A frantic few days of U23 racing is brought to a close by GP Palio del Recioto. Before the preview begins, a small rant. It was very difficult to find a start list and information on this race. The Italian websites had the route, but there was no info on the climbs, which, as you will see later on in La Flamme Rouge’s race profile (massive thanks to the team over there!), are numerous. Compared to the great service provided by Trofeo Piva and Giro del Belvedere, GP Palio del Recioto has let itself down.
With that now out of the way, we can get back to the race, which is actually a pretty interesting one and a race that is hard to call (of course the lack of a startlist makes this even harder, but I digress). Last year’s event saw Neilson Powless beat Lucas Hamilton in a two-rider sprint before Massimo Rosa (brother of Sky’s Diego) clipped away for third, over 1:30 behind, but a few seconds clear of Hamilton’s teammate Michael Storer and future Katusha-Alpecin rider Steff Cras, with an elite group of eight coming in a few seconds behind. There was a similar formula in 2016 when Powless’ old teammate Ruben Guerreiro, but 2015 saw Gianni Moscon win solo, but riders in places two to nine were within 20 seconds of the Sky pro. This race is extremely unpredictable.
The riders take on 156.5km, making this the shortest race of the three one-day races this Easter weekend, which is helpful as some riders are likely to be fatigued even before this race starts. The race is made up of six laps of an 18.5km circuit, each lap including a climb up both the Colle Mesua and the Curva del Ferar climbs. There are seven attempts at each hill, given the riders traverse them on the way to the loops. We don’t know much about the climbs, but Colle Mesua is the shallower of the two, averaging 6% or so, whilst the Ferar is steeper at 9%. Neither climb is particularly long.
At the end of lap six, there are still 37km to race, and that is when things get harder. After a descent and short section of flat, the riders embark on a long drag up to about 600m, which lasts around 10km and spends most of its time around 3-4%, although there is a pitch of 11% near the top.
Following a short descent, the riders tackle the Corrubia climb, 3.2km at 6.6%. this climb is long enough to drop riders, which no other climb has been able to do on length along this weekend. Factor in the climb’s max grade of 9% after a tough weekend of racing, and cracks will be showing. This is a great launchpad for an attack, as there is 14km of pure downhill to the line. There is one quick kick-up around a quarter of the way down, but aside from that, it is downhill all the way. While the final kilometre is not as steep as the preceding downhill was, it is still downhill. With over 3000m of climbing according to La Flamme Rouge, this race is perfect for a solo rider or a small group of up to five or so riders to contest the win.
FAVOURITES (subject to startlist being found, so favourites are taken from Giro del Belvedere, apologies if one of these riders is not taking part!)
Winner Candidates: Aleksandr Vlasov (Russia), Cristian Scaroni (Petroli Firenze), Samuele Battistella (Zalf)
Podium Contenders: Tadej Pogacar (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum), Cezary Grodzicki (Palazaggo), Matteo Sobrero (Dimension Data)
Outsiders: Mark Donovan (Wiggins), Georg Zimmerman (Tirol), Francesco Romano (Colpack)
For a brief while, it looked like Aleksandr Vlasov would win Giro del Belvedere. He anticipated the favourites and moved clear, only to be caught from behind by faster riders, and he had to settle for 6th, last in his group. However, the long descent from the final climb offers a smaller window of flat roads for him to be caught should he escape again. Nicolay Cherkasov provides a brilliant ally and he too looked great in Belvedere, covering moves of the likes of Pogacar and Donovan. Vlasov will hope his form carries one more day and he can finally take the big win he craves. However, I have no clue if he and Cherkasov are racing here. The team list names Gazprom, which we presume is the Russian U23 team. We hope both are racing, as they will be good to have in this event.
