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Will Gavazzi finally be able to break his drought in the hilly GP Lugano?

Photo: Vuelta a Espana/Graham Watson
28.02.2015 @ 21:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Most of the cycling world may have its eyes firmly on the Belgian opening weekend but while the classics specialists test themselves on the cobbles, a different kind of riders are battling on the Swiss roads. The hilly GP Lugano is like a typical Italian one-day race and should see a big fight between the strongest climbers and the fast finishers who can survive the many climbs on the course.


Switzerland has a rich cycling history and the country has always hosted some of the biggest races on the calendar. The Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie are among the best stage race and for several year, the Meisterschaft von Zürich was part of the World Cup. However, the latter race has now disappeared from the calendar, meaning that there are very few major one-day races left in the Alpine country.


One of the races that have survived the tough economic times, is the GP Lugano which joins the GP Kanton Aargau as the main one-day events in Switzerland. With hilly courses, both races are pretty similar but while the latter is a preparation race for the Tour de Suisse, the former is a key event for many riders that build condition for Paris-Nice.


The GP Lugano was once a time trial before it turned into a one-day race in the hilly area close to the Swiss-Italian border. For several years, it combined forces with the GP Chiasso to form a perfect weekend of tough racing one week ahead of Paris-Nice but after the demise of the latter race, the Lugano event is now a stand-alone affair. Due to its hilly course, however, it remains a perfect preparation for the race to the sun.


In many ways, the race is strongly linked to Italy. First of all, its location close to the border means that it always attracts all the major Italian teams. However, its nature is also similar to the Italian races which are very often decided in a sprint from a select group after a tough day of climbing. The GP Lugano often follows a similar script and in the finale it often turns into a battle between the late attackers and the small group that has survived the climbs on the challenging circuit.


The course

The GP Lugano has always been a very hilly race and even though it is no longer as tough as it once was, it still has a significant amount of climbing. It is a circuit race which makes it very comparable to a World Championships road race and is held over a total distance of 184.9km.


The circuit both starts and finishes in Lugano and has a total length of 34km. Before tackling the full circuit, however, the riders do the final 14.9km as a bit of a warm-up. That part is the hardest though as it contains the biggest climb, a short flat section, a descent and another short climb before the riders descend the final 4km back to the finish on the shores of the Lake Lugano.


Having returned to the finish, the riders will do 5 laps of the full circuit. The first 12km are mainly flat and then the riders go up the Bora da Besa climb. After the descent, there is another short, flat section before they get to the bottom of the main climb where they will do the final 14.9km that they did at the beginning of the race. In general, it is a highly technical course, with lots of twists and turns and especially the final descent back to the finish is pretty difficult.




The favourites

The course for the GP Lugano has changed a bit from year to year but the main challenges have been unchanged in recent years and the main climbs have been the same. Last year the riders did five laps of the exact same circuit but didn’t do the opening 15km section. This means that most know what kind of racing can be expected in the Swiss race.


History shows that the race usually comes down to a tough battle between the best climbers who can use the final climb to escape, and a reduced peloton that aims to decide the race in a sprint. Last year 14 riders reached the finish together and here it was Mauro Finetto who held off Sonny Colbrelli and Diego Ulissi in the sprint to claim the win. The 2013 edition was cancelled due to horrendous weather conditions while Eros Capecchi managed to keep a 15-rider chase group at bay in 2012. In 2011, Ivan Basso and Fabio Duarte stayed away from a 17-rider group.


The race is likely to be decided from either a sprint or a late breakaway and one rider seems to have the chance to win from both scenarios. After a few disappointing years at Astana, Francesco Gavazzi has finally returned to his best level and he has been riding really well in his first two races for the Southeast team. In both the GP Costa degli Etruschi and the Trofeo Laigueglia, he was arguably the best climber and it is hard to imagine that anyone will be able to drop the in-form Italian who is perfectly suited to this kind of climbs. Furthermore, he is an excellent descender for the tricky finale and he is very fast in a sprint as he last proved when he finished second behind Davide Cimolai in Laigueglia. Gavazzi can both follow the attacks on the final climb or turn out to be the fastest rider in the group and this makes him our favourite to win the race.


