The Italian one-day scene is no longer what it once was but one part of the calendar still flourishes. The famous series of autumn classics in Italy is still very rich and until October 1 when it all culminates at Il Lombardia, no less than 11 relatively big one-day races will be held in the country. It all kicks off with a busy week with four races, starting with Wednesday’s Coppa Bernocchi and Thursday’s Coppa Agostoni which are both part of the famous Trittico Lombardo series. After Wednesday’s race for the pure sprinters, Coppa Agostoni has a harder course and is a traditional Italian one-day race where several climbs and a flat finish make it a race for classics riders and strong sprinters.
Being one of cycling’s traditional key countries, Italy once had a very rich calendar of one-day races. Both the spring and the autumn were loaded with great classics in some of the best cycling terrain in the world. Classics riders with a good punch on the climbs and a fast finish excelled on the lumpy courses of the many race in one of cycling’s main countries.
Unfortunately, the tough economic times have taken its toll on the calendar and now there are barely any races left in the first part of the year. The only one-day races in February are GP Costa degli Etruschi and Trofeo Laigueglia, only Strade Bianche and GP Industria have survived on the March calendar and in April, there is just the Giro dell’Appennino left. Trofeo Matteotti is held in July and there is no longer a single race in August which was once one of the busiest months on the calendar.
However, the autumn classics have mostly managed to survive. In fact, no country can boast such a rich amount of big one-day races at any time of the year as Italy can in the months of September and October. No less than 11 1.1, 1.HC and WorldTour races make up an intriguing and exciting part of the cycling season that plays a special role and is dear to many riders’ heart. The highlight if of course the monument Il Lombardia which has traditional been the final event in the series. In recent years, a reshuffling of the calendar has moved it a bit forward in the calendar and the weekend with the Giro dell’Emilia and GP Beghelli has brought the curtain down on the Italian season. This year the new date for the Worlds means that those races will be held earlier than usual, and Il Lombardia will again be the final race in the series. Hence, all 11 races will take place between September 14 and October 1, turning it into the busiest period in any cycling country during the year.
The many one-day races play a special role for many Italian riders. The first races have traditionally been the final key events for the national coach to finalize his selection for the World Championships, and very often the national team has lined up in some of the races that have served as some kind of a dress rehearsal. The later events have formed their own block with a busy week of hilly races that work serve as perfect preparation for Il Lombardia. That block includes Milan-Turin and Gran Piemonte which are organized by RCS Sports and those races have a much more international flavor than the early races which are mainly dominated by Italians.
The series has traditionally kicked off with the Trittico Lombardo, a three-day series consistent of Tre Valli Varesine, Coppa Bernocchi and Coppa Agostoni. When the series was introduced in 1997, the intention was to hold the three races on three consecutive days and have an overall classification that recognizes the best rider in the three-day block. While the overall classification has remained in place, the calendar was changed a few years. Tre Valli Varesine which is the biggest event in the series, is no longer held in the same week as the two Coppas. Instead, it takes place in the week of Il Lombardia where it is part of the races that serve as a warm-up for the monument. Coppa Bernocchi and Coppa Agostoni are still held in the first part of the block on consecutive days and they have the roles of being the opening events in the long series.
Most of the Italian one-day races are very similar as they have hilly courses with flat finales, meaning that they are perfect races for strong sprinters and classics riders. Wednesday’s Coppa Bernocchi was different as a relatively flat course makes it a race for pure sprinters. Coppa Agostoni is a much more typical Italian one-day race as it has a much harder course and a flat finale which makes it very similar to most other races held in the country.
Like Coppa Bernocchi, Coppa Agostoni is a relatively old one-day race which was first held in 1946 when a group of enthusiasts created a cycling club in the city of Lissone and organized the first edition of the race which was named after Ugo Agostoni, the 1914 Milan-Sanremo winner. It became a professional race in 1963 and since then its importance has grown, turning it into one of the most important events on the Italian calendar. In 1987, it played a double role as it was held as the Italian Championships. The list of winners is impressive as it includes names like Aldo Moser, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser, Giuseppe Saronni, Gianni Bugno, Maurizio Fondriest, Andrea Tafi, Jan Ullrich and Laurent Jalabert.
Unfortunately, the tough economic climate has taken its toll and it is no longer as prestigious as it once was. Even though it has always been dominated by Italians, it has always attracted a strong international field too. In recent years, however, the field has mainly been made up of Italian teams and this year the only two WorldTour teams are Lampre-Merida and Astana.
Unlike many other events, Coppa Agostoni does not have a fixed format and the course has varied quite a bit. In some years, it has been held on very hard routes that have turned it into a race for climbers while other editions have been far easier. In recent years, however, the race has followed a pretty similar formula which has made it suited to strong sprinters and the course for 2016 will be the almost the same as the one that was used last year.
Back then, Davide Rebellin and an in-form Vincenzo Nibali managed to deny the sprinters as the pair rode away in the hilly zone and decided the race in a two-rider sprint. Rebellin took the win while Niccolo Bonifazio beat Giacomo Nizzolo and Sonny Colbrelli in the sprint of the peloton.
