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 races will be held in the country. After last week’s hectic start and races for climbers and puncheurs earlier in the week, the sprinters hope to get their chance to battle it out in the GP Beghelli but as usual a tough climb on the circuit can throw a spanner in their works.
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 1p 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.
Last week the series kicked off with Coppa Bernocchi, Coppa Agostoni and Memorial Marco Pantani and this week things get even more intense as there will be racing on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. After the two-day Giro della Toscana, there are three famous one-day races on the menu .In recent years, Coppa Sabatini, Giro dell’Emilia and GP Beghelli have been held over four days at the very end of the season in the week after Il Lombardia. This year the new dates for the Worlds mean that they will move back to the spot that they once had and now they will be held one week before the Italian monument.
The move has had a great impact on the races. The move to the end of the season had a negative impact on the start lists as the races have turned into largely Italian affairs with very little international appeal. This year a lot of big teams have shown interest in the one-day races which now serve as the perfect preparation for Il Lombardia. This has made the fields much stronger and this year they will have the prestige that they rightly deserve.
The races offer opportunities for almost every kind of rider. After the puncheurs battled it out in Coppa Sabatini and the climbers had their say in the Giro dell’Emilia, the sprinters hope to be in the mix in the GP Beghelli. Unlike the other races this week, it is a relatively new event which was created in 1996 where it was held at the Italian Championships and won by Mario Cippolini. The organizers liked the idea and decided to keep the race going. One year later it was held for the second time as it took over the autumn spot held by Milano-Vignola. Since then it has been held every year and won by great riders like Michael Boogerd, Andrei Tchmil, Luca Paolini, Damiano Cunego, Alessandro Petacchi, Filippo Pozzato and Sonny Colbrelli.
GP Beghelli is held in memonory of Bruno Beghelli and organized by Gruppo Sportivo Emilia which is also in charge of the Giro dell’Emilia and this creates a big synergy with the old classic that is held one day earlier. However, the courses are completely different and so the line-ups are pretty different. In recent years, it has been the final big race on the European calendar together with Paris-Tours but this year it is held a bit earlier. As said, that has boosted the line-up as there are now 10 WorldTour teams in attendance which is a complete turnaround compared to last year when only 2 teams from the top division did the race which was a largely Italian affair.
Unlike Giro dell’Emilia, GP Beghelli doesn’t include any major climbs and the main feature of the race is the small Zappolino climb. Every year the race is held on a very similar course that is mostly made up of several laps on a circuit that includes the ascent. History shows that the race is usually decided in a reduced bunch sprint but late attacks have occasionally worked out like it did for Valerio Conti in 2014 and Nicki Sørensen in 2012.
Last year it came down to the expected sprint where Sonny Colbrelli took the win ahead of Manuel Belletti and Roberto Ferrari.
The 21th edition of the GP Beghelli will be held on the same course that was used in 2012, 2013 and 2015. It is 196.3km long and both starts and finishes in the city of Monteveglio. In the first part, the riders head along flat roads to the city of Vignola where they do two laps of a flat circuit on the northwestern outskirts of the city. From there, they head back to Monteveglio along the same flat roads before they get to the finish line which they will cross for the first time after 63.3km of acing.
The final part of the race is made up of 10 laps of the well-known 13.3km circuit on the southern outskirts of the city. It is mainly flat but includes the Zappolino climb (1.5km, 7%) 8.2km from the finish. After the descent, the roads are again flat. In the finale there are two turns in quick succession with 800m to go before the riders get to the 600m finishing straight. The final kilometre is slightly uphill at an average gradient of 1%.
GP Beghelli has mostly been decided in a reduced bunch sprint but history shows that it is possible for attackers to deny the sprinters. However, it will be very difficult to avoid a sprint finish in 2016. This year the field will be significantly stronger than it has been in the past and the level of the sprinters is a lot higher. Almost every single team has a top level sprinter and that means that there will always be teams with an interest in chasing down the breaks.
A few teams like Lampre-Merida, Cannondale, Delko, Topsport Vlaanderen, Cofidis, Ag2r, FDJ and Fortuneo-Vital Concept don’t have many chances in a sprint so they will ride aggressively. Teams like Orica-BikeExchange, BMC, Bardiani and Movistar also want to make the race hard as their sprinters are better climbers than Mark Cavendish. However, the combination of the strong field of sprinters and the excellent weather means that we will be very surprised if we don’t get a sprint finish.
