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. After the Coppa Bernocchi and Coppa Agostoni, the attention turns to Memorial Marco Pantani which both commemorates the legendary Italian climber and gives the strong sprinters a chance to go for glory in what is a very typical Italian one-day race.
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, but nowadays only the latter two races are held on consecutive days. Tre Valli Varesine will be held two weeks later and instead it is the Memorial Marco Pantani that will continue the series two days after the Coppa Agostoni.
When Marco Pantani died in 2004, it was always an obvious idea to create a race in memory of one of the greatest Italian riders ever and when the Giro d’Italia passed Cesena later that year, the plans started to create momentum. The president of a local cycling club, the mayor in Cesena and a local entrepeneur combined forces with Gruppo Sportivo Emilia which is in charge of several major races in Italy like the Giro dell’Emilia, GP Beghelli and Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, to organize the first edition of the race later that year and since then it has established itself as a key event on the Italian autumn schedule. It was added to the UCI calendar as 1.2 race in 2006 and since 2007 it has been a 1.1 race. Damiano Cunego won the first edition and since then it has been won by some of the best Italian riders as Gilberto Simoni, Daniele Bennati, Franco Pellizotti, Roberto Ferrari, Elia Viviani, Fabio Felline, Sacha Modolo, Sonny Colbrelli and Diego Ulissi are among the winners of the race.
Pantani was known as a climber but Memorial Marco Pantani is not a race that would have suited the Italian star. It starts and finishes in the city of Cesenatico where Pantani lived and this means that it doesn’t include any major climbs. It includes some of the ascents that Pantani used for his training but the finale in Cesenatico is flat. This means that it is a very typical Italian one-day race. Most of the Italian classics have a hilly middle section and a flat finale and usually come down to a battle between a small group of attackers and a reduced peloton. Memorial Marco Pantani is no different and has both been won from a breakaway and in a reduced bunch sprint.
However, the sprinters have mostly had the upper hand. Since 2009, the fast finishers have only been denied once. That happened in last year’s edition of the race when the Italian national team delivered a dominant performance. Teammates Diego Ulissi, Giovanni Visconti and Vincenzo Nibali did a team time trial from the hilly section back to the finish in Cenenatico where they crossed the line in that order.
The 13th edition of Memorial Marco Pantani will be held on a well-known 189.8km course that both starts and finishes in Cesenatico. From the start in the coastal city, the riders will travel along flat roads to the hills in the interior of the country. Here they will do three laps of a 35.6km circuit includes the Montevecchio climb, one of Pantani’s favourite training climbs. The 5km climb has an average gradient of 6% and inludes sections of 13-14%. The top will be reached for the final time with 61.1km to go and then the riders will descend back towards the coast. Along the way they will tackle a small climb to Longiano but the final 40km are either flat or descending. The ace ends with four laps of a flat, non-technical 5.3km circuit in Cesenatico.
Compared to recent editions, the start has been moved back to Cesenatico but the main part of the course is unchanged. For more than five years, the race has included three passages of Montevecchio and four laps of the same flat circuit in Cesenatico.
Last year a strong trio from the national team managed to deny the sprinters but that edition was the exception that proves the rule. Almost every year, the race has been decided in a reduced bunch sprint and it takes a very strong group of climbers an a cohesive effort to keep the peloton at bay.
In 2016, the riders will enjoy bright sunshine and 24-degree temperatures which will make the race less selective. There will be a moderate wind from a westerly direction so it will be a tailwind on the way back to Cesenatico. This will give the attackers a slightly better chance but it is hard to imagine that we won’t get a reduced bunch sprint. This year there aren’t any outstanding climbers in the race and it is hard to see which riders will be strong enough to make a decisive difference. At the same time, Wilier and Androni are likely to be working for a sprint and so we expect a reduced bunch sprint in Cesenatico.
This year there is only one real sprinter in the race. Manuel Belletti loves this kind of hilly race where a reduced bunch sprint is the expected outcome and he has won similar races in the past. He has already been on the podium in the past so he has proved that he can handle the climbing. Furthermore, he has been riding really well recently as he did goo sprints in Poitou-Charentes and was close to victory in the hard final stage in Limousin. He also sprinted to fifth in GP de Fourmies. Unfortunately, the Coppa Agostoni turned out to be a bit too hard for him but this race is usually a bit easier. Furthermore, the level is lower and so it will be easier to survive. On paper, he is the fastest rider in the race and as he has Filippo Pozzato and Rafael Andriato for the lead-out, Belletti is our favourite to win the race.
