I spent the week before Paris-Roubaix asking my teammates what I should look out for on the day. Apart from 'Get into a breakaway and don't look back', the most common response was 'Pray'.
But what for, I wondered. We Italians are generally a devoted lot and I am no different. I can directly attribute at least half a dozen of my best race wins to divine intervention of some kind.
In my local under-16 regional championship, a rogue Chihuahua caused my opponent in the sprint to swerve into the kerb at the last minute. And there was another time when my tyre blew in the last 30 metres and I was left expecting a last-second loss, only to see my rival's front fork spontaneously lose its structural integrity. Don't let anyone tell you miracles can't happen.
Back to Paris-Roubaix, though. It turns out I should have prayed for no flat tyres, because I lucked out there. My first flat of the day came early in the fourth section of the pave so my day was pretty much ruined from there.
And then I should have prayed for a team car to be right behind me when I flatted, because that didn't work out either. I ended up having to wait a good five minutes before a new wheel arrived and the peloton was long gone by then. I am very quickly learning exactly where neo-pros rank in the team hierarchy when you have a couple of decent teammates aiming to win a spring classic.
Luke Durbridge, who was so impressive at the Tour Down Under in January, was one of the riders who passed me in a bid to get back into the main group. I tried talking to him at one point but he let fly with what I can only assume was an honest assessment of his Paris-Roubaix experience in his very best agricultural Australian.
Finally, I should have prayed for rain, because a torrential downpour was the last chance I had to get back into the race. A decent shower on the course might have caused a pile-up and let us stragglers rejoin the peloton, but no. A little sprinkle might have dampened the dust that clogged up every pore during the race, but no. Four days after the race and I'm still coughing up half the French countryside.
In the end, two more flats in succession forced me out of the race with Roubaix still an hour away. I did get to the velodrome in time to see my fellow neo-pro Chris Juul-Jensen complete his own unique of classic honours, having officially finished last in Paris-Roubaix, E3 Harelbeke and the Scheldeprijs. It was an idea that a bunch of us young guys cooked up the night before Paris-Roubaix and we couldn't believe it came off. Suffice to say the Kronenbourgs were on Chris that night.
In short, Paris-Roubaix was an experience but I'm beginning to think that Peter Sagan had the right idea, skipping the race and its infernal cobbles in order to issue an apology to that unsuspecting podium girl at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. Philippe Gilbert was heckling him to get her phone number before they went up to the podium, but Sagan just gave this nervous smile before whispering something I'd only ever heard before out of Luke Durbridge's mouth. I think he might actually like her.
Sagan still isn't returning my text messages - I've only sent him 47 since last week - but I'm sure he's really busy with sponsors and stuff. I'll try to catch up with him to get the latest gossip at Amstel Gold this weekend.
I'm almost dreading the hills of Amstel Gold more than the pave of Paris-Roubaix but the team directors have told me that they're starting to select their squad for the Giro d'Italia. It's time to pull out all stops and make sure I fulfil my lifelong dream of riding the Giro.