Sonny Colbrelli will ride his second season at WorldTour level in 2018, and the Italian sprinter has his eyes set on a major Classics win to crown the occasion. After joining the top level of cycling with Bahrain-Merida, Colbrelli rode his first serious Classics campaign this spring. The campaign came with some promising results, and Colbrelli now has a taste for the cobbles.
"I want to try and get a victory or a podium in a big Classic," Colbrelli told Cyclingnews at Bahrain-Merida's training camp in Hvar, Croatia earlier this month.
"I hope to become a good rider like the big names in the WorldTour, but at the moment I feel like I have a small place. I will try to turn myself into a Classics rider in the next years."
Colbrelli was not a Classics rookie going into this year, with several appearances at the Three days of De Panne and a ride at last year's Gent-Wevelgem, but 2017 was the first opportunity he had to go large in Belgium. With Bahrain-Merida's Classics man Heinrich Haussler out with a knee injury, the 27-year-old had little pressure and plenty of freedom. Seventh at E3 Harelbeke and 13th at Gent-Wevelgem was a strong start, but the top 10 at the Tour of Flanders came as a bit of a shock, even to Colbrelli.
"I was surprised, too, because to be in the top 10 in my first Flanders is a very good result. It's a very special kind of race," explained Colbrelli. "You have to be attentive for the whole race, there is no rest time. You always have to be in the front and looking. I hope that with a year of experience that next year could be a bit better. I'd like to try and confirm that top 10, and maybe get even more."
Flanders will be a big target in the first part of Colbrelli's 2018, along with Milan-San Remo, where he finished 13th last year. After recovering from his knee injury, Haussler will be there to help Colbrelli in next year's Classics campaign. The pair will split the Cobbled races, with Colbrelli focussing on some of the hillier races such as Flanders, as Haussler hopes to take the reins at Paris-Roubaix. The veteran German has said that he will assist Colbrelli throughout the Classics, calling the Italian 'the real deal'. The pair has only had minimal race days together, but Colbrelli believes it could be a fruitful partnership.
"Haussler is a rider with a lot of experience in the Classics, but last year he was quite unlucky. We only really met each other at the end of the season this year and hopefully next year everything will work well," Colbrelli told Cyclingnews.
The Belgian Classics were part of a solid opening part of Colbrelli's debut WorldTour season. After a few close calls in the Middle East races, he broke through with a victory at Paris-Nice and took a hard-fought win at Brabantse Pijl in mid-April. There were plenty more top-10 places for Colbrelli as he headed to the Tour de Romandie and his debut Tour de France, but his next win wouldn't come until Coppa Bernocchi in September. It was less than half of the success that he'd enjoyed with Bardiani-CSF the season before, but his year came with a lot more.
"It was something very different, the experience between Bardiani and Bahrain-Merida. Maybe I had fewer victories, but I learned a lot, and I feel like I have improved and I have very good sensations," he said. “The first part was better with Paris-Nice and the Belgium victories. The second part, with the Tour de France, was so-so, but the main disappointment was the World Championships. I won Bernocchi but I would like to have done a better World Championships. In general, it was a good season.
"I suffered a lot in the heat during the Tour de France, and at the World Championships it just wasn't a good day. I never had any good sensations or feelings during the race. Sometimes it happens. It just wasn't a good day."
There is yet to be a decision on which Grand Tour Colbrelli will ride in 2018, with the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France both in the cards. The latter seems like the most likely choice for the Italian, and he's keen to build on his debut and come home with a stage win.
"I will probably do the Tour because there are more stages for the sprinters," he explained. "It wasn't easy going to the Tour for the first time. I think that I learned something and maybe it would be nice to go back to see if I really did learn something.
"To win a stage of the Tour would be a great satisfaction. We just have to find the right day.”