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For some riders, the first Grand Tour stage win seems to come easily. Heading into Friday’s stage 13 of the Giro d’Italia, an incredible five stages had already gone to Grand Tour debutants, one even as young as 21 years of age.
For some riders, the first Grand Tour stage win comes a bit harder. Egan Bernal, after all, won a Tour de France before he’d won a Grand Tour stage, finally checking that latter box this past weekend.
For Giacomo Nizzolo, the first Grand Tour win may have started to feel elusive six years ago, after he won his first Giro points jersey without having won a stage. The very next year, he would repeat that bittersweet feat. By the time the Qhubeka-Assos rider rolled out from Ravenna on Friday, he had made 139 Giro d’Italia stage starts, zoomed to an incredible 11 second-place stage finishes, and scored two points jerseys – without ever having won a stage.
That dream had long, long ago sailed past “elusive” territory and into another realm entirely. But Giacomo Nizzolo never stopped hunting his white whale.
In his eighth Giro d’Italia and on his 140th Giro stage, Nizzolo did what he had come oh-so-close to doing more times than any rider in the history of the race. When the dust settled in Verona, some two hours by car from his hometown of Brianza, the 32-year-old Italian could finally lay claim to the prize he has coveted for so, so long: a stage victory of his own, a stage victory that gave new meaning to the phrase “long-awaited.”
It was a thing done with grace and with power, too. Nizzolo’s team had led the pack into the last few kilometers, helping him stay well-positioned through a handful of late roundabouts, and then Nizzolo opted to rely on his wheel-surfing abilities into the finale, where Jumbo-Visma set the pace. When Edoardo Affini surged off the front with only a few hundred meters to go, it seemed as if he had stolen a march on the sprinters. Nizzolo was in a strong position to chase, but doing so would mean going early and facing the wind alone.
He did just that, and with a massive turn of speed, Nizzolo closed down Affini and then came past him to secure the win. There could be no doubt that Nizzolo was the best rider at the finish.
The joy of that first Giro stage win was all over Nizzolo’s face as he crossed the line, and it was accentuated by the emphatic fist pumps he made over and over in the ensuing moments.
It was the joy of a rider who had at first not succeeded in his efforts to win a Giro stage, but had tried, tried again. And again. And again.
It was the joy of a rider who had been asked countless times, “Will today be the day that you get that first win?” It was the joy of a rider who had once even given post-race interviews as the presumed victor of a Giro stage only to be relegated for an irregular sprint, merely adding to his long, long record of near misses instead of finally putting him onto the list of Giro stage winners. It was the joy of a rider who had tried seemingly every tactic to turn a runner-up ride into a victory, and that was true even on Friday, as he explained in a post-race interview.
“My goal was to be second, and maybe that was the trick to get the victory,” he said with a smile. “The only thought I had today was to sprint and not get blocked in the final, so I went quite far in the wind, but I had good legs and it worked out.”
Nizzolo’s sprinting prowess had been a known commodity for years. He had already racked up nine second-place finishes even by 2016, the year he won his second Giro points jersey, the year he was relegated for an irregular sprint on the final stage. Five years ago, he was already fielding questions at the start of every sprint stage about whether he might finally achieve his goal. Five years ago, it seemed like it just had to happen sooner or later.
But nearly five years went by and it didn’t happen.
Nizzolo went through some tough times in the two seasons after his last Giro points jersey due to knee problems that derailed his 2017 campaign and lingered into 2018. At the end of 2018, after eight seasons with the Trek-Segafredo organization, he found himself on the open market. The then-Dimension Data team decided to take a chance on a rider who hadn’t looked like himself for the past two seasons. Nizzolo was taking a chance too, signing with a team that was consistently at the bottom of the WorldTour rankings, a team that also had Mark Cavendish on the roster to take some of the sprint opportunities on the calendar.
He showed promise again in 2019, nabbing three stage wins in 2.HC-rated events and taking a few other strong results on the year, but he started the Giro and the Tour without picking up victories in either. He looked better than ever in 2020, winning stages at the Tour Down Under and Paris-Nice and taking the Italian and European road titles, but he abandoned that year’s Tour with knee pain after only a week. The wait for that first Grand Tour win continued.
Until it didn’t.
On Friday, Giacomo Nizzolo became a Grand Tour stage winner. He did it in his home Grand Tour, and it seemed as if everyone in Verona shared in his joy. Rivals, who had been pouring every fiber into their beings into attempting to match his speed just moments before, could only smile and offer their congratulations. Fans welcomed him to an elated celebration at the barriers after the line. And Nizzolo himself did not stop smiling from the moment he crossed the line through to the end of the podium ceremony.
That first win was long-awaited and it was elusive and more, but now, Giacomo Nizzolo will never again have to hear another question about getting that first win.
Of course, he might not be able help already looking forward to that second one – what else would you expect from a professional sprinter? – but at least he can celebrate in the meantime.
“It feels great now, I’ve finally got a victory,” Nizzolo said. “I mean, I’m really looking forward to have another one as soon as possible, but right now I just want to enjoy the feeling.”