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Will Grega Bole make it two in a row in the second Italian race of 2016?




13.02.2016 @ 21:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The early part of the Italian season may no longer be as rich as it once was but one big event has survived and is still able to attract an international field. The Trofeo Laigueglia has always been an important early event on the Italian calendar and with a newly upgraded UCI category, the 2016 edition will be one of the highlights on the one-day scene in February.


Being one of cycling’s traditional key countries, Italy once had a very rich calendar of early-season races. Due to its reasonable weather conditions at this time of the year, the country offered a number of smaller stage races in February that allowed riders to prepare for later objectives and also included a couple of the many one-day races that have always been a trademark for the country.


The tough economic times have taken its toll on the calendar and now only two Italian races are left in the month of February. While the GP Costa degli Etruschi has managed to survive as the traditional season opener, the first really big rendezvous for the best Italian riders comes at the Trofeo Laigueglia which has always been held a little more than a week before the Belgian opening weekend.


In Italy, it seems that only the events organized by RCS really seem to thrive while most others have either disappeared or are in a constant battle for survival. However, the Trofeo Laigueglia has clearly bucked the trend. Last year they were upgraded to the 1.HC category race which has allowed the organizers to invite more WorldTour teams and they attracted a much more international field than usual. Furthermore, they even considered having live broadcast of the race even though those plans ultimately failed to materialize. Unfortunately, the return of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the creation of the new La Mediterraneenne stage race mean that the February calendar is now richer and that has led to a decrease in interest, meaning that the 2016 field is not as strong as the one that entered the race 12 months ago.


Last year the race was held in one of the busiest cycling weeks of the year with the Tour of Oman, Volta ao Algarve, Tropical Amissa Bongo and Vuelta a Andalucia taking place at the same time. This year te organizers have moved the race to a less busy slot but it has not had the expected effect on the line-up and it does no longer have the same synergy with the Tour du Haut-Var with which it formed a solid block of hilly classics racing in 2015.


Last year the race came down a sprint from a select group and it was Davide Cimolai who kicked off a great month that would later see him win a stage at Paris-Nice, by beating Francesco Gavazzi and Alexei Tsatevich into the minor podium positions.


The course

The Italian one-day racing scene is loaded with races of the same nature. While there aren’t many races for the sprinters or climbers, the calendar has lots of races for fast riders who can climb. Most of the Italian races include a significant amount of climbing but mostly the finale is flat, giving time for a regrouping to take place. The Trofeo Laigueglia is no different.


The course changes a bit from year to year but the city of Laigueglia is always its centre. Compared to last year, a few modifications have been made as the second passage of Cima Paravenna – one of the main climbs – has been skipped and instead the riders will do more laps of the finishing circuit which includes two small climbs. That means less climbing overall but more climbs closer to the finish.


As usual, the 2015 race will both start and finish in the Italian city of Laigueglia on the Ligurian coast and the riders will tackle a 192.5km route that takes them into the hilly hinterland.


The first part of the race consists of a flat run along the coast before the riders turn inland to continue along flat roads to the city of Bezzo. After a little less than 30km of racing, the climbing starts when the riders go up a tough climb to the city of Amasco which is followed by short descent before they continue up another climb to the city of Onzo.


The riders now descend down to the Pogli river which they will follow for a few kilometres before they take on a circuit. It includes the tough Cima Paravenna climb and its subsequent descent. Then the riders follow the river back to the coast where they will roll along the seafront back to Laigueglia.


The riders will cross the finish line for the first time after 98.1km of racing and now they head back into the hills. First they will go up the small Capo Mele which is known from Milan-Sanremo and then they will tackle the race’s landmark climb, Testico. After the top, they will descend back to the seafront and the city of Albenga before following the coastal road back to Laigueglia.


