After their 2nd hugely successful season in a row, it might be back to the drawing board for the pinstriped Venetian team. After a 57 win season, they are shipping off 7 riders to the pro ranks including Simone Andretta (Bardiani-CSF), Giacomo Berlato (Vini Fantini-Nippo), Daniele Casavin (Team GM), Nicolas Marini (Vini Fantini-Nippo), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF), Eugert Zhupa (Neri Sottoli-Alé) and Federico Zurlo (UnitedHealthcare). With other riders leaving the team, Luciano Rui and Gianni Faresin will only be left with 8 riders from their 2014 squad that accounted for 16 wins. They are losing a massive chunk of their sprint train as well as 72% of their wins. They will need to re-invent themselves and they need to be prepared for a "down" season.
Let's focus on who they have returning to the squad. The bigger names returning include Gianni Moscon, Simone Velasco and Andrea Toniatti. Moscon was an emerging star last year that truly blossomed at the end of last year by winning the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia in a two-up sprint ahead of Dylan Teuns. He is a great one-day racer and with more defined leadership, he could pick off some more wins next year. I'm looking for him to break through in more UCI races and in the mountains. Velasco was heralded coming out of the junior ranks and for a first year U23, he put up some nice results including 2 wins and a close 2nd place in the 1.2 Trofeo Edil C. Velasco found his legs in 2014 but next year, I expect him to bloom in the mountains. Toniatti has a down year by my accounts simply because he failed to match his 2013 results that included 2 UCI wins in the Ruota d'Oro and a stage in Valle d'Aosta. He could be one of the big winners for Zalf this year after 17 top 5 finishes in '14; he will just need to make that step from podium filler to consistent winner.
The other riders returning include Gianluca Milani, Nicola Rossi, Enrico Salvador, Nicola Toffali and Giacomo Zilio. Milani is good on a variety of courses and like Toniatti, he could break through for a handful of wins. Toffali won 4 races this year but they were all small regional races.
In all, their returning riders are...a bit lacking. The new riders are also a bit light on experience but there are certainly bright spots.
14 new riders join the team and they are as follows: Pietro Andreoletti, Nicola Bagioli, Gianmarco Begnoni, Andrea Borso, Marco Gaggia, Marco Maronese, Daniel Pearson, Filippo Rocchetti, Niccolo Rocchi, Daniel Rupiani, Mirco Sartori, Alessandro Savignano, Gianluca Vecchio and Andrea Vendrame.
The first name that will jump out to most is an English name. Daniel Pearson rode British, Italian-based Zappi's Pro Cycling run by strong anti-doper and former professional Flavio Zappi. Pearson was the British junior champion in 2011 in a solo move that saw him stave off a chasing pack. Pearson jumped to Italy with Zappi in 2013 and this last year, he had some strong results including 2nd in the UCI 1.2 Coppa della Pace as well as 8th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and 9th in the Peaches & Nectarines. Pearson has a fighting spirit to him that isn't hard to like and his move to an established Italian team should do him even better than the shoestring budget Zappi's was run on.
Andreoletti had a quiet year in his first U23 season but he is a strong attacking rider in the hills and is good friends with Simone Velasco.
Luciano Rui seemed to tout Vecchio and Vendrame as two that the team would build around. Vecchio...not too sure about since his results are quite lean since his junior days. Vendrame on the other hand seems to be up and coming with some promising results last year in sprints and some more selective racing.
Bagioli had a good first U23 season and even won a race. He showed some climbing promise in a few races but like most young riders, he needs to focus on getting through races. Another first year U23 coming to Zalf is Daniele Rupiani, who was a strong junior in 2013 with 5 wins and rode well with General Store in the early season with two top 25 placings in Palio del Recioto and Piva Banca plus he finished Valle d'Aosta fairly well. Borso is another younger rider that could be an addition to a sprint train after some decent rides for Team Friuli last year. Rupiani got nice results as a junior in 2013 while 2014 was a learning curve with General Store. He should be up to speed in 2015 and he should be ready to add to Zalf's climbing power.
Zalf got a big score with Gianmarco Begnoni, who was one of the most successful Italian juniors in 2014. He won 7 races including sprint wins in the 1st stage of the Junior Peace Race and the 2nd stage of the GP Rüebliland. This isn't including his win in the Italian Junior Omnium championship ahead of Attilio Viviani, the younger brother of Elia. Harness this right and Zalf has themselves a huge talent. Another junior they got was Filippo Rocchetti, who won a stage in the UCI Le Tropheé Centre Morbihan and was 2nd in the GP dell'Arno. Seems strong as a climber and in the breakaways. The other junior coming on is Saroti, who was 2nd in the Italian junior points race and has a pretty good kick on him, it seems like.
To counteract the influx of young riders, the team is brining in an older rider to be the general on the road. Marco Gaggia has been kicking around the Italian amateur scene for the last half decade and has put up some decent results throughout the years. He lacks a signature win but has a handful of 3rd-10th placings to his name in good races. He is going to be 25 through next year and will be someone that the younger riders look to for some guidance. Another non-U23 who has some experience is Niccoló Rocchi. Rocchi rode with Roth-Felt last year and comes from a track background but has turned into a rider that can make selections in difficult one-day races.
Maronese seems to be a pretty decent rouleur. Also he is a Christmas baby. Also, I can't find much to say about Savignano as he doesn't have a lot of results to go on. Fingers crossed with him?
So while Zalf lost a lot after 2 huge seasons in a row, it seems like they won't be half bad for 2015. They will of course stack their win column with low quality regional races but they could take a few big races this year.
Prediction: 1 UCI win (37 wins overall)