In Coppa Agostoni, Androni worked hard to bring the break back in the finale and Francesco Gavazzi did a solid sprint to take third. The Italian is not a pure sprinter but at the end of a hard race, he is pretty fast. His third place has boosted his confidence and in a race where there is no top-level sprinter, he should be one of the fastest. Furthermore, he is one of the best climbers so he can also win the race if a small group makes it to the finish.
Androni also have Davide Vigano as a sprint option. Usually, Vigano is faster than Gavazzi but in Copa Agostoni, the team opted to go for Gavazzi. However, this race is a bit easier and so the logical choice would be to focus on Vigano who has shown great form recently as he was very close to victory in several occasions in the Volta a Portugal.
Wilier also have a back-up plan for Belletti. Filippo Pozzato has shown good form recently as he rode very aggressively in the Brussels Cycling Classic and in Coppa Bernocchi where he sprinted to fifth. He is fast in a reduced bunch sprint and he will be keen to make amends after a mechanical took him out of contention at Coppa Agostoni. Usually, the team will go for Belletti but if the sprinter is on a bad day, Pozzato is fast enough to win.
Lokosphinx go into the race with Sergey Shilov who has proved that he is one of the fastest in a reduced bunch sprint. He has already been in the top 10 twice so he is suited to this race too. He hasn’t raced since July so his form is uncertain but if he is close to his best, he will be a strong contender.
Bardiani are here without their fastest finishers and this opens the door for Enrico Barbin to test himself in the sprint. Barbin is pretty fast in a reduced bunch sprint and has often been in the top 10 in similar races. It won’t be easier to beat the faster guys but it’s definitely not impossible.
Parkotel are here with Marco Zanotti. In the Tour of Turkey, he proved that he can mix it up with the sprinters at this level. However, the race is likely to be too hard for him so it remains to be seen whether he can survive the climbs.
If a small group makes it, Mauro Finetto will be the man to beat. The Italian has been one of the best in the Italian one-day races for a couple of years and he should be one of the strongest on the climbs. Among the good climbers, he is clearly the fastest in a sprint and he may even take his chance in a reduced bunch sprint too. However, he had to abandon in Coppa Agostoni and doesn’t seem to have his best form.
Another solid attacker is Davide Rebellin. He doesn’t seem to have the form he had 12 months ago when he won Coppa Agostoni but he remains one of the strongest in this kind of terrain. He is not fast in a sprint but among the good climbers in this race he will be one of the best if a small group makes it.
The same goes for Matteo Busato who is one of the revelations of this season. The Italian climbs well and is fast on the line so he will be keen to mix it up in the attacks. Wilier also have Andrea Fedi even though he no longer seems to have his best form. Damiano Cunego should also try to make a move in the harder sections and with his decent sprint, he will be a good candidate. However, his form doesn’t seem to be at its best.
Finally, we will point to Simone Petilli, Egan Bernal and Franco Pellizotti. They are all among the best climbers here and they all have great form. They should be among the best on the climbs but as they aren’t fast in a sprint, it will be hard for them to win.
***** Manuel Belletti
**** Davide Vigano, Francesco Gavazzi
*** Filippo Pozzato, Sergey Shilov, Enrico Barbin Mauro Finetto
** Davide Rebellin, Damiano Cunego, Matteo Busato, Andrea Fedi, Marco Zanotti, Simone Petilli, Egan Bernal, Franco Pellizotti,
* Marco Zamparella, Simone Ponzi, Federico Zurlo, Marco Tizza, Sergey Firsanov, Yonder Godoy, Jaroslaw Marycz, Manuele Mori, Eduardo Sepulveda, Simone Andreetta, Pier Paolo De Negri, Edoardo Zardini, Manuel Bongiorno, Mattia Cattaneo, Ricardo Vilela, Domingos Goncalves, Gian Marco Di Francesco
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