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The 24-year-old claimed the biggest win of his career in Reggio Emilia after making a late dash for the line in the bunch sprint. It was only his second pro victory and his first at a grand tour, beating some of the world’s best fastmen in Arnaud Démare, Caleb Ewan, and Mark Cavendish.
Dainese’s victory quelled some discontent among the Italian fans and media, who had begun to question if the home country could make it to the top step of a stage podium. Speaking after his win, Dainese said Italian cycling was in a good place and it needed time to bring in the next generation of top riders.
“We are always complaining about our results. It’s not that easy to stay at the top but at the same time we have to say that we have the European champion, and we have the world time trial title for the last two years,” Dainese said. “We need some time. There is a new generation coming. This year, Nibali will end his career and he has been one of the best riders in the world. We don’t need to learn anything from anyone.”
Dainese also leapt to the defense of the Italian development system after it was pointed out that he was one of the few young riders from the country that had gone through the U23 ranks as part of a foreign team.
“I did the first two years in Italy and then I went abroad with SEG Racing. It was a very good experience, but I have to say that a lot of Italian teams are well organized and, thanks to the Italian national team, I had a chance to ride in Italy with Zalf. A lot of people like to speak badly about Italian teams, but I learned a lot there,” he said.
Dainese’s chance to go for victory was not on the cards when the riders rolled out of Santarcangelo di Romagna shortly after midday. He was due to be working for Cees Bol, but during the stage, the Dutchman told his teammates that he didn’t feel great, and a late change of plans was put into action.
Though he wasn’t feeling great either, Dainese took the opportunity to have a go in the bunch sprint with both hands. He was nearly 10 riders back when Démare started his sprint but he bided his time perfectly and only put his nose into the wind with around 100 meters to go.
“I didn’t sleep good and I didn’t wake up very well but a day like this teaches me that you always have to believe because you never know. Bol was actually in charge today for the team but then he said that he didn’t feel so well so we swapped roles, and in the end, it worked very well.
“I don’t know if it was because of the wind but I realized with only 100 meters to go that I was the fastest. Every sprint is different, and you never know who has more power.”
Turning pro is harder than you think
The 2022 season is Dainese’s third as a professional rider after stepping up to the WorldTour with Team DSM in 2020. While he has knocked on the door of several victories in that time, it has been a difficult learning curve for him.
There is still lots to learn, particularly about where the outer limits of his talents are.
“My first two seasons haven’t been very easy. Turning pro often looks easy but once you are a pro cyclist it is a lot harder than you think. You can’t always believe in the win because the sprints are all different,” he said.
“I still need to study myself. I am a sprinter, but maybe on some climbs I can still stay in the peloton. Every day is different, yesterday I thought the stage was good for me but then I was dropped, even if I was very confident. I think that the classics are too hard for me.”
Dainese’s victory continues a good run by Team DSM in the last four weeks after struggling to win in the opening months of the season. The importance of the win was evident as an emotional Dainese hugged his teammates, including a lengthy embrace with a delighted Romain Bardet.
“In the team, sometimes we struggle but when a teammate wins then everybody is happy. Romain has always believed in me since day one and he’s always told me to try so it’s very special and it’s so nice to see a rider that is third in the general classification help me in the leadout,” he said.
“When I was on the podium, I couldn’t believe it but it was nice to celebrate on the podium with everyone. I will try to share this moment with a lot of people. Maybe we don’t have a big party, but we will try to finish all of the prosecco bottles that we have here.”