Giacomo Nizzolo: Eyes now on Milan-San Remo

Sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo has had a superb start to 2020 for NTT Pro Cycling, claiming big stage wins at the Santos Tour Down Under and at Paris-Nice. We sat down with the Italian star to reflect on his excellent form and what his eyes are set on once the season resumes.

How would you describe your start to 2020?

It was a great start for me. Results-wide it was good, of course, and the best feeling that I had was that of simply being competitive again. That feeling when you know that in the final (parts of a race) you can be one of the guys that can win – often. You feel strong and you feel you can do it, and not that everything has to fall (fortuitously) in place for a victory, but rather that you are always able to contest even if you aren’t necessarily in the best situation.

You have spoken about the fact that for the first time in many seasons you had a solid pre-season – injury free – and it seems like a flick has switched with you. Is that the case? Y

It totally makes sense. Having a good winter for me meant a lot, mentally as well. When you have the confidence, knowing that you have done everything you could possibly do to be in the absolute best shape, that’s what you need to perform. Of course I could see physically that not losing any weeks of training gave me the shape that I wanted but as we said, there was a confirmation mentally that I was there and having a good winter was such an important point as to why I was performing well at the start of the year

2020 – new look, new teammates, and some new faces among the staff; your victory in Australia came the day after a bad day for the team. There was a lot of work done that night and the following morning, how did the team turn that around so quickly?

It was a difficult day, one that we didn’t manage well tactically, and I was even more disappointed because I had the feeling that we had the legs to do it. That’s why we spent a lot of time ‘turning the page’, to be better, because I definitely had the feeling that we could do it as power-wise we were there. We had a long debrief (after the stage), a long meeting in the morning and everybody was committed at that point, and we could clearly see that on the stage. Of course it wasn’t for “free” – the victory – it wasn’t something that we were sure of but the fact that the victory came gave us such a sense of satisfaction and an explanation of how important it was to have a clear plan, and be fully committed to that.

It was an important early marker for the new team to lay down but after that you came to Europe taking 2nd at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, perhaps a race that a lot of people wouldn’t think would really suit you?

I had this great victory Down Under but mentally it wasn’t a huge focus for me (to win there). I had a good winter but for me the real goals were in Europe. At the training camps I said: “when we go to Australia and I have the chance to go for a win then I will go for it but it’s not the main goal.” The fact that the win came there gave me great confidence and after coming back to Europe I took a small rest and then our plan was to go to Oman but that was then cancelled. As option B, I went to Provence, which was quite hard but I think that helped me go up a level in terms of my condition.

Kuurne was one of my goals, I had it in my mind to be good there and you never know how the race can pan out because it is a Classic. You know how those races are, anything can happen from the start to the finish. In the end we got a good result, second place, there was a great winner but of course winning the bunch sprint is not always the best feeling.

After that I realised that power and performance-wise that they were good days; with that performance I was looking even more towards my upcoming races which at that time were Tirreno-Adriatica & Milan-San Remo.

What did your stage victory at Paris-Nice mean to you?

I’m not sure but at the time I think Milan-San Remo was still on, so for me Paris-Nice was the final step towards that event. Of course in that period the shape was great, I had the confidence that I had the team around me but to get a win at Paris-Nice was also one of the goals. To get it after such a crazy day was something special and that gave me the extra boost to reach the end of the race. If I look back overall, it was a great week.

Considering how well you started the year, how frustrating has it been to have had the season halted? Of course none of us could have predicted the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is something that I’ve asked myself many times! I’ve been injured for a long time and so finally after three years I had a good winter, no issues, and I could prepare myself at the very best way possible and once I got there again, the rest of the world stops.

I have to say for the first few days I was pretty disappointed as I could see that I was at a good level and I was asking myself how is this possible? Then once I’m at the level that I want to be, everything is shut down again. But I have to be honest it was just for a few days and then I realised the bigger picture, what was going on and that was so much more serious than just a bike race.

Milan-San Remo: what would it mean to you to win it?

It would mean a lot. I think it’s the best race for a rider with my set of characteristics and it’s a race that starts in the city that I was born – which already gives me a special feeling. This year will probably be sunny but most of the time you start in a grey Milan and then finish in the seaside sunshine of Liguria, which is San Remo; so after 300km it’s unique. It’s such an iconic race, to win it would be super-special especially, sorry to say it again, but for an Italian rider.

Confident that you could challenge for the victory?

I’m confident that I could play (be in the reckoning) for victory. My relationship with the race itself is really bad as I’ve never been at the start line in the condition that I wanted. Most of the time I was injured either a few days before or few weeks before, or I was sick or something. For example in 2013 it was snowing: they started the race, then they stopped it and then they restarted it again – and my current team won! – but at that time I was just freezing on the bus.

The year after that I broke my collarbone a few weeks beforehand and the year after I broke my foot. And then in 2016, which was my best year prior to 2019, I was sick in Tirreno just beforehand. So let’s hope that one time everything comes together for me – we cross fingers, we don’t say it – but everybody knows what I mean.

Do you still have a gap on your tattoo(s) that you haven’t filled in yet?

Yes, I have place every/anywhere for this race. (Don’t worry) We will find a spot.

Finally, what’s your mental approach going to be back on the start line for the first race when the season resumes?

My approach will be to be super-focused, super-aggressive and to try and take everything that is possible out on the road. I think it will be the mentality of many of us. Nobody has lived through this experience before so it will be something new for everyone, and I think those that are mentally stronger will get a lot out of this situation. Approach and attitude (for me) will always be about fighting to the line, and then we will see.