By David Hunter
Saronno – Varese 201.9km
It might not look like much, but this is an really difficult race. After a gentle start, the riders hit the lap circuit after 82km, where they spend the next 130km of the day. The initial lap circuit features two climbs and a fast descent, with the speed increasing throughout the day. Put simply, there is nowhere to hide in the circuit!
The organisers have decided to slightly change the finish of the race, they have introduced a longer lap near the end of the race.
The final two laps are now 21.29km in length, compared to 12.9km in the shorter lap. The Montello climb is 1150m at 6.5% and has a maximum of 10%. The new addition to the race is the Morosolo climb, which is 4.6km at 4.8%, but that includes a descent, the beginning of the climb is the hard bit.
1.6km at 8% is a climb which will certainly test the sprinters and give the puncheurs a lot of hope. The organisers are hoping that this provides a launchpad for the climbers. The climb is narrow and new for the vast majority of riders. Once over the top of the difficult section, we still have 8km left in the race.
After a short descent, we have another little kicker for the riders to deal with. The climbing is all done with 4km remaining and the final kilometre is the same as in previous years.
A sunny day with little wind.
Circuit racing usually follows a set plan. Each lap sees the pace increase and the closing 30km usually features many attacks. Teams continually want to have a man in the move, allowing their other riders the chance to hide in the pack.
Being a new finishing circuit, we will probably see a more defensive race. Most teams will be happy to have all the action in the final lap. The top of the Montello climb is too far out for a move to survive, meaning the moves will go on the new climb, but cresting with 4km remaining does mean we have a chance of a small sprint.
Michael Matthews – fresh from winning both Canadian races, the Aussie will be keen to end the season with another win. Most of 2018 had been frustrating for him, but three wins in his last four races has certainly put a positive spin on things. Sunweb arrive with a strong team, but the fate of Matthews really does depend on how the bunch approve the final two laps. The harder climb won’t scare Matthews, he copes very well with these type of hills. He will require teammates in the closing stages as we’re bound to get attacks, this role will likely fall on the shoulders of Sam Oomen and Wilco Kelderman. If they can hold the race together, Matthews will be the big favourite in a reduced sprint.
Thibaut Pinot – was very close to winning this race in 2017, but Geniez just pipped him on the line. Despite riding as a domestique in the World Championships, he still managed to finish 9th. That was followed by 5th place in Emilia, it’s clear that his form is building nicely ahead of a big week. Like most of the big stars, this race is being used as preparation for Il Lombardia, but that doesn’t mean Pinot won’t try to win if the opportunity arises. He possesses a fast finish, something which could help him win from a group of climbers.
Rui Costa – it’s not been a great year for the former world champion, but he seems to be back near his best. He was 16th in Québec, 6th in Montréal and 10th in Innsbruck, a solid run of results. On paper, this is the type of race that suits his characteristics, as he climbs well and packs a fast sprint.
Alejandro Valverde – Francesco Moser won here in his rainbow jersey, way back in 1978, can Valverde do the same? After his brilliant performance in Innsbruck, just over one week has passed. In that period, Valverde will have spent many days off his bike fulfilling the media work required of a world champion. Given all of this, it’s going to be very hard for him to win this race, but you can never write off Bala!
Vincenzo Nibali – the form is certainly starting to pick up. After a frustrating spell of trying to rebuild his level, Nibali doesn’t seem too far off the top of his game. Bahrain have decided not to bring Colbrelli, they clearly think we’re not going to get a sprint. Looking at their team, Nibali is the big favourite, but given the flat run for home, this will be a hard race for him to win. Like many riders, his main goal is continue fine tuning the legs before Lombardia.
Primož Roglič – another rider who is here to prepare for Lombardia. His 7th place in Emilia wasn’t a bad result and this is another race where he can challenge for the podium. Interestingly, the Slovenian has never won a one day race.
Romain Bardet – in the exact same position as the rest of the GC riders. See my comments about Pinot, Nibali and Roglič!
The pressure will be on Sunweb to control the closing stages, something that will be very difficult for them to do. The good news is that some teams will help in the closing stages, especially if they manage to get a rider up the road. Once the dust settles, Michael Matthewswill win from a small group.
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