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Four days after winning the Dwars door Drenthe, the Italian proves his return to form after a recent injury when he holds off Delle Stelle and Ventoso in a 50-rider sprint at the GP Nobili Rubinetterie

FRANCISCO VENTOSO

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GP NOBILI RUBINETTERIE

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SIMONE PONZI

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VINI ZABU KTM

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20.03.2014 @ 15:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Four days after winning the Dwars door Drenthe, Simone Ponzi (YellowFluo) proved that he is back to form after an injury setback earlier in the year when he won the Milan-Sanremo warm-up race, Gp Nobili Rubinetterie. After a reduced 50-rider peloton had caught an outstanding Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), the Italian emerged as the fastest in the sprint when he beat Cristian Delle Stelle (Team Idea) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) into the minor podium places.

 

Luca Scinto's YellowFluo team have had a reputation of reviving the careers of riders who have stalled, and this year it seems that they have done it again. Having already won the GP Costa degli Etruschi in his first race for his new team, Simone Ponzi added the Dwars door Drenthe to his palmares last Sunday and today he continued his fantastic run of success when he emerged as the strongest in the GP Nobili Rubinetterie.

 

With a profile that is not too different from the one found in La Primavera, the race serves as the perfect warm-up for Milan-Sanremo and Ponzi proved that he will be a rider to keep an eye on when he won the sprint finish from a reduced 50-rider group. Having originally been dropped on the final climb 30km from the finish, he was part of a 30-rider group that managed to get back to the bunch to contest the sprint.

 

The main animator of the race, however, was Alejandro Valverde who had to plans to wait for a sprint finish. Already on the first passage of the day's main climb which would be tackled twice inside the final 50km, the Spaniard attacked to bridge across to the remnants of the early break.

 

Valverde made use of those three riders in between the two climbs before taking off on his own on the final passage. Behind, the peloton was splintering as only a 19-rider chase group emerged at the top of the climb.

 

At this point, Valverde was around 30 seconds ahead and he did an impressive job to keep the group at bay for the next 20km. When more reinforcement arrived from behind, however, the Bardiani team was able to bring back the Spaniard with less than 10km to go to set up a sprint win for their fast rider Enrico Barbin.

 

With Valverde back in the fold, Movistar took control for their sprinters Francisco Ventoso and Juan Jose Lobato but it wasn't to be for the Spanish team on a day when they had executed their plan perfectly. Ventoso could only manage 3rd and Lobato 4th when Ponzi shot ahead to beat Cristian Delle Stelle into 2nd in the sprint.

 

With the warm-up now over, all eyes are now on the Milan-Sanremo which will be the next Italian race when it kicks off on Sunday in the big city in Northern Italy.

 

A warm-up race

For the second year in a row, the GP Nobili Rubinetterie was held on the Thursday before Milan-Sanremo to fit in as the perfect warm-up event for the big Italian classic. The 187.5km race started in Suno and finished in Stresa and began with a long flat run between those two cities. The race then tackled a big flat circuit before leaving Stresa to get to the small loop that was set to be the scene for the decisive part of the action. The riders would do two laps of the circuit that contained the short Massino Visconti climb before returning back to Stresa along flat roads. The final passage was located 29.3km from the finish, meaning that the race was expected to suit the sprinters that could handle the climb twice.

 

The riders certainly didn't plan to take it easy just three days ahead of Milan-Sanremo as the race was off to a very fast start. Duber Quintero (Colombia) was one of the first riders to give it a go but like all other early attackers, he was quickly reeled in.

 

FDJ set a fierce pace

The FDJ team of one of the big favourites, Arnaud Demare, were apparently intent on keeping things together in the early part and the fast pace set by the French team made it impossible to escape. During the first hour, the riders covered 50.5km but no one had had any success of building up any kind of significant gap. Diego Rosa (Androni) and Grischa Janorscke had both crashed but none of them were seriously hurt.

