunkerque and in both the Rund um Koln and the Prorace Berlin were followed by his first pro victory, a stage in the Bayern-Rundfahrt.

Encouraged by that debut, the team selected him to ride his first Giro d’Italia the following season. Nizzolo settled in well and was third on stage eight. The following year he came back and was second on stage 13. That tally of runner-up slots increased in 2014 when he was second on four stages, as well as second to Nacer Bouhanni in the final points classification.

He liked the race, the race suited him and he kept chasing the win.

In 2015 he continued that consistency. While he had to be content with another two runner-up placings on stages, he took over the red points jersey on stage 17 and held it until the end. Last season he grabbed it on stage 13 and again brought it to the finish of the race.

Even if clocking up another couple of runner-up slots was hard, taking one of the race’s most important prizes is ample compensation.

“You know, the Giro is always a big objective of the season,” he says, weighing things up. “To finish the Giro, that is the first thing. And to get the red jersey….that is always a big goal for a sprinter. To get it twice is a nice feeling.

“Sometimes I look more at the performance than the results. Giving 100 percent. We can say 2016 was the best season since I became a professional rider, although I did good performances also in the years before. If I’ve to single out a specific result that stands out for me… maybe the victory in the national championship. That made me very proud. If I have to choose one, I say this.”

The Italian maglia tricolore is one of the most iconic in the sport. That’s partly because of those who have worn it in the past. Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Francesco Moser, Moreno Argentin, Gianni Bugno and Paolo Bettini are amongst those who have been Italian champion, and becoming part of that group underlines a rider’s quality.

But there’s more to it than that. The distinctive red, white and green coloration is also one of the most readily-identifiable in the peloton. It’s also arguably the most attractive of the national champions’ jerseys.

It’s no coincidence that Nizzolo beams when the latter point is made to him. “Thank you, thank you very much,” he replies with a broad smile. “I really appreciate it.”

He’s clearly very happy to have won the event.

“Wearing this jersey is a good feeling,” he continues. “It makes me proud, it makes me extra motivated. I also received many complements from other riders. It is a good feeling. And that can only help you in races.”

Looking at the big picture

Nizzolo may be laid up at present, limping through his training routines, but he’ll keep focussed on the future. He knows that every rider has times during his career when things don’t go to plan. Keeping calm at this point in time and working hard on whatever physical therapists tell him to do is the best course of action.

Sooner or later he’ll be back in the bunch, and he’ll channel the pent-up frustration into trying to top the podium again.

Even if he’s taken nine runner-up slots on stages of the Giro d’Italia, he’s very much a winner. His career palmares includes victories in a wide number of events, ranging from single-day success in events such as Gran Piemonte, Coppa Bernocchi and the GP du canton d’Argovie to stages in the Eneco Tour, the Abu Dhabi Tour, Bayern Rundfarht, the Volta ao Algarve, the Tour de San Luis and the Tour of Croatia. He’s also taken the overall classification in the Tour de Wallonie.

He’ll be back soon, and he’ll be winning again.

This season the Trek-Segafredo team has seen the addition of a number of riders, including Alberto Contador and John Degenkolb.

Nizzolo doesn’t feel threatened in any way by the changes: on the contrary, he’s certain that it will raise the overall level and bring increased success to all within the squad.

“If you stayed with us a few days, you’d realise then that we are a really good group,” he says. “New riders, new members, but this is already really feeling like a team who is together for a long time.

“This is a great move. I think this is the most important thing is now to get the results.”

The departure of Fabian Cancellara should in theory have given him more chances for the Classics, but that gap has in part been filled by Degenkolb.

Nizzolo again sees this as a plus, not a minus. Even if he may end up riding for Degenkolb in certain situations, he’s fine to do so.

“You can always learn from everybody, but especially from a guy who won as much as he did,” he reasons.

One of the races Degenkolb has taken is Milan-San Remo. He triumphed there in 2015 and, all going well, will be a contender again this season.

Nizzolo’s injury and disrupted buildup means that he will likely miss the race this time around, but it is one which is an important target for the future.

“San Remo for me is special because I am Italian. I was born in Milan, where the race starts. That is a good combination,” he says.

“To win it would be a dream. Taking a big Classic is a big goal for me, and that is the one I like best.”

Nizzolo recently turned 28 and should have his best years ahead. Classic riders tend to come into their prime around their late 20s or early 30s, and so time is on his side.

Even if he’s not the type of sprinter to make big pronouncements, to declare he will win this or that, he’ll keep working away on his objectives.

He’s clear what he would like to have achieved by the end of his career.

“A big Classic. As many races as possible,” he says. “A stage in a Grand Tour.

“But I will ask, as I said before, to have given 100 percent.” Once again, returning to that method of managing pressure.

“In the end,” he says, “that is the only thing that counts.”

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