MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — For most of the peloton’s big names, a stage win at the Vuelta a San Juan and a few top-fives in the Middle East would hardly be worth writing home about. For Trek-Segaredo’s Giacomo Nizzolo, however, the results are a critical morale boost.
Although he still has work to do, the two-time Giro d’Italia points champion is finally starting to feel like himself again after injury derailed his 2017 campaign.
“To win, and to see that you can still win, it means a lot,” Nizzolo told VeloNews this week at the Tour of Oman.
Nizzolo, who has finished second in a whopping nine Giro d’Italia stages without ever scoring a win there, is no stranger to frustration. Last year, however, was a different kind of challenge for the consummate nearly man.
After seven wins the year prior, including Italian national championships, Nizzolo’s 2017 debut was delayed by knee tendonitis. He didn’t race until April at Tour of Croatia. He looked to be on his way back into shape, suiting up for the Giro start in Alghero, but abandoned after 10 stages.
He raced June’s Hammer Series, but then DNFed in his attempt to defend his Italian national road title. The Tour of Guangxi was the only race he’d finish from that point on in the season.
“I was off the bike almost three months but when I came back it was still maybe a bit too early. I went too deep, too early. That created other problems,” he said. “I just needed to rest and recover.”
Nizzolo’s health issues took a toll on his psyche.
“You miss the adrenaline,” he said. “For me, it was very hard, because every time I thought I could come back, I saw that it wasn’t the moment yet. That was tough.”
Nizzolo started feeling healthy again late last year. He made his 2018 debut in San Juan and sprinted to victory on the final stage. He was Trek’s second option behind John Degenkolb for most of the Dubai Tour, but delivered a surprising fifth-place ride on the challenging Hatta Dam stage. He finished third on the opening sprint stage at the Tour Oman.
Those results have been critical to restoring his confidence.
“When you restart racing it’s not easy because you feel like a fish out of the water, but when the legs are better, everything gets better,” he said.
Indeed, Nizzolo’s quest to find his legs again takes precedence over any one target race this year.
The Giro has been Nizzolo’s main objective for the past several seasons. He says he’s expecting to line up there again in 2018, but nothing is set in stone. He’s hoping to give the big classics a go this spring. He says, “why not?” when asked about maybe riding the Tour de France, a race he’s never started.
The priority is simply racing his bike as fast as he can.
“When I am [back] at my best level, I can say, ‘Okay, I’ll put a red mark on this or that race. Do this and this and this.’ But at the moment I am just focused on being back at that level,” he said.
Nizzolo should get a few more opportunities to prove his form this week in Oman, and then he’ll turn his attention to racing in Europe. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne await at the end of March. Then come Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo on home turf before a few more possible starts in the Belgian classics.
“I’m almost sure that  would have been the year that would have given me the chance to make the definitive step. But it didn’t work out like this,” he said. “Now, I have to get back to the level of 2016, and then possibly I’ll have a great year.”