The riders will cross the finish line with 32.6km to go and the race now ends with three laps of a 10.8km finishing circuit. Right from the start, the riders go up the short steep Colla Micheri climb (2.1km, 7.8%, summit 10km from the finish) before they descend to the bottom of the Capo Mele (2km, 3.5%) which they also did earlier do for the second time in the race. The summit comes just 3.9km from the finish and from there it is a descent back to the finish, with only kilometre of flat roads in the end. The finishing straight is slightly rising.




The weather

It was a rainy start to the Italian season at the GP Costa degli Etruschi so the riders will be pleased to know that they will have nicer conditions for the Trofeo Lagueglia. However, there won’t be much of the usual Italian sunshine as it will be a cloudy day with a 10-25% chance of a shower. There won’t be much wind as it will be a light breeze from a northwesterly direction. The wind will gradually turn around and in the finale it will come from an easterly direction.


The favourites

The Trofeo Laigueglia has been won in a number of different ways. The tough climbs at the midpoint of the race usually create a selection and may even be used for the climbers to play their cards. The flatter finale has often allowed a regrouping to take place which has allowed fast riders to win a reduced bunch sprint but very often a few small climbs in the finale have provided attackers with launch pads to launch an offensive.


Two years ago Patrik Sinkewitz, Jose Serpa and Matteo Rabottini escaped on the major challenges and while the Italian was dropped along the way, Serpa and Sinkewitz managed to stay away, with the Colombian winning the sprint. Last year the course was made harder with the inclusion of the Colla Micheri in the finale. This meant that it became more of a waiting game and as Cannondale-Garmin set a fast pace on the late ascent, no one managed to escape. Ilnur Zakarin, Simone Stortoni and Linus Gerdemann attacked on the descent but it came down to a sprint from a 25-rider group.


This year one passage of the big Cima Paravenna climb has been skipped but instead the riders will do more laps of the circuit. That means that the race will probably be even harder as there are more climbs closer to the finish. This makes it more likely that the best climbers will be able to make a difference in the finale. Capo Mele is an easy climb and won’t be selective but it means that there will barely be a single metre of flat road after the top of Colla Micheri which means that it will be easier to stay away.


We can expect the usual fast start to the race and when the early break has been established, we can expect Lampre-Merida, Bardiani, Nippo and Southeast to control the race. Lampre-Merida want to make the race as hard as possible and have a very strong group of climbers so we expect them to try to make things hard on the big climbs in the first part of the race.


In the end, it will come down to a battle on the finishing circuit where we will see some attacks while Lampre-Merida continue to make the race hard. With their intention to control the race for Diego Ulissi, we doubt that any earlier moves will be able to stick. We expect it to come down to a battle the final time up Colla Micheri where the best climbers should be able to make a difference. The main question is whether we will have another regrouping or whether the break will be able to stay away.


Grega Bole won the opening race in Etruschi after what was simply an outstanding performance. The Slovenian may be known as a sprinter but in that race he was one of the best climbers. When Diego Ulissi attacked on the final climb, the Lampre-Merida captain was unable to drop Francesco Gavazzi and Bole who stayed with his two classics rivals all the way to the top.


Bole has often proved that he is an excellent climber and there is no doubt that he will be there if it comes down to a reduced bunch sprint. However, he also seems to be strong enough to go with the attacks. However, this race has a tougher finale than the GP Costa degli Etruschi and there is no guarantee that he will be able to stay with Ulissi on the final climb. However, it won’t be impossible. Furthermore, he has Damiano Cunego and Gianfranco Zilioli to try to bring it back together for a sprint. Bole can win from every scenario and is our favourite.


Fabio Felline showed decent form in Mallorca where only the descents were too difficult for him. He is usually strong right from the start of the year and this race suits him down to the ground. He is part of a strong Italian national team and should be able to stay with the best on the climbs and among the climbers he is the fastest. Furthermore, he has proved that he can win reduced bunch sprints – just remember how he beat Michael Matthews at last year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco – and this makes him a strong contender.


