Tuesday, April 23, 2013

GP Liberazione: A Race for "The Comrades"

Proposed flag for Padania
Francesco Moser was one of the finest and more respected riders of his generation, especially for taking to the northern classics with some aplomb not seen by an Italian since Fiorenzo Magni. 3-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, "The Sheriff" has stayed in touch with cycling since his retirement and was integral in the formation of the CPA, the professional cyclists union. Come 2011, many people's opinion of Moser changed when he came out in support of the Giro di Padania's supposed political backing, which came from the Lega Nord, a far right wing party that has been seen as xenophobic, among other things. At times, Lega Nord has advocated the secession of Padania, which is a term for the Po Valley region of Italy which has been seen as the economic driver of the country due to high rates of industry but Lega Nord has changed this to include all of Northern Italy and states such as Tuscany, Marche and Umbria.

During the inagural Giro di Padania, which was marred by protest, Moser came out swinging against those who criticized any political leanings that the race itself had because, as he sees is, there were races such as the Gran Premio Liberazione and Giro della Regioni that were never criticized for having direct links to the Communist Party. Okay let's pause and take a trip back in time. In 1946, the first GP Liberazione was run to celebrate the fall of Mussolini's fascist regime and the end of Nazi occupation, which happened on April 25th, 1945. Every subsequent edition has been run on April 25th, which is a public holiday in Italy, and the race has been seen as a beacon for post-fascist Italy. Where Moser gets his communist idea is from the race inviting teams from the Eastern Bloc to come take part in this showcase of talent. At a time where tensions were still high, geo-politically speaking, the race was inviting Czechoslovak and Soviet riders to compete as early as the mid-sixties.

Moser recalls when he was racing the event in 1972 where he alleges that two Soviet riders broke rules in the breakaway with him and fellow Italian Enzo Rossi, which propelled Soviet Yuri Osincew to the win. Moser continued saying that the race officials, who according to him were communist sympathizers, didn't do anything about it because they wanted to see a communist winner. All of these claims are unsubstantiated and it seems that Moser has a bone to pick based upon his political ideology.

While Moser seems to be a sympathizer of Lega Nord and a breakaway Padania state, it should be noted that in 1975 it was Italian Communist Guido Fanti, the President of Emilia-Romagna, who first proposed a Padania state, but only those states in the Po River Valley and not all of northern Italy. But I digress...

The Baths of Carcalla (
The GP Liberazione is run around the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, making it a circuit race. The Baths of Caracalla were the 2nd largest Roman public bath and date back to the 3rd century C.E. under the aforementioned Emperor Caracalla. To give you a sense of the size of the structure, 1,600 bathers could fit inside at one time and the structure covered a massive 25 hectares. The baths were sacked by the Ostrogoths during the 6th century Gothic War.

As you can see above, the course winds its way around the baths but honestly, this race's parcours is nothing special and the race is pretty short at just 138 kilometers. So what makes this race special if it is just a circuit race around the heart of Rome? Tradition. This race has been run every year since 1946 and the list of future champions that have competed here as amateurs would stretch from Rome to Sicily. As mentioned previously, this race featured Eastern Bloc riders before many other events. 1985 saw Gianni Bugno win while 1987 saw a young Dimitri Konyshev raise his arms in victory. In 2004, the race went to an all U23 format and this race became one of the gems of the Italian calendar. Look at some of the winners since then: Daniele Colli, Chris Sutton, Matt Goss, Sacha Modolo, Manuele Boaro, Matteo Trentin and Enrico Barbin. It should be said that just because there are no substantial climbs on this course, it doesn't mean that there will be a guaranteed field sprint because of the technical nature of the course. The last three winners of the race, Barbin, Trentin and Jan Tratnik, all won from breakaways so it is definitely possible with enough horsepower.

This year will be no different in terms of the quality of the field. All of the big Italian teams will be lining up including the big three of Trevigiani Dynamon Bottoli, Zalf-Euromobil and Team Colpack along with national teams from Australia, Ukraine, Japan, Russia and Slovenia. BMC Development will also be present with Ignazio Moser, the son of Francesco Moser. Another interesting note is that the maximum amount of riders a team can have is only 5, which makes controlling the peloton next to impossible. 

There are multiple riders that must be watched. Zalf-Euromobil's Andrea Zordan already has 5 wins this year and will be keen to add another to his palmares. Last year's 3rd place Davide Villella (Team Colpack) has had a rough go of it lately with four 2nd place finishes in the last two weeks but he will be looking to breakthrough with a big win here. Trevigiani brings Michele Scartezzini, the winner of Trofeo Piva Banca and 4th place at this past weekend's Trofeo Edil C.

There is no defined start list as of now but if the Australian National team brings who I think they will bring, they will have a strong chance at victory. If either Caleb Ewan or Damien Howson show up for Thursday's event, that is a two-headed cobra that no one will want to tame. Marlen Zmorka, who should line up for either Palazzago or the Ukrainian National team was in fine form this last weekend at Vicenza-Bionde, with a impressive solo victory over a speeding pack. Other names to watch include Niccolò Bonifazio (Viris Maserati), Niccola Ruffoni, Davide Orrico (Colpack), Simone Andreetta and Paolo Simion (Zalf-Euromobil).

With a start list released, there are a few other riders that I should mention. The GS Mastromarco squad led by former pro Gabriele Balducci has strong men such as Alberto Bettiol (10th in Flanders Nations Cup) and a former GiroBio stage winner in Mirko Trosino. While Davide Martinelli might enjoy a bit of a hillier course, the former SKY stagiaire and his Food Italia team could throw a wrench in the spokes of the bigger favorites. There is also the Slovenian National Team which will come with studs Jan Polanc and Luka Pibernik. Polanc will no doubt trying to attack while Pibernik is probably one of the few that can stay close to Ewan in a sprint. Shouldn't count out last year's World Junior Champion Matej Mohoric either but he has shown that while strong, he is in a teething process this year.

The good thing about this race is that every year RAI Sport shows this race on TV. It is scheduled for broadcast at 18.00-19.00 on RAI 2 so it will be highlights but that is much better than no coverage at all. It perhaps might be the last time the race is seen as well. Giancarlo Brocci, the head of the GiroBio, mentioned in an interview with that the organizers of the GP Liberazione have already cancelled the 2014 edition. While this is mere speculation at this point, it would be a great tragedy to see this race disappear.


  1. Great post and well done negotiating the (rather complex) history and politics. Moser's political views fit rather neatly with Berlusconi's obsession with seeing a "communist" in every opponent (especially those within the judiciary) and a wider revisionist trend that sees the anniversary of the Liberation and the memory of the Resistance as unnecessarily divisive, rather than bringing Italians together. This tendency was very much encouraged by Berlusconi's governments (in which the Lega Nord played a key part) but has been reflected across the mainstream political spectrum to an extent. When the Monti government was considering the number of public holidays, it was 25 April (along with - of course - 1 May) that came under threat.

    Anyway, I'm sad that the 'other' GP Liberazione (the women's race in Crema) isn't running this year but I'm looking forward to this one.

    1. They cancelled the women's race probably a month or so ago but they seemed keen on trying to re-organize it so they could bring it back for next year.

  2. Great write up Chris. Very strong looking Aus team, Campbell Flakemore would be a good breakaway candidate, super strong TT'er. He's raced the NZCC the last two years, won the prologue 2 years ago and was 2nd this year.