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A star-studded line-up of climbers will battle it out on a hilly course in Larciano

Photo: Sirotti




06.03.2016 @ 14:04 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The Italian none-day scene may no longer be what it once was but it is not all misery. After a one-year absence, the GP Industria & Artigianato is back on the calendar and has attracted an impressive line-up that includes the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Rigoberto Uran, Diego Ulissi, Simon Gerrans, Esteban Chaves and Adam Yates who are set to battle it out on a hilly course.


Italy has always been known for its impressive calendar of one-day races but the last decade has taken its toll. Many of the races have disappeared and while a few have managed to return after a short absence, the calendar is far less rich than it was in its heydays.


One of the many races that have suffered is the GP Industria & Artigianato which is held in the city of Larciano. The race was held every year since its first edition in 1977 but last year the organizers were forced to cancel the event. Luckily they have bucked the trend and this year the race has returned to the calendar, even in a much better format as the 2016 edition shapes up to be one of the most competitive yet.


Until 2014, the race was held as one of the key preparation race for the Giro d’Italia and for a few years it formed a solid weekend of one-day racing with the Giro della Toscana. In those years, it attracted a solid line-up and even though it has always been a largely Italian affair, its role as a build-up event for the grand tour made it highly competitive.


In 2014, the race was moved to a July shot and was held at the same time as the Tour de France. It offered some of the riders that didn’t do the Tour a chance to do some racing at a time when the calendar offers very few events but it went by largely unnoticed. Hence, it came as little surprise that it was cancelled in 2015.


Luckily the organizers have managed to put it back on the schedule and this time they have made a very wise decision to move it to March. After Roma Maxima disappeared, there has been a vacant spot on the Sunday after Strade Bianche. This year the 39th edition of this race will fill that void and it has been welcomed by many stars. At this time of the year, many riders are in search of early-season racing kilometres and by teaming up with Strade Bianche, the many top riders that are already in Italy can do a weekend of quality racing to prepare for Tirreno-Adriatico. That the move is appreciated is reflected in the start list that includes riders like Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsnag, Rigoberto Uran, Diego Ulissi, Simon Gerrans, Adam Yates, Davide Formolo, Esteban Chaves and Jurgen Van den Broeck, making it a much more international race than it has been in recent years.


The race is a typical Italian one-day race as it includes a hilly circuit with a tough climb close to a flat finish. Hence, it is another race that is tailor-made for Ardennes specialists that can escape on the final climb, or strong sprinters who can emerge from a reduced bunch sprint – just as it is the case for most of the races on the Italian calendar.


When the race was last held in 2014, it was a battle between some of the greatest climbing talents as Adam Yates beat Davide Formolo and Manuel Bongiorno in a three-rider sprint.


The course

As said, the race is a typical Italian one-day race with a mostly flat first part and a difficult circuit in the end that includes a tough climb and a downhill run to a flat finish. However, the climb is harder and comes closer to the finish than it does in most other races and this means that it is usually a bit more selective and less suited to the strong sprinters that dominate most events on the Italian calendar. This is a race where the Ardennes specialists and climbers have a much better chance to make a difference which was reflected in the latest edition of the race.


The format of the race has changed from year to year but the key feature has usually been the San Baronto climb. That will again be the case in 2016. A new course was introduced for the 2014 edition and apparently the organizers liked the outcome as they haven’t changed anything for this year’s race.


The 199.2km race both starts and finishes in the city of Larciano and can be split into two parts. First the riders will do four laps of a 22.3km circuit in the area south of the city. The terrain is completely flat and barely includes any climbing at all.


The second half of the race is much tougher as it will see the riders head into the hills northeast of the city. They will do four laps of a 27.5km circuit that only has very little in common with the first circuit. The first 11.8km are flat but then the riders face the tough San Baronto climb (10km, 3%). The first 6km are pretty hard but from there it becomes significantly easier. The top comes 5.9km from the finish and from there it is mostly downhill as only the final 1.5km are flat. The descent is technical until the riders pass the 4km to go mark from where it is mainly a straight road. Inside the final 1.5km, there’s only a very light bend. The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 2%.





The weather

Strade Bianche escaped the bad weather and many riders will be pleased to know that things will be good for Sunday’s race too. It may still be raining at the start but in the afternoon it should be bright sunshine with a maximum temperature of 11 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will have a lot of crosswind on the first circuit. On the final circuit, it will mainly be a tailwind in the first part, a crosswind in the climb and a headwind on the descent and run-in to the finish.


The favourites

As the course is the same that was used for the 2014 edition that race can be used as a reference for what to expect in this year’s race. Back then, Adam Yates, Manuel Bongiorno and Davide Formolo managed to make a difference on the final climb and the race turned out to be pretty selective. However, this year the field is a lot stronger and the race will be at a much higher level and so more is needed to get clear on the final climb.


San Baronto is a long climb but it is not very steep. The first half is the toughest but it won’t be possible to make a real difference in the second part. On the other hand, it is pretty long and with four passages it will add up to solid amount of climbing. History shows that the race has traditionally favoured the Ardennes specialists and it is definitely one of the harder Italian one-day races.