Sonny Colbrelli will make his Italian debut in this race which suits him pretty well. Last year he was not riding at his usual level in the spring but he got back on track in the autumn. This year he has started very well as he looked extremely strong on the climbs in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and he seems to be in great condition. Colbrelli is a good climber and we have no doubt that he will be there if it comes down to a reduced sprint. However, unlike Bole he is unlikely to be able to stay with the best in the finale so he has to cross his fingers that it comes back together. If that’s the case, he is probably the fastest.


Francesco Gavazzi was second in last year’s race and second in Etruschi. As usual, he is riding at a very high level from the very start of the season. In his season debut, he crested the summit of the final climb with Ulissi and Bole and he should definitely be able to go with the attacks in the finale. He is not as fast as Bole, Felline and Colbrelli though and this makes it harder for him to win as he is likely to be up against at least one of those riders. On the other hand, he is not far off so if he can get the timing right, it won’t be impossible for him to beat them.


Diego Ulissi is probably the best climber in the race and he will be the one to take the initiative in the finale. However, the final climbs are probably not hard enough for him to drop everyone else and he will probably have to rely on his speed to win some kind of sprint. He is definitely not slow as he proved with his third place in Etruschi but in a flat finish, several riders are faster than him.


Arthur Vichot seems to be back on track after a couple of difficult seasons. He rode very well in Besseges where he was third in the queen stage and fifth overall. This race suits him really well as he is strong on short climbs and fast in a flat sprint. He should be able to follow the best and will have his say in a sprint from a small group of favourites. Unfortunately, the likes of Gavazzi, Felline and Bole are faster than him.


If it comes down to a reduced bunch sprint, there are a number of strong contenders. One of them is Niccolo Bonifazio who was riding really well in Australia at Cadel Evans’ race and the Sun Tour. However, this finale was too tough for him 12 months ago and this year it will be even harder. On the other hand, he seems to be riding at a higher level and if he is there for the sprint, he will probably be the favourite.


Enrique Sanz climbed extremely well to make it into the front group in Etruschi but he punctured out of the lead group. He is likely to be there in a reduced bunch sprint and will be one of the fastest even if he is unlikely to win. Kevin Reza should also make the selection and if that’s the case, he should be up there.


Filippo Pozzato is a former winner of the race and worked for his Southeast team in Etruschi. Hence, we didn’t really get a chance to see what he can do on the climbs but there is no indication that he is back at his former level. If not, he won’t be able to follow the best on the climbs and he will probably have to work for Sanz in a sprint finish. However, when he last joined his current team, he has one of his best seasons and no one really knows how he is going. If he is back at that level, he will be able to follow the best and then he will be hard to beat in a sprint.


Davide Vigano, Andrea Pasqualon and Daniele Ratto could also make the selection and especially the former seems to be riding very well at the moment. If Gavazzi’s attack is brought back in the finale, he will ready to take over sprinting duties. Anthony Roux has also been riding really well and will be ready to sprint. He may even be strong enough to follow the attacks. Leonardo Duque could also be there in a sprint but he is probably not fast enough to win. Manuel Belletti will also do his best to hang on and he is one of the fastest in this race. However, the race in Etruschi was too hard for him and this race is even more difficult.


Finally, Mauro Finetto deserves a mention. He is one of the best classics riders in Italy and this race suits him down to the ground. However, he only signed a contract this week so his form is a big question mark. Usually, he should be strong enough to stay with the best on the climbs but even though he is fast, he is unlikely to be the fastest.


***** Grega Bole

**** Fabio Felline, Sonny Colbrelli

*** Francesco Gavazzi, Diego Ulissi, Arthur Vichot

** Niccolo Bonifazio, Enrique Sanz, Filippo Pozzato, Anthony Roux

* Davide Vigano, Leonardo Duque, Anthony Roux, Mauro Finetto, Matteo Montaguti, Andrea Fedi, Andrea Pasqualon, Manuel Belletti, Andrea Zordan



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