If that’s the outcome, Mark Cavendish is the obvious favourite. The Brit is clearly the fastest rider in the race and he is back in good form following the Olympics. He was pleasantly surprised with his condition in the Tour of Britain and in the Giro della Toscana and he has been training extremely hard for the Worlds. In the latter race, he climbed really well to make it to the finish with the peloton in the hard first stage and even though he was beaten by Sam Bennett in the sprint on both days, he seems to be riding at a very high level.
The climb will be a challenge for Cavendish but the race is not as hard as the first stage in Toscana. If he could make it to the finish with the best there, he will be able to do so in this race too. With Kristian Sbaragli for the lead-out he is well-supported and he has shown that he is one of the best when it comes to positioning. If he is not too far back, he should win this sprint.
Sam Bennett beat Cavendish in both sprints in Toscana and will be very motivated to benefit from his good form. He is very inconsistent but when he is on form, he climbs well. At the moment, he is close to his best so he should find this lumpy course to his liking. Furthermore, Bora-Argon 18 have one of the best lead-out trains in this race and the slightly uphill finish also suits Bennett really well. He has proved that he has the speed to beat almost everyone and he could very well win this race.
Elia Viviani is a late addition to the Italian national team after illness forced him to miss the Eneco Tour. On paper, he is the second fastest rider in this race but it remains to be seen how he has recovered. Furthermore, he hasn’t been at his best after the Olympics where he rode on the track and as he hasn’t worked much on his climbing, this race could be too tough. On the other hand, he has to be in form as we are close to the Worlds and with Jacopo Guarnieri, he has the best lead-out man in the race. If he can make it over the climb, he has a very big chance to win.
Niccolo Bonifazio almost beat Marcel Kittel in the Tour de Romandie and beat the likes of Gaviria and Ewan in the Tour de Pologne. The Italian is sprinting very well this year and this is the kind of hilly race that he loves. However, he hasn’t raced since he abandoned the Vuelta prematurely and his form may not be at his best. Furthermore, he is surrounded by a team of climbers and will have to do it alone in the finale.
Jempy Drucker won a stage at the Vuelta a Espana and seems to have brought his sprinting to a new level. He is not fast enough to beat the likes of Cavendish, Bennett and Viviani in a big bunch sprint but at the end of a hard race, he has a chance. He is a master when it comes to positioning and with Floris Gerts and Rick Zabel he has a pretty good lead-out.
Magnus Cort is another Vuelta stage winner who will be keen to benefit from his grand tour fom in this race. He came out of the Spanish event in excellent condition which he showed again in the Primus Classic where he rode aggressively and still sprinted to a top 5 finish. He is not as fast as the pure sprinters but the tough nature of the course should favour him. With Jens Keukeleire at his side, he has a very skilled lead-out man.
Bardiani are here with defending champion Sonny Colbrelli but he is unlikely to beat the sprinters in such a flat finale. Instead, their best card could be Niccola Ruffoni who has been sprinting very well recently. He was close to the best at the Tour of Britain and in the Coppa Bernocchi, he was second behind Nizzolo. The course could be too hard though and if he is left behind, Colbrelli will take his chance.
Movistar have Juan Jose Lobato who hasn’t shown much form since May. However, he is in contention for a leadership role at the Worlds so he can’t be going too bad. He is a better climber than most sprinters and the slightly uphill finish suits him well. The problem is his disastrous positioning which means that he will probably finish outside the top 10 even though he has the speed for much more.
Wanty have Danilo Napolitano who has been close to victory in this race before. The Italian has mostly been working as a lead-out man but he has got a few chances recently where he has shown very good form. There are better climbers than him in this race but we won’t rule him out as he seems to be close to 100% of his capabilities.
The hilly course also suits Manuel Belletti really well. The Wilier rider was in good form in August but he has not been at his best in the Italian classics. Nonetheless, he is a better climber than most of the fast finishers so if it turns out to be a hard race, he definitely has a chance.
Finally, we will point to Carlos Barbero and Roman Maikin. Both are in excellent condition and much better climbers than most of their fellow sprinters. However, they excel in uphill sprints and we doubt that they have the speed to win in a flat finish like this.
***** Mark Cavendish
**** Sam Bennett, Elia Viviani
*** Niccolo Bonifazio, Jempy Drucker, Magnus Cort, Niccola Ruffoni
** Sonny Colbrelli, Juan Jose Lobato, Danilo Napolitano, Manuel Belletti, Carlos Barbero, Roman Maikin
* Jacopo Guarnieri, Paolo Simion, Kristian Sbaragli, Filippo Fortin, Jakub Mareczko, Eduard Grosu, Grega Bole, Francesco Gavazzi, Diego Ulissi, Moreno Moser, Filippo Pozzato, Anthony Roux, Phil Bauhaus
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