European road racing returns on Sunday 2 February, with this 1.1 race from Italy. The Italian teams are all here, but the northern European teams are at GP La Marseillaise. It’s the 1st round of the Italian Cup, for the teams from the federation, it’s also the first for new coach of Italy, Davide Cassani. The race takes place in the Etruscan region of Italy, an area roughly corresponding to Tuscany, western Umbria and northern Latium.
The 1st climb of the day is in the village of Campiglia. It’s 4km at an average of 5/6%. The rest of the route is quite flat until 2 ascents of the Torre Segalari, 2.9km at 9%. This is a serious climb and as the riders tackle it twice in the last 30km, it will create a selective group at the end of the race.
This is the 19th edition of the race and it used to be a sprinters paradise, Alessandro Petacchi has won the race 5 times and Mario Cipollini has won it twice. The organisers changed things up last year with the introduction of the double climb at the end of the stage. This ensured that a sprinter didn’t win it.
The race nearly didn’t happen in 2013, due to financial reasons, but the GS Emilia group came to the rescue and the race went ahead on 21 September. This meant it was excellent practice for the World Championship, in nearby Tuscany. 7 riders broke clear on the final climb: Scarponi, Ulissi, Pozzato, Nocentini, Santaromita, Nibali and Sinkewitz. It was the German, Sinkewitz, that set a fierce pace, on the early slopes, and eliminated the sprinters. Nibali took over near the end of the climb and only Ulissi and Sinkewitz could follow. They rode well together, on the descent, but were caught with 2 kilometres to go. Lampre-Merida had 3 men in the group and when Scarponi attacked, no one followed. He went on to take a great win, with Ulissi 2nd and Pozzato 3rd. It was an amazing 1-2-3 for Lampre-Merida, and a proud moment for the team.
As the race was in September, the riders were in good form and it was no surprise to see the climbers emerge victorious. The race is now back in it’s normal place, in February, and this will have an impact on the race. For the vast majority of riders, this will be there 1st race of the season. Legs will be rusty and the pace won’t be as high.
We only have 2 World Tour teams: Lampre-Merida and Cannondale, the other big teams are: Androni, Yellow Fluo, Bardiani and Team Colombia.
The climbers will want to make a selection on the final climb, as it’s only 9km from the finish. However, it will be difficult for a small group to stay away and I think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint.
One of the favourites for the race is Mauro Finetto of Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo. He is a good climber and a fast sprinter. I chatted to Mauro, earlier this week about the race.
The route is very similar to 2013 with 2 climbs of Torre Segalari in the last 30km. What do you think of the route?
I think the path is very spectacular, different than the usual debut in the Italian calendar,which is usually dedicated to sprinters. On paper, it is very suitable to my characteristics.
What difference does it make having the race back in Febuary, instead of September?
Perhaps at this time of the season it could make less selection and you might see a larger group to fight for the race, but it could also be that 3-4 runners already running on good legs and some with good condition are able to create a vacuum.
How hard is the climb of Torre Segalari?
It’s very difficult in the first 800m, a real wall. Then salt to tears, if you suffer in the first then it is very hard, up the hill, with the best.
In 2013 we had a small group of climbers escape and you won the sprint for 8th. What do you think will happen in 2014?
It burns me still thinking about this race in 2013, we were down to 8, I moved away 200m from the brow, that day I had some stomach problems. This year, after a few months I hope to go otherwise.
Who will be your biggest rivals?
I have not seen the official list starters, but I think of all the men to be beat, it has to be Ulissi (TDU jet lag permitting).
The big news coming from Lampre is that Ulissi will not be riding, neither will Modolo. They are taking the opportunity to give Cattaneo, Dodi, Durasek and Polanc their first race of the season. Watch out for Luca Wackermann, he was excellent in the Tour Down Under and might be allowed to attack on the final climb.
Cannondale have climbers but no sprinters. Their main threat comes from Ivan Basso and Davide Villella, but they can only win in a small break.
Androni have some interesting riders. Johnny Hoogerland makes his debut, but they have fast men in Andrea Zordan and Manuel Belletti, who is also debuting. Franco Pellizotti is riding and he is always a threat.
Bardiani have an embarrassment of riches: Bongiorno, Zardini, Battaglin and Colbrelli. I would say that this is the strongest squad as they have climbers and sprinters.
Fabio Duarte of Team Colombia, is an explosive climber, who is fast at the finish. He competed in the Tour de San Luis, so will be a little ahead of some of the other riders. If he wants to win, he’ll have to attack on the climb and eliminate some of the faster finishers.
Meridiana have the brilliant Patrik Sinkewitz. He was one of the main protagonists in 2013 and expect fireworks from him on the final climb.
Keep an eye out for Patrick Konrad, riding for RC Gourmetfein Wels. He is a wonderful young climber and a star of the future.
I chatted to Maxtin, DS for Lampre, about the race,
“Everyone has so much strength at the beginning of the season, more and more candidates to win. At the end I see a sprint involving a medium sized group of riders.”
As it’s the 1st race of the season for many riders, I expect to see a reduced bunch sprint. It will be very close between Colbrelli and Finetto, and I go for Mauro Finetto to take a first win for the Yellow Fluo.
Enjoy the race.