Sorry for being tardy to the party for this weekends racing recap but I've had some important things to attend to. Without further ado, let's get back to the weekend and review some of the racing happenings.
My Ride of the Week went to Alberto Tocchella and his win at the Coppa San Geo, the opening Elite-U23 race in Italy for the season, ahead of Marlen Zmorka so I won't be going into too much detail there.
Starting in Italy, we had Firenze-Empoli, the Memorial Polese, GP De Nardi, the Coppa San Bernardino, La Torre and Memorial Lorenzo Mola. This seems like over kill but everyone and their father, in the case of Ignazio Moser and Davide Martinelli, came out for the opening weekend of races.
While Luca Sterbini might be the less heralded of the Sterbini brothers (Simone signed a pre-contract with Bardiani that starts in 2015), he thoroughly dominated Firenze-Empoli. With only 5 kilometers gone from the 137 km race, Sterbini attacked and was joined briefly by a few others before going solo. By the time he got to the finish, he was over a minute ahead of Luca Benedetti. Riding for Pala Fenice, formerly known as Palazzago, Luca might be able to finally capitalize on the talent he showed as a junior in 2010, when he won the Italian Junior TT Championship. The other Saturday race was the Memorial Polese, where Michele Zanon of Cyber Team was the first sprinter to hit pay dirt in Italy this year with a win over Zalf's Davide Gomirato. It wasn't the best of days for Zalf as they were denied twice after coming off a record-breaking year with nearly 60 victories on the road.
Sunday in Italia had some more breakaways and a breakthrough for Zalf. At La Torre, Mirko Trosino of Mastromarco lept away on the final uphill summit just before the finish line and was able to hold off a speeding Angelo Raffaele from Big Hunter. While only 98 kilometers, it was a good showing for the Tuscan as he will most likely be with the National Team for the U23 Nations Cups this spring. It is early for a clash of stars but at the Memorial Lorenzo Mola, Ignazio Moser and Davide Martinelli came close to clashing. Moser (BMC) took off in the breakaway with Marco Chianese (Pala Fenice) and Simone Consonni (Colpack). The trio worked well together on the flats and the Burago climb on the course, which went over 10% gradient. Moser attacked his break mates and went solo but behind, Martinelli launched some moves of his own. Martinelli, riding on home soil in Brescia and for his new Colpack team, was like a freight train behind Moser and swept up the remnants of the break and tried valiantly to catch Moser but it was to no avail. The BMC rider, who had been a bit of a problem child in the past, got a nice solo win while Martinelli won the sprint for 2nd place ahead of Luca Muffolini of the local Gavardo team. It was a sprinters duel at the Coppa San Bernardino down near the Adriatic coastline between Zalf's Nicolas Marini, Viris-Maserti's Jakub Mareczko and Pala Fenice's Romanian Andrei Voicu. The three were the top three in the bunch sprint at the Coppa San Geo the day prior and they were sick with bloodlust; ravenous for their first win of the season. With the help of teammate Davide Gomirato and Eugert Zhupa, it was Marini, who shook with frustration at San Geo, who took the win by half a bike length over Mareczko with Voicu in third, who might be one of the surprises of the season if he keeps it up. First year U23 Emanuele Sabatini finished 7th in the sprint for Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa's amateur squad. After a tumultuous last half of the season last year due to a heavy crash, Federico Zurlo started his season off early with a win at the GP De Nardi, which gave Zalf-Euromobil 2 wins in 2 days and got them started on their quest to top their 59 wins from 2013.
In France, it was the opening of the Coupe de France classification for the DN1 teams with the GP Souvenir Jean-Masse. Nigel Ellsay, the lone Canadian from the Sojasun Espoirs team, rode 105 kilometers (out of 140 kilometers) in the breakaway to secure the most aggressive rider award as well as the sprints jersey. When it came down to the business end of the race, Armée de Terre came to the fore and they were going full tilt into the sprint finish. U23 Marc Sarreau led out the sprint with 500 meters to go and only his more experienced teammate Benoit Sinner was able to come around him for the win. Sarreau finished in 2nd with young Lorenzo Manzin, who hails from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, in 3rd for UC Nantes Atlantique. The Army team continued a very strong beginning to their season, which has mirrored their 2013 season so far, and Manzin is really coming into his own as a puncheur-sprinter.
Heading over to the Bay of Biscay coast of France and the French Basque region, GSC Blagnac took multiple wins over the weekend including Loïc Chetout's solo win at the Ronde du Pays Basque round of the l'Essor Basque and the Trophee de l'Essor, where Julien Loubet won the first stage and the overall while Chetout finished 2nd overall.
The Spanish Copa de España calendar also kicked off this weekend with the Circuito Guadiana in the wilds of Extremadura. The race, taking on a rolling course that was sure to break up a pack still a little rusty from the offseason, started with a breakaway of 11 that got a lead of over 5 minutes before the pace began to pick up. Soon, it was down to just one rider, Smitry Strakhov of the amateur Lokosphinx team, until he was picked up by a group of 28 riders with 30 kilometers to go. On the last time over the Magacera climb, the final selection was made and it was down to just 13 riders including defending champion, Russian Vadim Zhuravlev. With two kilometers left, Anton Ibarguren attacked and only Andrés Sanchez of Mutua Levante followed. Sanchez attacked in the final bend and won by 2 seconds over Ibarguren with Zhuravlev winning the sprint behind, just 4 seconds back. Zhuravlev was the best U23 on the day and beat out fellow U23 Jakub Kaczmarek, who finished 5th overall and 3rd in the sprint behind Zhuravlev.
The Oceania Championships finished up exactly as I thought they would with Australia dominating, New Zealand wondering why they bothered and Fiji wondering where the hell registration is. One of this year's biggest revelations, Harry Carpenter, won the men's U23 TT while Campbell Flakemore, who is still overcoming some bad early season form, finished 2nd. In the road race, Robert Power escaped from a group of 5 others including Carpenter, Rob-Jon McCarthy and George Tansley to solo to the men's U23 title with McCarthy and Tansley rounding out the podium. Oceania Cycling has some serious thinking to do about how to make this event more popular between its member nations and not just an excuse to have a little get together.
In America, a few U23s had some good rides. Daniel Eaton (Canyon Bicycles) won the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona after finishing 3rd in the opening TT and making the selection in the RR. Eaton won ahead of the likes of Luis Amaran (Jamis) and Ryan Roth (ex-Champion Systems). Hincapie Development wrapped up their team camp this weekend and they laid waste to the local Greenville, SC training series. Robin Carpenter posted two wins while teammates Joe Lewis and Toms Skujins each got a 2nd place. Very strong team that I am looking forward to seeing in the next couple of months.