Just as one year ago, I’ve teamed up with InsideThePeloton to preview a selection of World Championship contenders. And – just as one year ago – I’ve made Italy my first pick. Stick to tradition, right?
Last year I wrote that since Italy’s “generation of talented classics riders” had left the sport their World Championship challenge had looked disappointingly blunt. From 1968 to 2008 the nation had at least one rider on the podium on thirty occasions – an extraordinary stat. In Doha we saw Giacomo Nizzolo sprint to fifth place in lofty company. It was a good result but he never looked like claiming cycling’s most prestigious jersey. Italy have slowly been squeezed into insignificance at the World Championship Road Race. This isn’t good enough; they took three of the top four spots in 2008!
In truth, last year’s flat course was never likely to suit the Italians. A top ten featuring Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Michael Matthews, Alexander Kristoff and Greg Van Avermaet was pretty much as we expected.
This year’s finishing circuit on the southwest coast of Norway packs a little more punch. Three short back-to-back climbs culminate with the fantastically named Salmon Hill. It’s not particularly hard but will surely be draining. The last 10km of the circuit are far less challenging. Any attacks with have to start early, which isn’t ideal.
Who’s on the plane?
Correct me if I’m wrong (please, actually tell me) but Italy’s final nine riders are yet to be confirmed. It will almost certainly include GP Montreal winner Diego Ulissi and Coppa Bernocchi winner Sonny Colbrelli.
There’s also a strong case to bring Gianni Moscon and Matteo Trentin after their brilliant Vuelta performances. However, the Vuelta is a pretty exhausting preparation for the World Championships and I won’t be hugely surprised if Moscon misses the cut. None of last year’s top ten went to the Vuelta and you’ll have to go back a long way to find a World Champion who headed to the final Grand Tour of the season (Sagan in 2014… but he withdrew after Stage 8 with stripes on his mind).
However, streaks are there to be broken and Sky have made Moscon into a scarily good performer.
As I write this, Matteo Trentin has just won again at the Primus Classic over a 200km course. He’s Italy’s shortest priced rider at 14/1 and it’s easy to see why. He was flying at the Vuelta and won’t be too frightened of Salmon Hill. Such form should prove impossible to ignore but I still think he’ll be tired! I’m happy to be proved wrong on this one; I’d love to see a Trentin victory in Norway.
Elia Viviani is an obvious inclusion due to his position as Italy’s fastest finisher and the fact he is relatively low maintenance for a sprinter. He seems happy to ride without masses of support – if he makes the finish he could cause an upset.
Other names include the supremely talented Alberto Bettiol, Enrico Gasparotto and of course Daniel Oss! There could be a debut ‘call-up’ for Andrea Pasqualon.
Nevertheless, I strongly believe Italy should build a challenge around Ulissi and Colbrelli. They’ve both won recently and the lumpy circuit is sure to suit.
They’re similar riders but with one noticeable difference. Whilst Colbrelli will be ready to charge from a reduced bunch sprint, Ulissi will need to go on the attack. The UAE rider is good enough to go solo but I’d love to see him join a talented trio.
Diego Ulissi 80/1
My support of Diego Ulissi stretches back to 2014 where he followed up a stage win at the Tour Down Under with two at the Giro d’Italia. He was flying up climbs that year… no doubt aided by the salbutamol in his system for which he was later banned. Salbutamol is a permitted Asthma medication… but Ulissi’s levels were not.
Nevertheless, for a number of years Ulissi has struck me as exactly the kind of rider who would do well on World Championship circuits. He wins with late explosive attacks and can sprint when required. Good uphill, good downhill and solid in a time trial, Ulissi’s a good fit for the rainbow jersey (it can’t just be me who thinks this).
With the course likely to suit, his biggest problem will simply be his rivals. Ulissi’s a terrific rider but not mentioned in the same breath as superstar all-rounders Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and Michal Kwiatkowski. He caught that first pair out in Montreal but this will only serve as a sparkling remind of his talent.
One win in Canada can only partly disguise the fact he has a poor record outside of Italy.
Sonny Colbrelli 28/1
Colbrelli has had the breakthrough season that some of us (me, it was me) predicted at the start of the year. A win on the World Tour at Paris-Nice was followed by a strong showing at Milan-San Remo and victory at De Brabantse Pijl.
His confidence was high and it was obvious he had transitioned from the Colbrelli we saw at Bardiani when he leapt away from a star-studded field in the opening sprint stage of the Tour de France before fading late into sixth place.
Can he win the World Championships? I have my doubts. As he has developed, Colbrelli has run into some serious rivals. As a fast finisher with no aversion to climbing, he will almost certainly run into Sagan and Matthews. Can Colbrelli really catch the likes of Sagan off guard? In a straight sprint he loses.
In some ways the Italians have become masters of waiting. When the front group arrives you can be sure an Italian will find his way towards the top ten.
Nevertheless, this simply won’t work if they want to win. If a big group arrives together Colbrelli, Ulissi and even Trentin will almost certainly be beaten. Viviani has the speed to compete but if the erratic Italian has made the finale it’s likely we’ll be seeing a big bunch sprint.
They need to attack up towards Salmon Hill. The likely Italian protagonists are all lively descenders and they need to throw caution to the wind. They need to get numbers into the move and make it stick. They need to isolate the big names and cut down the likes of Belgium.
Sadly, Italy’s recent record at the Worlds has been poor. Even I’m struggling to see them getting the job done!
Viviani is 25/1 suggesting the bookies don’t believe the climb is difficult enough to cause him a problem. Here’s what InsideThePeloton had to say about the Italian sprinter…
“Viviani my outside tip as long as the Italians can take it to a bunch sprint. The last hill worries me and the attacking nature of most other teams will inevitably make a bunch sprint unlikely. BUT! Never discount a man on tip top form…”