As we mentioned yesterday in our Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux preview, there is not just a stage race on offer this weekend in the U23 calendar. Trofeo Piva kicks off a trio of one-day races across Easter Weekend that offer the best U23 climbers in the world their first chance to shine this season.
Last year, future Bahrain-Merida rider Mark Padun (Colpack) attacked and dropped everyone, soloing home for a beautiful win before teammate Seid Lizde attacked late to hold off a charging bunch for second. Alexandr Riabushenko, who was a stagiaire along with Lizde with UAE-Team Emirates, won the sprint for third from a large group. Given the high U23 turnover, only the riders placing fifth to eighth are back this year for the 2018 edition.
The race has attracted a lot of big teams to the race. All of the top U23 Italian teams, from Zalf to Colpack, Palazzago to CT Friulli, Mastromarco to Hoppla-Firenze Petroli, are attending these three Italian races. Outside of Italy, Mitchelton-BikeExchange, Ljubljana-Gusto Xaurum, Dimension Data, Tirol, Uno-X, Trevigiani Phonix and IAM Excelsior are here, as well as national teams from Great Britain and the USA.
This is the easiest of the three one-day races in terms of parcours, as evidenced by the fact that defending champions Colpack have left both of their leaders, Francesco Romano and Filippo Rocchetti as reserves for this race, whilst Marco Negrente doesn’t even make the team. The likes of Zalf and Trevigiani Phonix have sprinters here, so there is a chance this race could be a sprint. It is quite reminiscent of Milan-Sanremo, as there is a chance a sprint or an attack could win, although given it is just five-man teams and U23 racing is very aggressive, a sprint seems an unlikely outcome to us.
By the same token, there are some climbers here who will probably try on the Guia climb, but it is not likely to be hard enough for them to escape solo, given there is still a few flat kilometres after the descent is over. Riders like Luca Covili, Tadej Pogacar and Tobias Foss are probably going to have better chances at winning a race later in the weekend when the courses get tougher and the climbs get significantly steeper.
Ahead of the race, U23 Cycling Zone caught up with Angelo Guizzo, who had just become the president of the Associazione ciclistica Col San Martino, the organisation that puts on this great race season after season. We discussed the race, his favourite edition and Italian Cycling.
U23 Cycling Zone: Angelo, there has only been one Italian win in the last seven editions of the Piva. Why do you think foreign riders have been so successful in your race in recent years?
Angelo Guizzo: “I have two theses connected to this issue. The first is that the Continental teams who come here have riders who are already racing a lot of races in the season, so they are in better shape than the Italians. The second theory is that a lot of foreign riders now lead the Italian teams (both Padun and Riabushenko were on Italian teams last year, ed.), so there is less chance of an Italian rider winning. The foreign riders are hungrier than the local guys are, and are willing to fight harder for the win.”
U23CZ: Given in 2018, the Piva is swiftly followed by GP Palio del Recioto and Giro del Belvedere, does that affect how you have planned the race this season?
AG: “No, the other races do not affect us, as every season we always run our race on the same Sunday as the Tour of Flanders, while the Recioto and Belvedere events are related to Easter weekend, so their spot on the calendar changes season after season depending on whenever Easter is. We planned our race as usual.”
U23CZ: Which of the 67 editions of the race so far is the one you call your favourite?
AG: “That would be 1996. It was won by Marzio Bruseghin as part of a 1-2-3 for the Zalf team. It was simply a beautiful race and the result was all over the news the following day.”
Following a similar formula to a lot of the Italian one-day events, Trofeo Piva starts with a big loop before entering short circuits with a climb contained within the circuit to break things up.
The big loop at this event is 51km long and takes on the opening 50km that was used in the first ten editions of the race. There is a climb on the route, heading up to the Santi Angeli. It is not easy, but coming with still around 130km to go, it is not likely to be decisive, but it may burn the legs of the fast finishers before they have even entered the circuit. After descending off the climb, there are still around 15km of flat roads before the riders reach the circuit
Once back into Col San Martino, the race begins 10 laps of 12.4km, featuring the Guia climb. There is a slight rise before the climb starts, which it does at 2.2km into the circuit. The climb, according to La Flamme Rouge, is just 1.7km at 4.5%, but there is a pitch of 7% at the top. The descent is also quite technical if the race organisers are to be believed. The descent is also rather long, with 2km of steep descent followed by some shallower kilometres downhill. That takes the riders to 8.8km raced in the circuit, meaning last time round there is just 3.7km to go. The last 3.7km is mostly flat, although there is a slight rise going under the flamme rouge that could spell the end for a solo rider or provide a launch pad for a late move to go. The road is mostly straight in the final few kilometres too, which doesn’t aid an escape.