 

The pace was kept fierce for another hour and after 120 minutes, the riders had held an average speed of a massive 50.1km/h. At the 101km mark, they finally decided to loosen the stranglehold as they allowed five riders to get up the road.

 

The break takes off

Pavel Brutt (Katusha), David Boucher (FDJ), Antonio Parrinello (Androni), Miguel Rubiano and Juan Pablo Valencia (both Colombia) were the five riders that had success in getting clear. While Orica-GreenEDGE took control for their sprinter Leigh Howard, the gap started to grow and 3.06 after 115km of racing.

 

As the riders passed the finish line to head out to the circuit containing the day's climb, Orica-GreenEDGE were joined by YellowFluo who wanted to set up a sprint finish for Mauro Finetto or Simone Ponzi.  The two teams started to peg back the break.

 

A big crash

As it had come down to 2.33, a crash sent Anton Vorobyev (Katusha), Reto Hollenstein (IAM), and Tsgabu Grmay (MTN-Qhubeka) to the ground, with the latter unfortunately leaving the race in an ambulance. YellowFluo continued their hard pace and when they reached the bottom of the climb for the first time, the gap was down to 1.35.

 

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had big plans for the day and so he attacked right from the bottom of the ascent. The YellowFluo duo of Fabio Taborre and Matteo Rabottini tried to respond, with the latter quickly leaving his teammate behind.

 

Valverde bridges across

Up ahead, Boucher and Valencia both fell off the pace and after 132km of racing, the leading trio were 38 seconds ahead of Valverde who had joined forces with Valencia while Boucher was with Rabottini a little further back. Valverde quickly dropped Valencia and picked up Brutt who had fallen off the pace.

 

Brutt got a ticket back to the front by latching onto Valverde's wheel and with 50km to go, the two front duos merged. While Boucher and Valencia had both been caught, Rabottini was still in lone pursuit as the front quartet was now 1.20 ahead.

 

Trek start to chase

In the peloton, Trek started to chase for their fast finisher Fabio Felline but the cap continued to grow and reached 1.33. As the chase got more organized, however, the front group started to lose ground and at the bottom of the climb, they were only 34 seconds ahead, with Rabottini now being back in the peloton.

 

Fabian Cancellara (Trek) had bad luck to puncture at the worst possible moment. There was no waiting for the Swiss as Bardiani was now riding hard up the slopes.

 

Valverde takes off on his own

Brutt was the first to get dropped from the front group but soon after Valverde continued on his own. All the early escapees were quickly swallowed up, leaving just Valverde to battle against the 30-rider peloton.

 

Valverde did a good job to keep a 30-second gap all the way up the climb and on the subsequent descent. The slopes had whittled down the main group to just 19 riders as the main group was now made up of Felline, Amador, Howard, Rosa, Zardini, Barbin, Fumeaux, Parrinello, Tschopp, Duarte, Pantano, Pellizotti, Rubiano, Rebellin, Meintjes, Kudus, Finetto, and Rabottini.

 

More riders rejoin the peloton

Valverde's gap came down to 20 seconds where he managed to stabilize it for some time but things only got more complicated for the Spaniard when a 30-rider group caught the chasers, meaning that he was now chased by 50 riders.

 

Bardiani started to chase hard for their sprinter Enrico Barbin but Valverde was doing an excellent job to hold them at bay. He even took back some time but with 9km to go, his advantage was down to 11 seconds.

 

Valverde sits up

Finally, Valverde sat up, leaving it to the sprinters to battle it out. A few riders tried late attacks but as Bardiani had now been reinforced by Movistar in the pace-setting - the Spanish team eager to set Juan Jose Lobato and Francisco Ventoso up for the win - it was impossible to get away.

 

With 3km to go, Movistar was in complete control and all was set for Lobato to deliver his first win for his new team. It wasn't to be though as he was beaten into fourth by an outstanding Ponzi while Cristian delle Stelle and his teammate Ventoso completed the podium.

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