We can expect a traditional race with an early break before some of the teams with strong climbers will try to make the race as hard as possible. Astana and Lampre-Merida have a clear interest in a tough race and they have strong teams that can do some damage. They will probably make it hard in the first three laps and then it will come down to a battle between the best climbers on the final climb. However, Astana may play their cards from a bit further out to try to put their rivals under pressure. A small group or a lone rider may get clear and there won’t be much time to get back on the descent. However, we could also get a sprint from a bigger group.


Orica-GreenEDGE won this race in 2014 and they are back to defend their title. Defending champion Adam Yates is in attendance but their best card could very well be Simon Gerrans. The Australian hasn’t raced since the Tour Down Under and so his form is a bit of an unknown but he is very rarely at a poor level when he starts his European campaign.


Gerrans is not a climber and there are definitely better climbers than him here. However, he is very strong in this kind of terrain and it won’t be easy to distance him on a climb that is not very steep. If he can keep up with the best, he will be very hard to beat in a sprint as he is very fast from a small group. He has even won bunch kicks in the past and has beated guys like André Greipel and Peter Sagan. Among the good climbers in this race, he is the fastest and if his form is not too bad after his long break, he will be a strong contender on this course. Gerrans is our favourite to win the race.


Rigoberto Uran didn’t get his Cannondale career off to the best start in Algarve but he showed clear signs of progress in the queen stage on the final day. We expect him to be a lot more competitive now and this is a race that suits him really well. He should be able to go with the best on this kind of climb and he has the sprint to beat most. If Gerrans is not up to the challenge, Uran could very well be the fastest in a group that sprints for the win.


Diego Ulissi has been competitive in all his races and he has always been one of the strongest on the climbs. However, he has been unable to drop the faster riders and so the elusive victory is still missing. The level of climbers is very high in this race and so it will be even harder. On the other hand, the course is harder and this makes it easier for him to get rid of the really fast guys. He is fast in a sprint and will be able to challenge Uran.


Like Ulissi, Francesco Gavazzi has had a great start to his time at Androni and apart from a poor performance in Lugano, he has been among the best every time. He was close to victory in both Etruschi and Laigueglia and this is another race that suits him really well. If the race becomes very hard, he won’t be with the best which was evident in Haut-Var and Provence. However, if a small group arrives at the finish, he will be there and he can beat most in a sprint.


Giovanni Visconti will get the chance to lead Movistar here. He was solid in Strade Bianche and Haut Var but is clearly not at his best yet. If the race becomes hard, he may not yet have the condition to follow the best but he should be there in a small group. He is fast enough to beat most and will be eager to grab his personal chance.


Grega Bole is known as a sprinter but he can actually survive some very tough climbing. This year he has been in outstanding form and was up there with the best on the climbs in both Laigueglia and Etruschi. This race will probably be too tough for him and we don’t expect him to be there in the end but it won’t be impossible. If he is there, he can beat everyone in a sprint.


Vincenzo Nibali is in great form and could very well be the strongest on the climb. However, this race is probably not hard enough for him and Astana really have to do some damage to set Nibali up for the win. He would have hoped for Saturday’s weather to have stayed in Italy for another day. However, Nibali is an innovative rider and he can find opportunities where it is impossible for everybody else. The final descent could offer a chance and if he can create a selection and be up there with Jakob Fuglsang, the pair can attack in turns and so both of them can win.


Jose Goncalves had an amazing 2015 season and revealed the full extent of his potential in the Vuelta where he was close to victory on several occasions. He has not been at the same level in 2016 yet but as he hasn’t raced for a month, he could be a lot better now. The race suits him well as he is a good climber and has a fast sprint.


Adam Yates is the defending champion and has the potential to become of the best Ardennes specialists in the world. He is suited to this race as he is very strong on short, steep climbs and has a reasonably fast sprint. However, his form is not at its best yet which was evident last week in France and it is hard to imagine that he will be able to drop a guy like Valverde which is necessary if he wants to win the race.


Damiano Cunego has also shown solid form and is constantly improving. He has a decent sprint but unfortunately there are several climbers that are faster than him. Furthermore, he crashed today so his start is uncertain.


Katusha are here with Sergei Chernetskii. He has not been at his best yet but his form is not too bad. If he can make it over the climb, he will be one of the fastest


Finally, Moreno Moser and Ramunas Navardauskas deserve a mention. The former has been riding poorly for so long that it is hard to have much confidence in him. However, he sometimes comes up with a decent performance and on paper this race suits him well as he can both climb and sprint. The latter looked strong in Algarve and at his best he is a decent climb. We expect it to be too hard for him but if he is there in the end, he will be a contender in a sprint.


***** Simon Gerrans

**** Rigoberto Uran, Diego Ulissi

*** Francesco Gavazzi, Giovanni Visconti, Grega Bole, Vincenzo Nibali

** Sergei Chernetskii, Jose Goncalves, Adam Yates, Jakob Fuglsang,  Mauro Finetto, Damiano Cunego, Moreno Moser, Ramunas Navardauskas

* Davide Formolo, Simon Clarke, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Tiago Machado, Esteban Chaves, Enrico Barbin, Francisco Ventoso, Andrea Fedi, Davide Villella, Rinaldo Nocentini



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