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Having made it into a 100-rider group over the two big climbs, Belletti beat Bole and Clausen in the bunsh sprint to win the morning stage at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and become the first race leader

Photo: Sirotti








26.03.2015 @ 12:26 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Manuel Belletti (Southeast) continued his excellent start to his first season with the Southeast team when he came out on top in today’s opening morning stage in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali. The Italian survived the hard pace set by Sky on the two main climbs and beat Grega Bole (CCC) and Patrick Clausen (Trefor) when 100 riders decided the stage in a sprint.


The Southeast team has been known for its ability to pick up riders who have had a hard time, and put them back on track. In the past they have done so with Mauro Finetto and last year it was Simone Ponzi who seemed to shine after a few difficult years.


Among Ponzi’s victories were the GP Costa degli Etruschi and Dwars door Drenthe and it seems that those two races are the preferred events for the reinvigorated Southeast riders. This year it is Manuel Belletti who will try to get back on track with the Italian team, and like Ponzi he has won those two races in the early part of the season.


Today the Italian sprinter continued his excellent start to the season when he made use of his strong combination of good climbing legs and a fast sprint to win the morning stage on the first day of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali. Belletti was once regarded as a talented sprinter when he won a stage of the 2010 Giro d’Italia but during his time at Ag2r and Androni, his progress stalled. Today’s win confirmed that he is fully back on track after his difficult seasons.


Last year the stage had been won by Ben Swift and the Brit was keen to repeat that performance. Being a strong climber, he asked his Sky team to apply the pressure on the two climbs at the midpoint of the short 99.5km stage and this forced the sprinters into survival mode.


At the top of the final climb, only 60 riders were left in contention but a few groups managed to rejoin the bunch during the final 33km. Hence, it was a 100-rider group that arrived at the finish to decide the race in a sprint.


Belletti had made the selection and he positioned himself perfectly behind the Sky team which dominated the finale. Two crashes had an impact on the sprint but the Italian made it through the carnage before unleashing his power. He held off Grega Bole and Patrick Clausen to take his third win of the season.


With the victory, Belletti is also the first leader of the race but it will be hard for him to defend his position in the afternoon stage which is a short 13.3km team time trial which is mainly flat but has a slightly ascending second part. The stage has a special format as each team is divided into two four-rider teams who do the stage separately, and Southeast have to be at the top of their game to defend Belletti’s position in this difficult test.


A hilly stage

As usual, the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali kicked off with a short 99.5km morning stage around the city of Gatteo. After a flat start, the riders headed into the hills to tackle the Sogliano al Rubicone and Torre di Massamanente climbs, with the latter summiting 34.9km from the finish. The final part of the stage consisted of a fast descent and a flat run back to Gatteo.


The riders took the start under a partly cloudy sky and they were keen to get the race off to an aggressive beginning. Lots of attacks were launched in the first part and it took time for the early break to be established.


The break is formed

Matthias Krizek (Felbermayr) was among the riders who tried an early move and he was joined Gianfranco Zilioli (Androni) and Bruno Maltar (Meridiani). Adrien Niyounshuti (MTN-Qhubeka) and Davide Ballerini (Uniero) also bridged the gap to form a quintet that fought hard to extend a 15-second advantage.


At the 13km mark, the gap had reached 36 seconds and it was Sky who had taken control of the peloton. The Brits seemed to be content with the situation and they allowed the gap to grow.


Southeast start to chase

At the 16km mark, it was already 1.19 and at the first passage of the finish line, the escapees had extended their advantage to 1.30. After 45 minutes of racing, it reached 3.14 and this was the signal for Nippo-Vini Fantini to stat to chase.


The work by the Italian team had an effect and at the 38km mark, the escapees were still only 3.09 ahead. When they stopped their effort, however, the pace went down dramatically and when the gap was 4.48 at the 44km mark, Southeast took over.


Sky up the pace

The efforts of the Italian team paid off and when they hit the bottom of the first climb, the gap was 3.57. Surprisingly, Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) launched a short-lived attack but he was quickly back in the fold.


As the gap had come down to 3.13, a small crash brought down Martin Kohler (Drapac) and Luca Muffolini (MG.Kvis) but none of them suffered any major consequences. Meanwhile, Sky had tightened the screws and under the impetus of Philip Deignan, the gap came down quickly. When Krizek led Zilioli and Niyonshuti over the top, the gap was only 1.35.


Zilioli attacks

Sky kept the pressure high on the descent and so the gap was still only 1.30 at the bottom of the final climb. This was the signal for Zilioli to attack and he took off right from the beginning of the ascent.


With 36km to go, Zilioli was 17 seconds ahead of Niyonshuti, Ballerini and Maltar while Krizek was 8 seconds further adrift and the peloton at 1.22. Sky were still riding tempo on the front and they quickly caught Krizek as Sergio Henao rode hard on the front


The break is caught

At the top of the climb, the chasers were 24 seconds behind while the 60-rider peloton was at 46 seconds. Another group had lost 1.05 while the third big group was at 2.15.


The chasers were caught on the descent while Zilioli fought hard to maintain an advantage that was just 21 seconds with 25km to go. CCC were now riding on the front with Nikolay Mihaylov and he brought the lone Italian back with 20km to go.


Sky in control

A second group of 20 riders was chasing hard 30 seconds behind the peloton and they managed to close the gap. Sky were now back on the front as a 100-rider peloton headed towards a bunch sprint.


The Italian national team briefly took over before Southeast upped the pace significantly. At this point, Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani) suffered an untimely mechanical that took him out of contention.


Sky and Southeast were sharing the pace-setting as they entered the final 10km. Later it was the British team that won the battle while a crash brought down Jacobus Venter (MTN-Qhubeka)-


Sky and Colombia fought hard for position inside the final 500m where another crash disrupted the sprint. In the end, it was Belletti who emerged from the chaos as the winner.



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