After Trofeo Piva yesterday, the parcours gets a lot harder in the Easter Monday classic, Giro del Belvedere. The race is shorter than yesterday’s event but features a much tougher climb in the finale. While there was a chance the Piva could be won in a sprint, there is no chance of a sprinter getting over the hills in Belvedere. This is a climber’s and puncheur’s race for sure. The best riders race here, with 11 of the top 15 going pro at either WorldTour of ProContinental level last winter.
Last season saw a large group made up of some of the best climbers in the bunch go clear, before a group of six removed themselves from the bunch: Riabushenko (now with UAE), Lucas Hamilton (now on Mitchelton-Scott), Matteo Fabbro (now with Katusha), Daniel Savini (now with Bardiani-CSF) and Axeon Hagens Berman duo Costa and Powless (the latter is now on LottoNL-Jumbo). The former trio extricated themselves in the final, before ditching Fabbro in sight of the line and Riabushenko did what he does best and promptly dispatched the slower Hamilton in the sprint to take a famous win in the European U23 RR Champs jersey.
Given this year’s race comes right after the Piva, a lot of riders are lining up at both races, meaning the startlist could change if riders fall sick or crash out in the first event. But the provisional start list is very strong. Colpack have Rocchetti and Romano return after missing Piva, whilst Petroli-Firenze bring a three-pronged attack with Bevilacqua, Scaroni and Fortunato. Russia are led by a trio of Gazprom-Rusvelo neo-pros in Vlasov, Cherkasov and Kuriyanov. Esteban’s brother Bryan Chaves joins up with Rob Stannard and Sam Jenner to lead Mitchelton-BikeExchange, whilst Zahiri Abderrahim and Alessandro Fedeli lead Treviginai Phonix. Mattia Bais once more leads CT Friulli and Zalf are led by young Samuele Battistella. On the foreign side of things, Tadej Pogacar (tenth last year) returns with Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum, whilst first year U23 Mark Donovan will be one to watch for Wiggins. Matteo Sobrero and Luca Mozzato again lead Dimension Data, whilst Sean Bennett is probably the best option for a young USA team, while GB’s youngsters may struggle. Like Donovan, Jaka Primozic (Kranj) and Ivan Smirnov (Lokosphinx) are first years to watch.
Whilst Trofeo Piva started with a big loop followed by smaller loops to close out the race, Giro del Belvedere does the opposite, starting with smaller loops before using a larger loop with a second climb in it in the final to force a greater selection.
At 166.6km long, the race is still a test of stamina. The first 132km take place on 11 laps of a 12km circuit that includes the Conche climb, around 1km at 5% with a max grade of 9%. This will sap the legs, and it is already harder than the final circuit used in Piva, where the Guia climb was not as steep (although it was longer).
The final circuit is very hard. There are two laps, each 17.3km long. The lap starts with the Conche hill and after the descent continues to rise slightly all the way to the 5km mark (so 12.3km to go last time around). It is here that the Montaner climb starts (1.7km at 12%, max 20%). After around 1km of what the race organisers call a fast and dangerous descent, the riders kick back up the Via Longhe climb, which is much short at just 700m long, but it still averages 12% and maxes out at 17%. Last time up the hill there is just 9.1km to g at the top. There is 4km of steep descent, followed by 3.5km of slightly shallower descending, which takes the riders to the flamme rouge.
The last 750m are uphill and, in a final cruel twist, the last 200m average between 7 and 8%. This race is brutally hard and is a great race to have on your palmares. It is also great prep for Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which is just a few weeks away now. It is quite a technical run in too, with three left-hand turns in the last 750m, one of which is a 90-degree bend.
Winner Candidates: Robert Stannard (Mitchelton-BikeExchange), Francesco Romano (Colpack), Aleksandr Vlasov (Russia)
Podium Contenders: Tadej Pogacar (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum), Nicolay Cherkasov (Russia), Mattia Bevilacqua (Petroli Firenze)
Outsiders: Samuele Battistella (Zalf), Zahiri Abderrahim (Trevigiani Phonix-Hemus 1896), Mark Donovan (Wiggins)
There is no doubt that Rob Stannard is the man to beat in this race. He didn’t go particularly well here last season, but he was not even close to leading the team back then. Now, he is the sole leader and is in brilliant form, taking 2nd in Piva. The Aussie is a great climber and should be able to get over the steep hills in Belvedere. Furthermore, he has proved time and time again just how fast a finisher he is. He is very likely to beat anyone in a sprint, which tips the scale hugely in his favour. Stannard has all the skills and the form to win this race.
