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. As a part of the famous Trittico Lombardo series, the Coppa Bernocchi gives the pure sprinters a rare chance to shine in a calendar that is usually more geared towards classics riders and stronger fastmen.
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 has 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. Coppa Bernocchi is different as it is one of the very few Italian classics that the pure sprinters can realistically target. The race was first held in 1919 and so is one of the oldest events on the calendar. It was promoted and financed by Antonio Bernocchi and has since been organized by Union Sportive Leganese. Impressively, only two editions have been cancelled and as riders like Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Rik Van Looy, Aldo Moser, Gianni Motta, Felice Gimondi, Francsco Moser, Giuseppe Saronni, Guido Bontempi and Rolf Sørensen have all taken the win, it has always been a prestigious race on the calendar even though it has largely been an Italian affair. Unfortunately, it no longer enjoys the same prestige and as a 1.1 race on the UCI calendar, it doesn’t attract many international teams.
As said, the race is suited to pure sprinters and most of the recent editions have been decided in bunch sprints, with Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo, Yauheni Hutarovich, Manuel Belleti and Danilo Napolitano – who won three years in a row from 2005 to 2007 – being among the winners. However, last year’s edition showed that it’s possible to change the usual script as an in-form Vincenzo Nibali claimed a solo win, arriving one second ahead of a four-rider group that was led to the finish by Mauro Finetto and Matteo Trentin.
The 98th edition of the Coppa Bernocchi will be held on the same course that has been used in the last few years. The 192km race both starts and finishes in Legnano where the riders will do two early laps of a small, flat circuit before they head along flat roads to the main circuit on the northern outskirts of the city. The riders will get there after 44.9km of racing and will do seven laps. The circuit is 16.7km long and includes the small climb Morazzone. The riders will end the final lap with 30.2km to go and then they will follow flat roads back to Legnano where a flat finale awaits the peloton. It’s an uncomplicated finish from a technical point of view as there’s only one turn in the final 3km. It comes just before the flamme rouge.
Coppa Bernocchi has always been a race for sprinters and almost every edition has been decided in a bunch sprint. Last year’s race was the exception that proves the rule and is the only edition in recent years that hasn’t been for the fastmen. The script was only changed because Astana went into the race with a plan to blow the race to pieces and they had the firepower to do so.
This year the national team will be the team that will dictate proceedings but their role will be completely the opposite of what Astana did 12 months ago. In 2016, the Worlds will be held on a flat course in Qatar and Italian national coach Davide Cassani is currently in the process of deciding whether Giacomo Nizzolo or Elia Viviani deserves to lead the team and building the best lead-out train. Hence, he has selected both Viviani and Nizzolo for this race and they will be supported by some of the finest lead-out men in Italy. Hence, the team has one goal: to sprint for the win in Lissone.
This means that we are very likely to get a bunch sprint. The Italian team is strong enough to control things and as the two other WorldTour teams, Astana and Lampre-Merida, also eye a sprint finish, there should be plenty of teams eager to contribute to the pace-setting. Bardiani probably also believe in Nicola Ruffoni so they are likely to lend a hand. Other teams like Androni and CCC may try to make the race hard but that’s unlikely to be enough to split the field. Furthermore, the weather will be absolutely excellent with bright sunshine and little wind, and this will make it even less selective. Hence, we expect the race to be decided in a big bunch sprint.
As said, the Italian national team have a fantastic lead-out train here. Eugenio Alafaci, Marco Coledan and Jacopo Guarnieri will be ready to support their leader and they should be able to control the finale. At the same time, they have the two fastest sprinters here, Elia Viviani and Giacomo Nizzolo, so the big question is who’s going to lead the team.
It’s anyone’s guess who’s going to get the chance but we expect them to share the roles in Bernocchi and Agostoni. As the former is the easier of the race, we expect them to go for Viviani who is more of a pure sprinter while Nizzolo is likely to be the leader for Thursday’s harder race. If that’s the case, Viviani will be the man to beat. On paper, he is faster than Nizzolo in a flat sprint like this and he is clearly the fastest rider in this race. He will even have the best train at his disposal so we doubt that anyone will be able to beat him.
