Moreno Moser needs music. Every time he goes on long training rides, he’ll put on a new album to wile away the kilometres. Once his older brother got him into it, this kid in Trento was off, listening to everyone from Pink Floyd to Nirvana, Bush and Oasis.
He loves the Manchester tearaways; Definitely Maybe is his favourite album. He was even briefly in a band himself. When this year’s Cannondale team presentation gimmick was a band launch, it all came naturally to him: he stepped up to rock the mike.
Now Moser wants to change the record after a year that fell short of his expectations. If only it was as easy as shuffling an iPod.
His first year in the professional ranks was a masterpiece. From victory in his second race, the Trofeo Laigueglia, he was on a 2012 hot streak. The Tour of Poland and two stages fell to him, among five triumphs. Mini Moser was destined to be a cycling champion, many reckoned.
That incendiary start has come to weigh heavy on his shoulders. He’s at a loss to explain why he couldn’t recreate the form. “I worked hard last year, I didn’t have the results that I wanted – but not because I’d worked any less hard than the year before. My body is not a machine, so I can make mistakes,” he says.
His last victory came a year ago at Strade Bianche, when Cannondale team-mate Peter Sagan proved an able foil on the climb into Siena. But rather than kick on from the most significant victory of his career, Moser toiled. He finished his first Tour de France (breaking away to third on Alpe d’Huez behind Christophe Riblon and Tejay Van Garderen) and finished his season at the end of August, exhausted. Call it a difficult second album, maybe.
The wheel turns rapidly in professional cycling; without results, Moser quickly fades into the background. In the winless interim, it’s not the talk of the public or the papers that bothers him particularly.
“The problem is what I feel that they think about me. It’s different. I feel that people immediately forget everything. For example, Froome was the best climber in the world last year. But, if he doesn’t win the Tour this year, people, within two months, go [for example] ‘Quintana is the best’.
“I think it’s a problem of sport. In two days, you can become a star; in one day, you can become nothing. If you want to be a professional rider, you can’t always win, can’t always be at the top. You have to try to not think about it, to not listen to the people. Because if you always did, you’d go crazy.”
But then there’s his name. In every single interview, the Moser dynasty is brought up. Does he get sick of questions about Uncles Francesco and Aldo?
“I can understand because my uncle was one of the greatest riders in history, I think a lot of people love him, so they want to see me as another Francesco, my uncle another time over, or something like that.”
Of course, that’s impossible: Moreno can’t win 250-plus races, Paris-Roubaix or the Giro. Does he feel pressure? “Maybe it’s a little difficult. I try to not think about it,” he says.
There’s an accompanying envy from peers too. “There’s a lot of jealousy in the peloton. Sometimes other riders think all the journalists talk about me because of my name,” Moser says.
They write about him because he has shown glimpses of offering a cure to revive that ailing patient, Italian cycling. With Damiano Cunego – the last Italian to win a Monument, way back at the 2008 Tour of Lombardy - on the wane and Bettini, Bartoli and company all retired, Italy is crying out for another fuoriclasse, a world-beater. The enduring barren period intensifies the demand on young hopes like Moser and Diego Ulissi.
Don’t let the permanent five o'clock shadow fool you; Moser is still raw. He lives at home in Trento, a picturesque university city on the doorstep of the Dolomites and enjoys a good steak (bistecca alla fiorentina, preferably) made by his mum every now and then.
“Sometimes I feel a little old to be at home,” he says. But at 23, he has a good ten years on that particularly Italian malaise of mammoni, mummy’s boys who stay at home into their mid-thirties.
In cycling terms, there’s plenty of time to change and move out too. Moser thinks he’s more of a one-day racer, but doesn’t know for sure. Tasting bitter disappointment after his initial success may prove formative in the long-term, but for 2014, he’s warily scaling back his targets.
“I’ve won races, but never a Classic, where all the best riders are; I’ve never been near to winning one. So, this year, I would like to sometimes be with the best in the real races.”
The first of those falls on Sunday: Milan-Sanremo. When we chat in Oman, a minor racket about whether the Pompeiana will be included in the route (not, as it turns out) is roaring. Maybe it doesn’t matter, I suggest. You can still attack on the Poggio, Peter Sagan can sit in for the sprint, a little like Strade Bianche 2013.
“That’s the theory, the dream,” Moreno says. Music to his ears: then he wouldn’t be forgotten ever again.