Saturday, April 26, 2014

Italian Sprint Opera: Marini shakes off bad mojo for 7th win

Okay, so Nicolas Marini might have a little stage fright. The Italian sprinter, who took 6 victories in his first 11 races, has been having a rough go of it in the last couple of weeks. After getting a call up for two of the U23 Nations Cups in Northern Europe, he proceeded to go outside the time limit at La Côte Picarde and then crash at the ZLM Tour, where he finished 4'24" behind winner Thomas Boudat. His initial return to Italian racing wasn't much better as he DNFed Friday's GP Liberazione with a whole host of others. Chalk it up to some fatigue from his foray into international racing or just some bad mojo but Marini was looking to turn it all around at the GP Memorial Carlo Valentini.

The race is in the city of Camponogara, which is roughly equidistant between Venice and Padua in the Veneto region. The city is known for its production of Cabernet and Merlot grapes as well as shoes. The race was the sight of a rather bad incident where Zalf-Euromobil's Federico Zurlo was assaulted after the finish by a pissed-off Massimo Coledan, who has since retired from the sport. Zurlo's win was vacated and given to them teammate Paolo Simion (now Mastromarco). With Zalf-Euromobil's headquarters located about 45 minutes away, it was a must win for the team.

The pan-flat race, which is in its 16th edition, took off like a bottle rocket and never let up. Averaging over 48 km/h, the race sped along the while only a few breakaways were able to get any time. Eugert Zhupa (Zalf-Euromobil) was the last one out before being swept up by the peloton with a handful of kilometers to go. The Zalf train was full speed ahead and it was the faithful Davide Gomirato who once again piloted Nicolas Marini into the final 250 meters. Marini lept off the elder Gomirato's wheel and got his chest to the handlebars and off he went. Marini had a clear bike-length advantage before raising his hands in victory with Alessandro Forner just behind in 2nd, Marco Gaggia 3rd and Gomirato posting up in 4th place.
"I'm flying...I'm flying" (Photo:ItaliaCiclismo)
So while it was Marini's 7th win of the year and Zalf-Euromobil's 16th, this is just another example of the point Davide Cassini made in a recent Cyclingnews article about the demise of Italian cycling. Cassini recently took over the Italian national team post and noted how Italian cycling is not as dominate as it once was and looks directly at the development system for the answer.

"We've got lots of easy regional races where riders become big fish in little ponds but we've lost international stage races like the Giro delle Regioni and the GiroBio, where our riders could face the best international competition. Now I fear Italian riders don't have the best possible development and so then struggle when they become professionals."

Marini's victory today is a perfect example of this. The Lombardian sprinter has won 7 races this year but they were more or less all regional events and when he stepped up a level to UCI races, he was not prepared for the uptick in the level. Paolo Simion commented on the Italian team being unprepared for the Nations Cup before the GP Liberazione by saying that while the team was fine on a physical level, they were not prepared for the crosswinds, tight roads and full-gas nature of the races. With UCI races for U23 becoming a premium in Italy, the current system is failing riders. The best Italian riders, usually on amateur teams, are not getting the kilometers they need against the best international talent.

While the race problem is yet to be solved, there could be a different solution to the problem. The number of continental teams in Italy went from 1 to 6 between 2013 and 2014. The huge uptick included two amateur teams, Team Idea and Trevigiani, that took the leap to the continental level so that they would be able to ride in more UCI races in and around Italy. The answer for the Italian development system might be elevating more teams to the continental level, getting out of Italy more and allowing riders to get their teeth get kicked in a bit more. It will expedite the professional teething process and allow teams to better identify talent before signing guys to neo-pro contracts. Andrea Zordan is a great example of this; he signed with Androni this year but has DNFed the majority of his races and not had a meaningful finish all year. Zalf-Euromobil is looking to go up to the continental ranks for 2015, which would be an interesting move as it would most likely mean a dip in their record win total but would improve the value of their riders.

I could continue on about the Italian Federation's laziness on the matter but that can be left for another time.

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