Bouncing back from the cobbles of Roubaix to the top step in Glasgow with Matteo Trentin

Wed 7 Nov 2018

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” William Arthur Ward

When Matteo Trentin broke his spine at Paris-Roubaix back in April, it was the lowest point of a difficult spring for the Italian in his new team colours at Mitchelton-SCOTT, but it was also the moment he started to think about the European Championships.

Trentin signed for the Australian outfit on the back of a super successful 2017, winning four stages and dominating the sprints at that year’s Vuelta a Espana, rounding off his season with further wins at the Primus Classic and the historic Paris-Tours.

The desire was to pick up in 2018 where he had left off in 2017, yet new beginnings are not always seamless and without difficulty, sometimes they are not what we expect at all 

2018 began ominously for Trentin when he cracked a rib in pre-season training, pushing back his debut for MTS until the end of January.

That debut finally took place in Spain at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and from there he built steadily into the Spring with a pair of top ten results in adverse weather conditions at Paris-Nice, a strong showing at Milan-SanRemo and seventh at Gent-Wevelgem before disaster struck at Roubaix.

“For sure it wasn’t the best start for me at Mitchelton-SCOTT,” began Trentin. “You know, you join a new team that has a great vision and a nice project, you have ambition to do the best you possibly can and then you turn around and it’s basically gone to shit.”

“The first injury – with the ribs – I could recover quite quickly, not easily, but fast and I felt like I was always chasing something, but not quite getting there. But, then at Roubaix…it was a heavy crash and it was quite serious, so I decided that I had to have a real break, let the body heal and completely re-set.”

The road to recovery:

Scans following Trentin’s crash on the d’Haveluy a Wallers sector of cobbles revealed that he had sustained a stable compression fracture of his thoracic spine and thanks, in part to the swift reactions of medical staff on the scene, he could be expected to make a complete recovery… with plenty of time to think about what comes next.

“To be honest the European Championships were in the back of mind when I was in the hospital bed two days after the crash.  Athletes are always like this, you suffer a set-back and you start thinking about the next achievable objective, it’s also a lot to do with positivity and having goals.”

“I thought ok, this is something I can do. The time frame is right and if everything went well with the recovery process then I could realistically target the European Championships road race as a comeback goal.

“I only had maybe 35 days off the bike before I could get on the rollers indoor, and of course in that period my second son arrived….so it was busy, and I didn’t have the time to feel like the injury was a drain mentally or too much of a challenge.

“It was a great period of family time, to be there helping around the house as much as I could. It made part of the recovery process easier. To be honest, with this type of injury you can only do what your body allows, so as soon as you try and do something over a certain limit, you feel pain and ease off. I waited, let everything heal and then ten days later, so 45 days after the crash, I went out on the bike.”

Pedaling without pain:

No matter how slow those first rides back may have been, it can’t be underestimated how important it is to start getting back into routines, pushing the body step by step and moving without pain.

“I had this rough plan in the back of my mind, but it was all down to when my body would let me get back on the bike and do what I needed to do and after these ten days on the rollers I did my first hour outside on the flat….and actually it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

“It was a familiar loop I do in Monaco and it probably took me 20minutes more than it normally would, but it was so good to be able to be back out on a bike.

“I remember it was a nice sunny day and I was just thinking how lucky I was that I was riding again. You know, with this kind of injury it could be so much worse, but that was where I started and gradually I began to improve and so did the sensations.”

Adriatica-Ionica, altitude and the Tour of Poland

Trentin pinned on a number again in June at the inaugural Adriatica-Ionica stage race in Italy, only eight weeks after his crash at Roubaix. Racing for the Italian national team in an event that would turn out to be a great boon to his recovery and a stress-free way to get plenty of kilometres in the legs and begin the next part of the building up process.

“I spoke to Davide Cassani, the national team coach and he allowed me to join the team and race despite the condition I was in and it was really good all round. The race came at the right time for me and gave me an opportunity to get back into the routine of racing – both physically and mentally.”

“From there I went up to Livigno to train at altitude, raced the national championships, back up to Livigno and then finally came back with the team in a WorldTour race at the Tour of Poland only a week before the road race in Glasgow.

“Getting in the mix in the sprints in Poland did me a lot of good and coming third on the opening stage showed that the hard work was starting to pay off and that my form was coming.”

The wet streets of Glasgow lead to European Glory:

Much has been said about the British weather, especially in the summertime and while wintry conditions in Scotland in August may not be all that rare, becoming a European champion only four months after breaking your back is something special. A moment to savour. A huge release of emotion and a day that even biblical downpours could not dampen, let alone the constant gloomy drizzle of a Sunday in the Western Lowlands.

“Man, it was cold! And wet, it was pretty bad weather on the day and a super technical parcours and a really hard race day. There was uphill and downhill, but mainly it was just a very technical circuit made harder by the rain and it just got harder and harder.”

“As a national team we raced perfectly, always up there at the front, always in the mix and when we caught the right move… I could see it was a good one. A strong one. We realised after one lap with 50kilometres to go, that ok, this could go all the way.

“The strongest teams had riders in there and after close to 200kilometres in those conditions there wasn’t going to be anyone who could chase our group down on those circuits. We were two with Davide Cimolai and myself and I said to Cimo give it a pull, we go, and we try to win this one.”

Were you feeling good on those final laps, did you expect attacks and how tactical did it end up being?

“I expected attacks for sure, especially from the two cyclo-cross riders Van Aert and Van der Poel, but after the crash split the group in half with just under ten kilometres to go Cimo and I were still in there so then we started to play a little bit.

“I was waiting for an attack on the climb, but it never came so I thought ok everyone else is hurting also, so I just concentrated on doing the best sprint I could do, and it was. Tactically we played the numbers and it worked out well, I felt good at the end, when we’d finished and won, but during the race you never know until the end.”

….and winning, how did that feel after how the season had gone for you until that Sunday in Glasgow?

“It was like I’d had a big stone on my back and all of a sudden it came crashing down as soon as I crossed the line. After all the bad luck, the setbacks, the hard work…it’s something special to win this race because you are marked differently for a whole year. You have a champion's jersey that distinguishes you from everyone else in the peloton which is very special.”

“To go from there to the Vuelta in the champs jersey and to help the team and Simon win our first Grand Tour it made everything more special and I’d never been part of a team that went deep into a three-week race before, so to do that for the first time and come away as part of the winning team…well, it gives me a 100% record for Grand Tours so far.”

Matteo Trentin is from Trento in Northern Italy, he is a father of two, he rides for UCI WorldTour team Mitchelton-SCOTT and is the current European Road Champion.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.