After ten years of waiting, will 2016 see an Italian win in Sanremo?
Last Autumn, the Italian drought finally ended. It was October 4th, and at the 107th edition of the Giro di Lombardia Vincenzo Nibali rode into Como alone, having been alone for some 16km since his attack on the Civiglio climb.
The Italian announcer was yelling as the Italian champion rode across the line, arms in the air, in Italy. A very Italian scene, and the first time a home rider had won the race (or any other Monument for that matter) since Damiano Cunego’s triumph all the way back in 2008.
The 2016 edition of the Giro di Lombardia is a long way away, but the other great Italian Classic is almost upon us. In fact it’s on Saturday, though everybody is already aware of that. One thing you perhaps aren’t aware of is the similar drought suffered by the Italians at La Classicissima di primavera.
Once upon a time, home domination was expected, with names like Girardegno, Binda, Bartali and Coppi filling the roll of honour during the first half of the 1900s. More recently Cipollini, Bettini and Petacchi joined the list, with Filippo Pozzato the last man from the Peninsula to cross the line first, back in 2006.
And now? The Italians are enduring their longest dry spell since the 1960s.
With 61 Italians lining up at the start in Milan, let’s assess the chances of those having dreams of spraying the Prosecco on the final podium.
First up, it’s the star man – certainly the biggest star in Italian cycling, anyway. The race wasn’t originally part of Vincenzo Nibali’s plans for 2016, but he’ll be there, back for the ninth time.
He’s fresh from finishing sixth in a neutered Tirreno-Adriatico, and will have a point to prove having been taken out of contention for victory by the cancellation of stage five. And just as the lack of hills hindered him in The Race of the Two Seas, it is likely that he’ll have the same problem here – Nibali will be hard pushed to replicate his podium finish back in 2012.
Lampre-Merida, the last remaining Italian WorldTour team, come to the race with an all-Italian line-up, and they have some interesting options to choose from. Davide Cimolai was eighth last year, but you would always bet on him getting burned by the likes of Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan in a sprint finish.
Puncheur Diego Ulissi is another decent outsider, but once again there are better options, and a huge dose of luck would be needed for second-class sprinter Sacha Modolo (fourth in 2010) to prevail. Barring a big crash somewhere in the finale, don’t expect a Lampre winner in Sanremo.
One man who they will regret having to let go over the winter is 22-year-old Niccolò Bonifazio. He sprinted to a surprise fifth here last year but will ride in support of Fabian Cancellara over at Trek-Segafredo this time around. He’ll be right up there again should the Swiss veteran falter though.
Sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo is another backup plan for the cosmopolitan team, but he’s more frequently seen on the second and third steps of the podium, rather than the first. The versatile Fabio Felline belongs in the same category.
Now at this point understand that we are already plumbing the depths of implausibility. Things aren’t looking good. Scanning the startlist, there are only five other men who have finished in the top ten.
First up we have the last Italian to win the race, Southeast-Venezuela’s Filippo Pozzato. He finished sixth here in 2012 and hasn’t won a race since 2013, so extrapolate from that what you will. Edit – His teammate, the 21-year-old sprinter Jakub Mareczko is certainly a name to remember for the future. Then there’s Daniele Bennati, who is 35 and will be riding firmly in support of Peter Sagan.
Fourth in both 1995 (!) and 2008, 44-year-old Davide freakin Rebellin is riding here for the first time in seven years. He is certainly not going to win but admit it, it’d be pretty hilarious if he did, right? BMC’s Daniel Oss has finished ninth here before but will be supporting the in-form Greg Van Avermaet’s bid for victory.
Next up, we come to Sonny Colbrelli of Bardiani-CSF – the other team with an all-Italian contingent. Sixth here two years ago, he’s one of several Italians in the group of not-quite elite sprinters. Still, he’s obviously in strong form, winning the GP Lugano two weeks ago, so a top five placing wouldn’t be a surprise – Bonifazio did the same last year remember.
Onto the other Italian ProContinental team next, and it’s Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec. Once upon a time, a line-up of Franco Pellizotti, Francesco Gavazzi and Francesco Chicchi would have been an interesting proposition here, but not anymore.
Etixx-QuickStep count punchy fighter Gianluca Brambilla, who had a great race at Strade Bianche, and fastman Matteo Trentin among their ranks. Both ride in support of Tom Boonen and Fernando Gaviria at Etixx-QuickStep, but should be strong enough to provide alternative options if the main men falter
Lastly, pure sprinter Elia Viviani will be riding as back-up for Geraint Thomas, Michał Kwiatkowski and Ben Swift at Team Sky. He has yet to prove he can handle the race though, finishing 108th on two occasions in the past. Salvatore Puccio finished twelfth in the 2012 edition.
Honestly, I would be surprised if the duck is broken on Saturday. Several Italians are better suited to the race than Vincenzo Nibali, but frankly lack his talent.
At the moment the country has no riders that match up to sprinters and classics men like Kristoff, Van Avermaet, Sagan or Cancellara, and it looks like it would take a large slice of luck for any Italian to best them on Saturday.
There are some positive signs for the future though – most notably Bonifazio. The youngster has already proven that he can compete in the longest race on the calendar and knows the finale as well as anyone – he lives in Diana Marina, just down the coast from Sanremo and situated among the Capi climbs.
If any of this gang of outsiders can end the Sanremo drought this year, I’m going with him as the man most likely.
Giorgio Cecchinel, Francesco Chicchi, Marco Frapporti
Francesco Gavazzi, Franco Pellizotti, Mirko Selvaggi, Davide Viganò
Valerio Agnoli, Eros Capecchi, Vincenzo Nibali
Simone Andreetta, Enrico Barbin, Nicola Boem, Mirco Maestri
Sonny Colbrelli, Stefano Pirazzi, Marco Rota, Alessandro Tonelli
Damiano Caruso, Alessandro De Marchi
Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato
CANNONDALE PRO CYCLING
Alan Marangoni, Moreno Moser
CCC SPRANDI POLKOWICE
Simone Ponzi, Davide Rebellin
Gianluca Brambilla, Fabio Sabatini, Matteo Trentin
Matteo Bono, Davide Cimolai, Matteo Cattaneo, Roberto Ferrari
Sacha Modolo, Manuele Mori, Diego Ulissi, Federico Zurlo
Salvatore Puccio, Elia Viviani
Manuel Belletti, Samuele Conti, Andrea Fedi
Jakub Mareczko, Filippo Pozzato, Mirko Tedeschi
Daniele Bennati, Manuele Boaro
Oscar Gatto, Matteo Tosatto
Eugenio Alafaci, Niccolò Bonifazio
Marco Coledan, Fabio Felline, Giacomo Nizzolo