Future stars: Davide Villella

At the 2014 Giro d'Italia
At the 2014 Giro d’Italia

For the fourth installment in the series we move away from the Low Countries and into Italy. Hailing from the town of Magenta, west of Milan, Davide Villella is at the beginning his second professional season with the newly-merged Cannondale-Garmin team. With races in Australia already behind him, here’s a look at what got him where he is today and what he could achieve in the future.

The locally-based GC Almenno San Bortolomeo was where he started out – Astana rider Alessandro Vanotti was once a member, so too were Diego Caccia and Sergio Ghisalberti. Villella provided consistent results for the club, with his strongest results coming in 2009, where he achieved 6 podiums. A win at the 51st edition of the Trofeo Comune di Arcore was a highlight, coming in one of his last races before a move up to the U23 level.

In GS Almenno San Bortolomeo colours (2009)
In GC Almenno San Bortolomeo colours

UC Bergamasca 1902 was Davide’s destination for 2010. While names like Aru, Moser, Nizzolo and Guardini grabbed all the headlines in in his first two years at U23 level, Villella was still only 19 and would have to wait for his chances. Highlights of 2010 included a fourth place at the Trofeo Monte Bondone (a race as tough as it sounds), and second-place in a UC Bergamasca one-two at the GP Rota Nodari in Almenno San Bortolomeo.

Colpack came calling in 2011. The strong Bergamo-based team has existed in its current form since 2010 and has seen riders like Edoardo Zardini and Gianfranco Zilioli pass through before moving to the professional ranks. If you strain your memory, you might recall Colpack as co-sponsor of the De Nardi team Charly Wegelius turned professional with back in 2003.

Winning the Memorial Angelo Ripamonti
Winning the Memorial Angelo Ripamonti (F.Rodella)

With the move came wins – the the first of which came in March at the Coppa del Grano U21 in Tuscany. Two months later he was back in Almenno San Bortolomeo, this time beating Moreno Moser to the win at the Memorial Angelo Ripamonti. Villella was on the podium three other times in May, and later finished in the top ten of the U23 Italian Championships, but 2012 would see him step up a gear.

It was a year that saw him on the top step of the podium no less than eleven times, and May was once again Davide’s best month. At the important Giro della Regione Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Colpack were one of five teams to have bikes and equipment stolen overnight. Davide made up for the loss by winning stages four and five on his spare bike as well as taking the points classification.

A few weeks later he led future Bardiani rider Edoardo Zardini in a Colpack one-two up the steep final slopes of the GP Comune Botticino. At the end of the month came more wins – two out of four stage in the hills around Faenza at the GP Pesca e Nettarina in Emilia-Romagna.

Winning stage three at the 2012 GP Pesca e Nettarina
Winning stage three at the GP Pesca e Nettarina (Isola)

It was great preparation for what would turn out to be the last edition of the Baby Giro (Girobio) in June. Villella missed out on victory in stage three by centimetres in the sprint finish in Sora. The pink jersey was his for a day though, and teammate Zardini finished sixth overall.

By July Davide was back to winning ways, with four victories including the prestigious Ciriè – Pian della Mussa and a night-time finish at the Trofeo Città di Brescia  A summit victory and fourth overall in the mountainous Giro della Valli Cuneesi (Zardini won) were great results in the run-up to the Tour de l’Avenir, where he came close to a stage win once again, losing out to Silvan Dillier in a three-man sprint.

Later in the season he was selected for the U23 World Championships in Valkenburg, finishing 74th. Villella’s brilliant season ended with a second place at the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, and he ended up top of the Italian U23 ranking, with more wins than anybody in the country.

2013 was to be his last season in the U23 ranks. Villella had less wins, but the ones he got were big, and once again he ended up as the number one amateur in Italy, beating teammate (another now at Bardiani) Nicola Ruffoni into second in the rankings. Strong Spring results, including four podium spots in April, culminated in victory in the Medaglia d’Oro Domenico e Anita Colleoni in May.

Zalf’s Andrea Zordan outsprinted him to victory at the U23 National Championship. It would soon be forgotten though, as the famed Giro della Valle d’Aosta was summer’s main goal. Davide was in top form and third place on stage one was followed up by wins on stages two and four. This all added up to an overall victory and the points jersey – the biggest result of his career to date. Future teammate Davide Formolo was the man he beat into second place.

Overall victory at the 2013 Giro della Valle d'Aosta
Overall victory at the 2013 Giro della Valle d’Aosta (girovalledaosta.it)

WorldTour team Cannondale called him up for a spell as a staigiare in August, giving him experience of racing with the pros at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Brussels Cycling Classic. Sixth at the U23 World Championships in Florence was a strong result, but more was to come in October.

He returned to the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, this time taking the win by half a minute. Then it was back to Cannondale for the final few races of the season – he exceeded expectations by taking third place finishes at the Coppa Sabatini and Giro dell’Emilia.

Last season was his first as a professional. Sixth in the Trofeo Laigueglia was an early highlight, while he won the mountain classification in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, leading the competition from stage one.

Fighting at the 2013 Giro dell'Emilia
Fighting at the 2013 Giro dell’Emilia

The Giro d’Italia was next on the menu, somewhat surprisingly. Unfortunately Davide’s race ended on stage six to Montecassino – he was caught up in the pileup before the climb and abandoned with a fractured elbow.

He was back racing in June before heading to the Arctic Tour of Norway. Second place on the lumpy opening stage led to fourth overall and the young riders jersey at the end of the race. Later on in the season he rode the Giro di Lombardia for the first time, taking a creditable sixteenth place before following that up with sixth at the Coppa Sabatini.

Davide is part of the merged Cannondale-Garmin squad in 2015, and he has a firm idea of what he wants from the season. Tirreno-Adriatico, the Ardennes and the Giro d’Italia are all on his calendar, while there is no doubt that his home race in Lombardia will be a big target, both now and in the future.

Recovering from his Giro crash (Cannondale Instagram)
Recovering from his Giro crash (instagram.com/cannondalepro)

I think that the Race of the Falling Leaves is a very realistic target – he is strong in the hills and has a good sprint to go with it. It’s a versatile skillset that can make success in a wide variety of races possible. Hilly one-day races, and there are lots of them on the calendar, seem a perfect fit.

Sadly, we haven’t yet seen how well Davide can climb in the professional peloton. Thanks to his Giro crash, the only true mountain stage under his belt is the Kitzbüheler Horn stage of the Tour of Austria, his first race back from injury. It will be interesting to see how a healthy Villella copes in the high mountains this May.

One thing we can be sure about is how lucky Cannondale-Garmin team boss Jonathan Vaughters has been to find himself in the situation of being able to bring in Villella. Along with Moreno Moser and Davide Formolo, the team look like they have a good chunk of the future of Italian cycling on board.

Follow Davide on Twitter.

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