The big question is his form. He has been focused on the track and so he doesn’t have much road condition. That was evident in the Tour of Britain but there is little doubt that those 8 hard days have made him a lot stronger. There are some climbs in this race but if he can’t survive those, his form is not good enough to lead Italy in Doha. We expect Viviani to be there in the end and lead the Italian team. With a great team at his side, he is our favourite to win the race.
However, Giacomo Nizzolo can’t be ruled out. After all, Viviani is not in his best form yet so the team may opt to go for Nizzolo, especially if Viviani suffers on the climbs. The Trek sprinter crashed out of the Tour of Britain so it remains to be seen how he is going. However, he showed good form in Plouay so we can expect him to be at a high level. Only Viviani is faster than him and so he should win the race if he gets the chance to lead the team. He may even follow some of the attacks if Viviani is appointed as the captain and this could open an unexpected door for him if the race turns out to be hard.
Lampre-Merida have Sacha Modolo who is a former winner of the race. He hasn’t won much this year but in the Brussels Cycling Classic he showed that he is getting better. The loss of Maximilano Richeze has been dearly felt but he still has Roberto Ferrari at his side. The Italian is one of the best lead-out men so they may be able to surprise the national team. On paper both Nizzolo and Viviani are faster but Ferrari could make the difference in favour of Modolo.
Astana have Andrea Guardini who is going through a very bad season. He hasn’t really been close to a win in Europe so he will be very motivated. The problem is that he doesn’t have much team support and he won’t have a real lead-out here either. The lack of a train has cost him too much in the past sprints but here the level is a bit lower. This should allow him to be in a better position for the sprint and everybody knows that he is one of the very best in a long, flat sprint like this.
Bardiani will support Nicola Ruffoni who is finally starting to show the huge talent. In 2014, he was sprinting excellently but then he disappeared into anonymity. Now he is getting better and he won two stages in Austria before going on to the Tour of Britain where he was very competitive in the sprints. He is very fast, has a solid train and is usually good at positioning. There is little doubt that the in-form Ruffoni is one of the best here.
Manuel Belletti usually needs a harder race to really excel so he hopes that some teams will try to make a difference on the climbs. The Wilier sprinter has shown good form in France and he has a solid team at his side. Furthermore, he is good at positioning himself. It will be hard to win a pure sprint like this but with a hilly middle section, he has a chance.
Skydive Dubai have Andrea Palini who has proved that he deserves a spot in a professional team. Whenever he has had the chance to test himself against the WorldTour sprinters, he has proved to be competitive. He doesn’t have much support but that has rarely made much of a difference as he is very good when it comes to positioning. His form is a bit uncertain as he wasn’t very good in Alberta but in an easy race like this he should be competitive.
Nippo-Vini Fantini have Eduard Grosu who has had a bad year. However, he has occasionally proved his class and he should find this kind of sprint to his liking. He is unlikely to be fast enough to win but he should be up there.
Carlos Barbero and Roman Maikin have both shown good form but this race is probably a bit too easy for them as they usually need harder races to excel. Things are different for Filippo Fortin who has returned to his best in 2016 and he should find a real bunch sprint like this to his liking. Andrea Pasqualon is also one of the best sprinters here and he has proved that he can be competitive in both flat and harder sprints.
Other sprinters include Daniele Ratto, Davide Vigano, Paolo Simion, Simone Ponzi, Jaroslaw Marycz, Alberto Cecchin, Antonio Parrinello, Fabio Chinello, Guillaume Boivin, Marco Zamparella and Marco Zanotti
If the race turns out to be harder than expected and a small group of the best climbers manages to deny the sprinters, you should look to riders like Sonny Colbrelli, Maciej Paterski, Francesco Gavazzi, Mauro Finetto and Filippo Pozzato who are all strong enough to make a difference and fast enough to finish it off.
***** Elia Viviani
**** Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo
*** Andrea Guardini, Nicola Ruffoni, Manuel Belletti, Andrea Palini
** Carlos Barbero, Roman Maikin, Filippo Fortin, Andrea Pasqualon, Sonny Colbrelli, Maciej Paterski, Francesco Gavazzi, Mauro Finetto
* Filippo Pozzato, Grega Bole, Andrea Fedi, Paolo Simion, Daniele Ratto, Davide Vigano, Alberto Cecchin, Fabio Chinello, Guillaume Boivin, Marco Zanotti, Simone Ponzi, Jaroslaw Marycz, Damiano Cunego, Davide Rebellin
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