In each of the last two days, we have pointed out a leader from Petroli Firenze, only for Cristian Scaroni to be better than the rider we pick. After 8th in Piva and 2nd in Belvedere, we finally back the on-form Italian to achieve a win in Palio del Recioto. He climbs well and is fast in a sprint, so he is really suited to these races. Lorenzo Fortunato and Mattia Bevilacqua have at times this weekend shown why we thought they could win these races, but they will provide great teammates for Scaroni, either to chase back attacks, set tempo or even go up the road to sap the strength from more isolated rivals. Do not be surprised if Scaroni turns his form into a big win in Palio del Recioto.
The Italian journalists hyped 19-year-old Battistella up for Belvedere and Palio del Recioto, and he quickly repaid their faith by taking a great 4th place today. The Zalf leader can climb very well, and looked strong as he bridged to Grodzicki and Vlasov. It is perhaps telling that between himself and the two riders he bridged too, not one was fast enough t hold off the trio that caught them and eventually made up the podium. Perhaps if Battistella had waited, he could have done even better than 4th. However, it will also be interesting to see how his legs respond after a hard race today on another tough course like the one we find here. If he has good legs, there is no reason why he can top his result today and win the race outright.
We have pointed to Tadej Pogacar a few times this season, but so far, he has let us down. He was again up there in 8th in Belvedere, but he never had a sniff of making the leading sextet. These races should suit the Slovenian, with their steep grades and little flat roads, but he seems to be peaking for later in the season. However, his legs have been getting better and better with each passing race, so we will once more ask him to try and fight for a podium. He is that talented that even off peak shape, he can do an amazing result here.
After a top twenty in Piva and riding an aggresive finale that led to coming 5th in Belvedere, Cezary Grodzicki has our attention. Palazaggo know how to ride these races, having led Alexandr Riabushenko to so many top results in Italian one-day events last year. Grodzicki is a strong climber, but is not especially fast in a sprint for the line, as he showed today. But, as mentioned earlier, this race is a great chance for him to use his strength and escape solo. We fully expect to see the Italian back his result from today up in 24 hours.
We tipped Matteo Sobrero for a Piva podium, but he was off the pace. We left him off our list for Belvedere, and he takes third. The Dimension Data rider has a great skillset for one day races and was so impressive today. Fast in the sprint and strong on the shorter climbs, he faces a different task in Palio del Recioto, with longer climbs than what he has faced so far. But he has been going so well lately that another podium is well within his reach, especially if his teammates can ride like El Mehdi Chokri did for him today.
When we tipped Mark Donovan as an outsider for Belvedere, we hoped he would go well, but coming in 13th, ahead of the likes of Romano and Rocchetti, was above our expectations. The young Brit is even better on longer climbs, so should enjoy the finale of this race even more than he did today. Wiggins will be confident that if he can escape the circuit with no issues, he can climb with the best. A top ten would be fantastic, but given the finale of this race, he is another candidate who may win solo. A supremely talented young rider.
Georg Zimmerman was not out favourite for these races, as we preferred his teammate Johannes Schinnagel. Both riders made the top ten, taking 7th and 9th today, but Zimmerman’s form is slightly better. He was 18th in Piva and was only just dropped by eventual winner Baccio, so his result could have been even better. Given Schinnagel’s form, the duo can work well together and Zimmerman, not quite as fast as his German teammate, should have free reign to do what he does best: attack. He will hope that this time, he has the legs to hold on. Expect to see the German animate yet another race tomorrow.
We were so impressed by Mark Donovan that we almost gave him this spot again, but we have opted for Colpack’s Francesco Romano. We had him as a winner candidate for Belvedere, but his legs just were not there and he found himself finishing a few seconds behind teammate Filippo Rocchetti in 15th. However, if he can find his legs, he can do really well here. He will like the longer climb and he knows he can beat a lot of climbers in the sprint (although he is not as fast as Stannard). The big question is his form, but a top ten should be the least he aims for in Palio del Recioto. He and Rocchetti form yet another dangerous duo to watch in this race.