Winner Candidates: Jacob Hennesy (Mitchelton-BikeExchange), Ziga Jerman (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum), Sean Bennett (USA)
Podium Contenders: Johannes Schinnagel (Tirol), Mattia Bais (CT Friulli), Matteo Sobrero (Dimension Data)
Outsiders: Jake Stewart (GB), Gino Mader (IAM Excelsior), Lorenzo Fortunato (Petroli Firenze)
Mitchelton-BikeExchange have the strongest team in this race and can win this race from any foreseeable outcome. Despite having a tough Tour de Langkawi, Jacob Hennessy has a great shot at winning this race if it comes down to any sort of small group sprint. The Brit has a fast finish and has proven in the past he can handle the short climbs, winning last year’s Gent-Wevelgem. Harry Sweeny and Bryan Chaves will support him, whilst Sam Jenner and Rob Stannard will follow moves and maybe attack in the final. Hennessy should be able to handle the climbs and there are few riders in this field who can match the Brit in a sprint after a hard day.
One such rider who may be able to match him is Ziga Jerman. He is in great shape, winning Gent-Wevelgem one week ago. He also has a strong team with him in Tadej Pogacar, Izidor Penko and Matic Grosejl. They have three riders in reserve, but for some reason are only lining up with four riders in this race. This means they will struggle to control the race for Jerman, leaving him to follow moves and protect himself. Luckily, Pogacar should be with him all the way as this course shouldn’t trouble the superstar climber. Jerman showed last week he has the legs to win long and hard races in sprints, so will be a man with a huge target on his back as he looks to continue the success had by the Eastern Europeans in this race last season.
Despite being a late addition to the Hagens Berman Axeon squad for 2018 to replace Adrian Costa, Sean Bennett has been so impressive this year. The rolling roads clearly suit the US rider, who has been aggressive in every race he has done. 8th on GC in the hilly Istrian Spring Trophy was followed by 7th at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. He is no slouch in a sprint, but he does need to lose the real sprinters to win this race, but he is so attacking that he is the favourite to bring this home solo. A really fun rider to watch so far this year, hopefully he is rewarded with a win this weekend.
Another rider who has impressed this season is final year U23 Johannes Schinnagel of Tirol. He was 6th on GC in the Tour of Antalya before taking 12th overall in Istria. He proved his sprinting legs by taking 10th in Gent-Wevelgem, splitting on form fast-finishing duo Gabriel Cullaigh and Jasper Philipsen to get his top ten. Tirol have a good team here and Ben Brkic and Georg Zimmermann should be around late in the race to help Schinnagel. Given he has limited racing experience in Italy, he would surely take a podium, which would be a great reward for the form he has shown in 2018.
Despite not having a lot of success in the U23-ony events, Mattia Bais of CT Friulli is great one-day racer. He handles the climbs well and has a kick at the end too. If this race gets selective, he should be fine to make splits and get a nice result. He was fop five in two one-day races in Europe last season and was tenth in a San Juan sprint this year before making the lead group in Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Expect a good ride from Mattia this weekend, as he seeks to win his first UCI race on home soil.
Dimension Data for Qhubeka have not raced much at all this season in terms of UCI races, but Matteo Sobrero looks like he in good shape. He was just outside the top ten in the Popolarissimia last weekend, but that race suits faster riders than he is. Both Giovanni Lionardi (who won the race and is here this weekend for Zalf) and Sobrero’s teammate Luca Mozzato are faster finishers, but they have a history of getting dropped in these races. Sobrero didn’t race here last year, but 4th in Trofeo Citta de Vendemiano shows he can handle these races. He will look for a top result for his team this weekend. Stefan De Bod won a smaller version of Strade Bianche last weekend with a 50km solo, so his form looks great, but he needs to be solo again in this race, so will probably help his teammate here.
Runner-up in Trofeo Piva Jake Stewart is a real unknown quantity for Great Britain in this race. He does climb well and is fast at the finish, but the repetitive nature of the circuit may just be too much for the youngster. He is here to learn, but a good result is certainly capable if teams do not ensure the Englishman is dropped quickly. His team has quite a lot of first and second year U23s, so this could be a big learning curve for the team, but if anyone can get a good result at his race, Stewart’s great skillset makes him a contender here.
Gino Mader has fond memories of racing in Italy, as last time the Swiss rider was here, he was third in Piccolo Lombardia. Now racing for the new IAM-Excelsior team, he has had a slow start to the year and abandoned Gent-Wevelgem at the weekend. However, the 21 year old is a good climber and handles one-day races really well, so if he can find his legs this weekend, some great results are possible. To be in the top contenders here, the race needs to be aggressive, which, given this is an U23 event in Italy, is very likely. A lot depends on his shape, but Mader will target a result here.
Lorenzo Fortunato is a great one-day racer and was tenth here last season. The former Bardiani-CSF stagiaire is a fixture in smaller Italian one-day races and started 2018 really well, recording 10th, 5th and 4th in the three events he has done so far this month. He knows that this is his final year in this division and that if he wants to go pro, he needs to show something in the top Italian U23 races. He is fast and climbs well, and he clearly has the form, the big question really is can he step up to this level? Petroli Firenze will really hope he can, starting this weekend in Piva, Belvedere and Palio del Recioto.