The 70th edition of the Coppa Agostoni will be held on a course that is almost identical to the one that was used in 2015, with the only small modification being the fact that the start has been moved from Monza to Lissone. The 199km race both starts and finishes in Lissone and can be split into three parts. First the riders will tackle a lumpy circuit of around 40km which includes a small climb to Capriano and several small ascents. Then they will return to Lissone to cross the finish line for the first time.
From here, the peloton will turn around to head back into the hills where the main challenge awaits. The riders will do four laps of the very hilly Lissolo circuit which includes no less than three climbs and barely a single metre of flat roads. First up is the Sirtori climb which is followed by the Colle Brianza (3.5km, 6.5%). Finally, the riders will tackle the climb of Lissolo (2.5km, 9.3%).
From the top of the final passage of Lissolo, there are still 43.6km to go and they are mainly downhill. The riders will descend back to Lissone where they will cross the line for the second time. The final part of the race consists of two laps of a completely flat 9.8km circuit.
As we had predicted, the Italian national team controlled everything perfectly in the Coppa Bernocchi and made sure that we got a bunch sprint. They completely dominated the lead-out and as we said, the only question was whether the leader was Elia Viviani or Giacomo Nizzolo. We backed the wrong horse as the team opted to go for Nizzolo who finished the work of his team off in dominant fashion and so proved that he is ready to lead Italy in Qatar.
Nizzolo gets a chance to make it two in a row but it will be a much harder to challenge to win the Coppa Agostoni. While Coppa Bernocchi is a race for sprinters, Thursday’s race is much harder and there is no room for the pure fastmen. There’s a good reason that riders like Andrea Guardini and Nicola Ruffoni have opted to skip the race as they know that they have no chance to overcome the climbs.
A few years ago, Coppa Agostoni was an even harder race suited to climbers but after the course was changed, it became more suited to strong sprinters. The course is very similar to what it has been for a few years and so we know a bit about what to expect. As said, Rebellin and Nibali managed to hold the peloton off in 2015 but in 2014 and 2013, the race was decided in reduced bunch sprints that were won by Niccolo Bonifazio and Filippo Pozzato respectively.
The distance from the top of the final climb is a big advantage for the sprinters as there is plenty of time to get the bunch organized. The two laps in the city do nothing to help the climbers keep the peloton at bay and so it is no coincidence that the sprinters have had the upper hand.
A key factor in this year’s race is the weather as Thursday is forecasted to be rainy. This will make the race harder and make it easier to create a selection. Furthermore, there will be a tailwind in the first part of the run back to Lissone and this is another advantage for the attackers.
Like in Coppa Bernocchi, much will depend on the approach of the Italian national team. They have changed the line-up slightly and left some of their lead-out men at home. Instead, Giovanni Visconti and Gianni Moscon have been brought in to give them some much-needed firepower on the climbs. The question is whether they will use that strength to go on the attack or whether they will go all out for Nizzolo. Elia Viviani is also in attendance but as he is coming straight off the track, we doubt that he has the form to be competitive in a race that would be on the limit for him even if he was at 100%.
As the national team are here to prepare for Qatar, we doubt that they will be riding offensively. Nizzolo is one of two potential leaders in October and the team will probably use this opportunity to work on their sprint. Hence, we expect them to ride a defensive race and with Visconti and Moscon ready to chase, it makes it likely that we will get a reduced bunch sprint. If Colbrelli can’t follow the moves, Bardiani want a sprint too and the same will be the case for Wilier and Caja Rural who have Pozzato/Belletti and Barbero respectively. It’s not impossible for the best climbers to make a decisive difference but we put our money on a reduced sprint.
This also means that Giacomo Nizzolo is our favourite. The Italian has always been a good climber but last autumn he stepped up his level even more. In Tre Valli Varesine, he was even the only rider who could stay with an in-form Vincenzo Nibali for a while and he backed his improved climbing skills up with a great performance in a very hard stage at the Giro d’Italia that was won by Diego Ulissi.
Already last year Nizzolo showed that he can survive the climbs here and he should be able to do again this time. He crashed out of the Tour of Britain but he was riding well in Plouay and today he showed that the form is still good. On paper, he is clearly the fastest sprinter here – as we don’t expect Viviani to be in contention – and he may even have Jacopo Guarnieri at his side to do the lead-out. Even if the Katusha rider doesn’t survive the climbs, Nizzolo will be hard to beat as he is a master in positioning and can count on Visconti and Moscon. We expect it to be another win for Nizzolo.
His biggest rival is likely to be Sonny Colbrelli. The Bardiani rider has always been a big talent but this year he has taken a massive step up. His climbing has reached a new level which his third place at Amstel Gold Race is a clear confirmation of. He was set back by pneumonia in the summer but with three wins in the Tour du Limousin and Tour du Poitou-Charentes he proved that he is in excellent form and now he is likely to be even better. He was on the attack in the finale of today’s race which was too easy for him but Coppa Agostoni is tailor-made for him. The question is whether the right approach is to attack or whether it’s better to focus on a sprint. He may be strong enough to follow the best on the climbs and if a break makes it, no one is going to beat him. Furthermore, he is the rider with the best chance to beat Nizzolo in a sprint from a bigger group as he is very fast at the end of a hard race.