Last year Sonny Colbrelli dominated the Italian one-day races in the second part of the season and this race is another one that is perfectly suited to his characteristics. However, the Bardiani captain hasn’t been at his best in his first few races. He came up short in the sprint at the GP Costa degli Etruschi and he was far off the pace in the Tour of Oman where stage 2 seemed to suit him down to the ground. If he is not at 100%, this race could turn out to be too hard for him but his condition should be building. On paper, he should be able to make the selection and if he is there for the sprint, he will be one of the favourites.


Last year Southeast won the race with Finetto and even though the defending champion is riding in Belgium, the Italian team have numerous cards to play. Gavazzi seems to be their best option but Simone Ponzi is another good candidate. The Italian rode strongly in the GP Costa degli Etruschi where he was one of the strongest on the climbs before working for Manuel Belletti in the sprint. He missed the Trofeo Laigueglia due to illness but he should be back in good condition for this race. If Gavazzi goes on the attack, he could be the back-up plan for the sprint and he has the speed to win this kind of races.


Fabian Wegmann has got his time as a Cult rider off to the best possible start and this race suits him really well. He recently finished fourth in the first stage of the Tour du Haut Var and in Costa degli Etruschi, he was among the best on the climbs. He should be able to make the selection and maybe even go on the attack in the finale. Being fast in a sprint, he has the skills to finish it off.


Davide Cimolai took a fantastic win at the Trofeo Laigueglia where he exceeded all expectations by making it over the climbs before taking a sprint win. The Italian goes into this race with lots of confidence and after he was set to work for Niccolo Bonifazio in Laigueglia, he may be able to play his own card in Lugano. On paper, the climbs should be too tough for him and it will be hard for him to make the selection but as he was climbing better than ever one week ago, he may create another surprise.


IAM line up a strong team of climbers but most of them will have a hard time winning this race as they lack the sprint to finish it off. However, new signing Jarlinson Pantano should have the skills for this race as he is a pretty punchy climber with a decent sprint. His condition is a bit uncertain as he hasn’t raced since the Tour Down Under but as he rode very well in Australia, he is likely to be a contender.


Rinaldo Nocentini is a former winner of this race and he has a clear chance to take win number 2 on Sunday. The Italian had an injury-plagued 2014 but towards the end of the season he found his best legs. In Laigueglia and Haut Var he proved that he is back in good condition and he is usually very strong in this race. With his fast sprint and punchy climbing skills, he is suited to this race.


Linus Gerdemann rode excellently well in the Trofeo Laigueglia where he was among the best on the climbs and then made a brave attack on the descent. In this race, he could have a similar strategy and his excellent descending skills will make him dangerous in the finale. Damiano Cunego seems to be at a decent level as he climbed well in Costa degli Etruschi but he doesn’t seem to be able to stay with the very best. However, he won’t be too far off the mark and he has the sprint to finish it off.


On paper, this race should be too hard for Niccolo Bonifazio and Davide Appollonio but both have made surprises in similar races in the past and if they make the selection, they will be among the favourites. As opposed to this, Sebastien Reichenbach, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Louis Meintjes, Merhawi Kudus and Jacques van Rensburg have both been climbing extraordinarily well in recent races but they probably need to make a solo move to win the race. Matteo Montaguti has always done well in this race and he could be an outsider in a sprint finish while Enrico Battaglin is perfectly suited to this race but doesn’t seem to be in his best condition.


***** Francesco Gavazzi

**** Sonny Colbrelli, Simone Ponzi

*** Fabian Wegmann, Davide Cimolai, Jarlinson Pantano, Rinaldo Nocentini

** Linus Gerdemann, Damiano Cunego, Niccolo Bonifazio, Davide Appollonio, Matteo Montaguti, Enrico Battaglin

* Jan Bakelants, Sebastien Reichenbach, Przemyslaw Niemiec, Louis Meintjes, Merhawi Kudus Jacques van Rensburg, Oliver Zaugg, Manuele Boaro, Jerome Coppel, Jonathan Fumeaux, Enrico Barbin, Oscar Gatto, Franco Pellizotti, Miguel Rubiano, Rodolfo Torres, Rasmus Guldhammer, Andrea Pasqualon



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