Colpack rider Francesco Romano missed Piva, meaning he is fully focussed on Belvedere, where he was 9th last season. He has raced five times this season, and has not finished lower than 10th, including 2nd in Piccolo Sanremo just a week ago. Furthermore, he has Filippo Rocchetti to support him in this race, who is also strong, but is not as good on the steep gradients. Romano doesn’t really have much of a chance in a sprint against some of the contenders, but he has the form to solo away and take another famous win for the illustrious Colpack team.
Aleksandr Vlasov is a neo-pro with Gazprom-Rusvelo, but he has been racing with the national team for the last few weeks. Not only does he arrive here with races like Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo in his legs, he is an excellent one-day racer. He is fast in a sprint and is a strong climber and was 23rd here last season. Additionally, his form appears to be trending upwards, after making the front group in Piva. Not only that, but Russia have one of the best teams here and, as you will find out later, have more than one potential winner of this race. Vlasov is just one card in the hand.
Tadej Pogacar is a rising star, but his results have been not as good as he would have hoped so far this year. He was good in the Croatian one-day events and was on the podium overall in Istria, but the 19-year-old was outside the top twenty in Gent-Wevelgem. He did say that stage races are more his piority, but he is so talented he would have hoped for better in Belgium, even if cobbles are not his thing If his legs are better than his results suggest, the harder climbs in Belvedere really suit him and he is perhaps the only rider who could challenge Stannard in the sprint. He is of WorldTour calibre and is seeking his first big win in Europe in the U23 one-day scene. Tadej was tenth in this race in 2017, showing just how well it suits him.
Nicolay Cherkasov is yet another rider returning to this race after a strong showing in 2017. He possesses a strong blend of climbing talent and speed, and his experience in Italy’s one-day racing scene means he knows exactly how to navigate a course and position himself in the bunch. Like his trade teammate Vlasov, he has raced Sanrmeo and Tirreno with Gazprom and is another fabulous one-day racer, tailor-made to the steep grades of Italian racing. 13th last season in this race, Cherkasov has all the attributes to win Giro del Belvedere, and his strong team is just another weapon in his armoury. Expect a huge race from the Russian pros, regardless of who they opt to lead with.
19-year-old sensation Mattia Bevilacqua has never raced in Belvedere before, but he has impressed elsewhere in Italy. After taking some strong results last season, the Petroli Firenze-Maserati rider has been hyped up by the media in Italy and his form looks strong, with 8th in Piva. Christian Scaroni and Lorenzo Fortunato are two very strong teammates to have to support the youngster, which is another bonus. He is supremely talented, but there is no indication so far of how he does on the very steep gradients that make selections in this race every season. However, given he has taken like a duck to water at every other Italian race, he is worth being in podium contention here on a course that suits so few riders given the gradients.
Yet another 19-year-old home favourite who can go well in this race is Zalf’s Samuele Battistella. He was much quieter than Beviacqua last year but has shown his form is really good with 4th in Piccolo Sanremo. He was rested during the Piva, which indicates he is going to lead Zalf here and his team has put their faith in him. He won a race just six days ago in Italy, beating the on fire Scaroni in a two-man sprint, showing that despite his age, Battistella is no slouch and has a great mind for the tactics of road racing. There is little known about him, but he would probably settle for a top ten in this race, but the Italian media certainly believe he can do even better.
Zahiri Abderrahim, riding his last season as an U23, was 16th here last season and seems to enjoy racing most when the roads are steep. The Moroccan is coming into this block of racing after a stint of racing back home, where he finished 2nd, 3rd and 9th in three race days to show he is in good shape for his European return. He would probably target the top ten, but given his status as an outside favourite, could be let off the leash to attack late on whilst the big names mark each other out. He looked in good form in Piva and will hope he can crack the top ten here as he leads a Trevigiani Phonix team full of experienced names like Alessandro Fedeli and Floryan Arnoult.
Mark Donovan is 19 the day after this race and normally, a first year U23 would not be in consideration for a race of this high a calibre this early in their U23 career. But compatriot and fellow first year Jake Stewart’s back-to-back podiums in Gent-Wevelgem and Trofeo Piva have shown us that young stars can succeed early at this level. Donovan leads a very young and inexperienced Wiggins team, who have most of their bigger names racing in Belgium just now. But Donovan’s form is great, having mixed it up with the pros to take 6th overall in the Volta ao Alentejo earlier in the month. He is racing here with no pressure, which always helps younger riders, and has phenomenal talent on the hills. It will be interesting to see how he goes in this race, but if his legs are anything as good as Stewart’s he may even win this race. A great outside pick to keep an eye on.