Circuit des Ardennes
While many of the U23s on the national teams were away in Flanders, some of the GC oriented riders including Silvio Herklotz (Stolting/Germany) and Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano/Sweden) opted to go with the 3-day Circuit des Ardennes instead.
Stage 1 features a few rolling hills but Vini Fantini-Nippo basically cheated by having two ex-professionals in Pier Paolo De Negri and Grega Bole taking 1-2 ahead of Loic Vliegen (BMC Devo) and Kristian Haugaard (Giant-Shimano Devo).
Stage 2 was another hilly rolling stage but a duo in Troels Vinther (CULT Energy) and big hitter Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx) were able to escape and after Vinther crossed the line for the stage win, they had a gap of 25 seconds back to the peloton, which ended up in a reduced sprint won by Grega Bole.
Stage 3 and 4 on Sunday were split stages that featured some more reduced bunch sprints. Stage 3, that featured some more small climbs, was won by none other than Bole, who was in his first race back after not being able to find a contract after being dropped by Lampre. Vinther was dropped and Wisniowski assumed the leader's jersey for the afternoon. Stage 4 saw former Rabobank rider Coen Vermeltfoort (De Rijke-Shanks) take the bunch sprint ahead of Eduard Grosu (Vini Fantini-Nippo) and Daniel Klemme (Synergy Baku). With no time bonuses, Wisniowski was able to take the overall win ahead of Bole and Haugaard, who both finished at 25 seconds back. Frederik Ludvigsson won the U23 classification simply because he placed better on some stages than 8 others who finished on the same time including Felix Großschartner, Herklotz, Ildar Arslanov, Robert Power, Louis Vervaeke and Alexander Foliforov.
This race needs to define itself. It did have a worthy winner because Wisniowski went on the attack but 3 other stages ended in sprints and while the courses were tough, they ended in this middle area where they sorted only some of the wheat from the chaff and a big group would still come to the line together. Perhaps a shorter stage with more climbs to blow the thing to bits? Some time bonuses perhaps? Because this edition was rather forgettable. Cheers to Bole for finding his groove again.
Trofeo Edil C and Memorial Gasparotto
While the sprint boys had it out on Sunday, some serious racing was also done on Saturday including the UCI ranked Trofeo Edit C and the Memorial Gerry Gasparotto.
A breakaway decided Trofeo Edil C, which entailed 149 kilometers around the city of Collecchio. While it is a UCI race, it isn't one of the bigger Italian one-day races such as Trofeo Piva Banca. A breakaway of 6 attacked and took the race to the line and after some cat and mouse in the final kilometers, it was Andrea Vaccher (Marchio) who took out the sprint ahead of young first year U23 Simone Velasco (Zalf-Euromobil), who left the sprint a bit too late and ran out of room to do much. 3rd was Damiano Cima. In the bunch sprint just 25 seconds back, Daniele Cavasin (Zalf-Euromobil) beat out Davide Martinelli (Colpack) and Thomas Pinaglia (Gragnano) for 7th.
Memorial Gerry Gasparotto basically boiled down to a Zalf-Euromobil vs. Colpack duel. On a hillier course than Edil C, Simone Andreetta broke away solo and took his lead into the final lap against a chasing group that included his teammates Giacomo Berlato and Andrea Toniatti as well as Manuele Senni and Iuri Filosi (both Colpack) and Stefano Nardelli. Andreetta held a small advantage over the final hill and extended it in the final kilometers with Toniatti winning the sprint behind for 2nd ahead of Filosi and Senni. Zalf-Euromobil DS Gianni Faresin was happy with his squad's performance and is looking for ward to hillier races with this group as he thinks they have a lot to offer. I do have to say it is good to see Colpack getting back into form with Filosi and Senni on the hills while Martinelli has been mixing it up in the sprints and attacks.
-Bosnia was the host to 2 one-day races over the past weekend in the Banja Luka Belgrade I & II. Saturday's race went from Banja Luka to Brcko and only featured a few difficulties in terms of any hills before a flat finish. Slovenian U23 Martin Otonicar (Radenska) was able to take the bunch gallop out ahead of Fabian Schnaidt (Vorarlberg) and Mattia Gavazzi (Christina Watches). Sunday's race from Bijeljina to Belgrade saw some fucking drugdealer win the race ahead of Greek Georgios Bouglas (SP Tableware) and German Stefan Schafer (LKT Brandenburg). The top U23 from Sunday was Otonicar down in 8th place. I, myself, do enjoy the Central European racing scene and wish it could grow into something that could really feature the difficult terrain of the region but I'll take what I can get at this point.
-Also in Italy, Zalf-Euromobil's Alessandro Tonelli took out Tuesday's Coppa Fiera di Mercatale after breaking away with Mirco Maestri from a group of 7 in the finale and winning the two-up sprint for Zalf's 12th win of the season. Just 10 seconds behind, Sunday's winner Simone Andreetta won the bunch sprint for 3rd ahead of Luca Benedetti, teammate Gianni Moscon and Iuri Filosi (Colpack). As of now, Zalf is a leviathan in Italian amateur cycling that only a select few seem to be able to topple. I'm still uncomfortable by the fact that they are helmed by Gianni Faresin, who was on Lampre, Mapei and Gerolsteiner among other teams that were definitely not the cleanest. Times change and what not but doping in Italian amateur racing is still present so while I am impressed by Zalf's dominance, I still have that skeptical bit in my mind.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's La Cote Picarde U23 Nations Cup, which should be an exciting race that of course you can't see any live because cycling's development system is busted and the funding system is pretty shitty. And I'm only talking about U23 men because, of course, the situation for women racers is even worse. But I probably should just shut up about it like the UCI would like and just smile and wave...smile and wave.