Lampre-Merida go into the race with a two-pronged attack. They have Sacha Modolo for the sprint and Diego Ulissi for the attacks. There is little doubt that Ulissi is one of the best climbers but as we expect a sprint finish, Modolo is their best chance. The Italian has not had much luck in the sprints, mostly due to poor positioning. However, his form is good as he proved in the Brussels Cycling Classic. He is a pretty good climber and should be able to survive the climbs. In a smaller field, the fight for position will be less hectic and this will give him more opportunities.
Caja Rural have Carlos Barbero who is finally back on form after his bad crash at the Tour of Turkey. The Spaniard both climbed and sprinted very well at the Tour of Britain and his fourth place in Coppa Bernocchi was another confirmation of his good form. He is usually not fast enough to match the best in a flat sprint like this but he is a much better climber than most of the sprinters. At the end of a hard race, he should be one of the freshest and in Britain he indicated that he is currently sprinting the better than ever.
As said, Diego Ulissi is one of the best climbers here. The Lampre-Merida rider showed excellent form in Canada where he was very good in both races, capping it off with a podium finish in Montreal. There is little doubt that he will be among the best in the hard section and if a group stays away, he is likely to be one of the fastest. If he can rid of Colbrelli, he will be hard to beat in a sprint from a breakaway.
As said, we expect the national team to go for a sprint but they have plenty of firepower to ride more aggressively if that’s what they want. Gianni Moscon is having an amazing neo-pro season and is currently in the form of his life. He won the Arctic Race of Norway in dominant fashion and proved his potential at WorldTour level in Canada. In Quebec, his late move was brought back in the final kilometre and in Montreal he followed the very best on the climbs before sprinting to a top 10. He is in great form, strong on the climbs, fast in a sprint and may even have Giovanni Visconti at his side in a breakaway.
Giovanni Visconti is the second climber in the national team. The Movistar rider has not had his best form recently but he showed signs of improvement with his attack in the queen stage at the Tour of Britain. The short climbs in the middle section suit him pretty well and if he teams up with Moscon, the team will have cards to play in a breakaway. Furthermore, he is maybe even faster than both Moscon and Ulissi.
Uniero have Mauro Finetto who has done well in this race in the past. Finetto is fast in a sprint but he has no chance in a bigger group. To win the race, he needs to go on the attack and that’s definitely possible as he should be one of the strongest in this terrain. He attacked in the finale of today’s race and so showed that his form is good. If a break makes it, he will be one of the fastest.
Wilier-Southeast have Manuel Belletti and Filippo Pozzato. Belletti is one of the fastest sprinters in the race and he has proved that he can overcome hard climbs. However, this race could be a bit on the limit for him. Pozzato will be the back-up plan in the sprint but his best chance is to follow the attacks. Unfortunately, the climbs are probably a bit too long and hard for him.
Androni have Francesco Gavazzi who is tailor-made for this kind of race. His performances in Portugal and Limousin show that his form is good. The problem is that he is not fast enough to win a sprint from a bigger group and he may not be climbing well enough to follow the best in the hardest sections. However, if he can make it into a small group in the finale, he will be one of the big favourites. The team have Davide Vigano for a sprint. He should be able to survive the climbs but his speed is probably not good enough for more than a podium.
Roth have Andrea Pasqualon and Nippo—Vini Fantini have Grega Bole who are both experts in reduced bunch sprints. Unfortunately, Bole hasn’t shown his best form since he crashed before the Giro but on paper it’s a race that suits him well as he climbs better than almost every other sprinter. Pasqualon doesn’t climb as well but is probably faster in a sprint. Nippo-Vini Fantini have Damiano Cunego for the attacks but the Italian’s form is a bit uncertain. After the Tour of Utah, however, he should be better. The problem is that many other climbers are fast on the line.
Ulissi may be supported by Valerio Conti in the finale. The Italian won a stage in the Vuelta and proved in the final mountain stage that his form is good. In the spring, he was very strong after the Giro and if he has the same form here, he should be one of the best on the climbs. If he can team up with Ulissi in a breakaway, the team will have cards to play.
CCC have both Maciej Paterski and Davide Rebellin for the attacks. Both are in good form but as Paterski is the fastest of the pair, he is probably their best card even though Rebellin is the defending champion.
***** Giacomo Nizzolo
**** Sonny Colbrelli, Sacha Modolo
*** Carlos Barbero, Diego Ulissi, Gianni Moscon, Giovanni Visconti, Mauro Finetto
** Manuel Belletti, Francesco Gavazzi, Andrea Pasqualon, Grega Bole, Valerio Conti, Maciej Paterski, Damiano Cunego, Filippo Pozzato, Davide Vigano
* Paolo Tiralongo, Davide Rebellin, Matteo Busato, Eduardo Sepulveda, Fabio Aru, Marco Zamparella, Andrea Fedi, Evgeny Shalunov, Eduard Grosu, Marco Tizza
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