A good night’s sleep, check; breakfast, check; creds and race manual, check – but something is missing . .
La Gazzetta Dello Sport – of course! I’d expected a big Mondiale preview for the U23 but no; it’s all about the pros – the weight of expectation on the home boys for Sunday is huge.
The Gazzetta carries an interview with 92 year-old Alfredo Martini, the Azzurri’s most successful national coach with six wins between 1975 and 1997 – Moser ’77, Saronni ’82, Argentin ’86, Fondriest ’88 and Bugno in ’91 & ’92 plus seven silver medals and seven bronzes. He’s a man whose opinion is to be respected – he goes for Sagan and Cancellara but thinks that Nibali can win.
But as well as Nibali for Italia, there’s Pippo Pozzato (a Worlds junior silver medallist in 1998) and the up and coming Lampre man Diego Ulissi who was twice a world junior road race champion and has pulled off some very classy rides in 2013 – not least second to Rodriguez on the nasty slopes of Alto del Naranco in Stage 19 of the Vuelta.
The squadra has the best of road captains in 36 year-old Het Nieuwsblad winner; the smart and hard as nails, Luca Paolini riding his 10th Elite Worlds and a medallist back in 2004 in Verona – he’s also been very close in the Primavera, a time or two. Current coach and former double Elite World Champion, Paolo Bettini certainly has the best of base metals to mix in the forge but does he have the alchemist’s magic to turn all that steel to gold?
We’ll know on Sunday.
But today is for the young men; starting in the up market thermal spa town of Montecatini Terme the Under 23′s have a flat 57 kilometres before arriving in Florence for seven laps of this beautiful but tough circuit we’ve heard so much about.
And on that note, let’s head out – there’s no sun tan to be had in a press room, even if it is an honour to be in Gino Bartali’s presence.
The start list shows 171 riders – from countries as diverse as Ethiopia (with Tour of Taiwan stage winner Tsgabu Grmay in there); Equador, Israel and Latvia.
Julian Alaphilippe (France) has just signed for QuickStep – enough said – whilst the Yates brothers for GB were flying in l’Avenir; Belgium’s Jasper Stuyven hasn’t signed with the new Trek team for 2014 because they think he’s average; if Magnus Cort Nielsen is on form he’s a Dane to watch – he won two stages in the Tour of Denmark, remember ?
The Aussies are always good with TT winner Damien Howsen and Sam Spokes – as are the home boys, with National U 23 Road Race Champion and Androni Giocattoli stagiaire, Andrea Zordan looking highly likely after a string of big wins this year. Let’s not forget fast man Zabel junior for Germany – but let’s not mention Dad. And there’s the always East Europeans . . .
It’s clammy at 13:30 at the one kilometre to go banner as I heads off ‘against’ the race – best not forget to drink today, guys.
Whilst the circuit is regarded as highly technical, the finish isn’t – it’s arrow straight for some 1,500 metres, dipping to the red kite then perhaps lifting very, very gently all the way to the line. If there’s a sprinter still alive at the end on Sunday, he’ll win.
The story is the same at two K, flat and fast – at one point I have to duck through a tunnel below the railway.
The graffiti down there reminds you that despite the wealth and opulence, this town has strong communist leanings. The true foot of the last descent comes at around 2,500 metres to go – the tarmac is fresh, polished and a joy for a chrono man – but if it rains on Sunday . . .
The views over to the Duomo are spectacular with beautiful cedar and cypress trees just like you see in the holiday programmes. There’s a breeze now, lightening the air a little.
First pass: under the Chianti Classico banner at the top of the Via Trento ‘snap’ with five clear, including a Latvian and a Morrocan – I think.
They have a decent gap but there’s an angry river of colour and clacking gears all looking for their Pro Tour break in hot pursuit. The Via Trieste descent is a fast one, with a 90 left into the Trento rise – short but all part of the wearing down process.
The Belgian fans are here in force as the break sweeps by on their second pass; I make the Latvian as Flaksis, the Romanian as Sipos and the Slovenian as Bostner – the other two are too quick for me.
But the gap is way down as the peloton flings itself into the right hander and down Trieste like crazed multi colour lemmings. Via Bolognese drops gently off the top of the Salviati climb – more speed and the possibility for chasers to bring lone escapees back, given that the percorso is downhill or flat all the way in, with just that Trento ‘snap’ to break the momentum.
Birra time – Moretti, that’s better.
There’s an old guy with a whistle, hearing aid and fluo jacket up here – so everything is well under control. The break is down to four on this third pass and the peloton is rocketing – a long, snaking line of pane and speed.
This part of the circuit isn’t photogenic, dropping gently with high walls both sides and greenery beyond. The Algerians and Israelis are toast; but it’s no disgrace, despite the fact that Al Hamilton reckons it’s not good TV – if you’re up close and personal this one is hurting.
Pass four and the peloton has really splintered, three left in the break and men hurting bad in that string. I convince the military guy to let me pass the section where there’s no sidewalk and find out what’s causing the pained looks – there’s a ‘wall’ just round the corner. It’s steep, damn steep, real steep – the Salviati.
The photogs gather like buzzards, waiting on the wounded wildebeest to fall. And the thing is; they got here by shuttle bus – they didn’t pedal or walk, like PEZ did.
It’s France leading on the fifth pass, it’s still a big group but not as big as it was, with tortured men zig-zagging up the slope. But GB’s Adam Yates looks cool – unlike team mate Joe Perret, the British 25 Mile Time Trial Champion whose big frame isn’t built for this type of escapade.
I miss pass six, I have to cut across the circuit in order to start heading back to the press room; the stragglers hobble past as I emerge from a side road with sweat dripping out of me after a monster climb – the view was nice, though. But ‘Lord be praised’ a bar !
With a TV and great coffee – up on the ‘box’ it’s Alaphilippe for France with Mohoric for Slovenia heading the race through the finish for the last time. Italy chases but the two up front look good as they pedal smoothly past my bar. The peloton has split but they haven’t given up with Italy chasing as the leaders grind out the Fiesole.
For the Republic of South Africa Louis Mentjes is trying to bridge – but Mohoric doesn’t like the idea and he’s offsky, solo. He bombs the descent with Mentjes in pursuit, Alaphilippe has gone. The Slovenian hits the Salviati ramp, it’s hurting but he’s getting it round; Meintjes looks to be climbing better but the hounds have the scent and World Points Race Champion, Simon Yates is up there. It’s fast now, all the way home with just one ‘bump.’
The Slovenian descends like a mad man, off the saddle, crouched along the top tube – don’t try that at home, folks. He’s looking weary now but he’s hanging on; red kite. He’ll do it.
Matej Mohoric is Under 23 Champion of the World – with the full approval of the bar’s clientele. Mentjes hold on for second and Norway’s Sondre Enger wins the sprint for third. A great finale and no ‘soft’ win for the big guy.
There’s a long walk now for PEZ – but most of it is downhill . . .
Ladies’ race tomorrow. Keep it PEZZED !