Three days after MTN-Qhubeka's Gerald Ciolek won Milan-San Remo, another Professional Continental team prevailed in a marquee one-day race against their better-funded WorldTour rivals as the Vini Fantini-Selle Italia squad claimed victory Wednesday afternoon in Dwars door Vlaanderen, the first in a series of important Flemish one-day races, courtesy of Oscar Gatto.
"As a small team you don't get many chances to ride big races," Gatto said. "That's why I was highly motivated. It's nice that I can show that small teams deserve their spot too."
Gatto, hailing from Montebelluna, is the first Italian rider on the palmarès of the Flemish semi-Classic. "Winning here results in big emotions. The races in Belgium are the most beautiful of all. That I'm the first Italian rider on the list of winners is a nice bonus."
In the finale of the race it seemed that Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was heading for victory as he escaped the 10-man lead group in the final seven kilometres of a climatically demanding race. Voeckler seemed to have coped best with the snow and cold which punished the riders all day long. Gatto, however, didn't struggle with the adverse weather conditions. The 28-year-old Italian didn't even wear special clothing despite the near freezing temperatures.
"The cold was no problem for me," said Gatto, the only rider in the lead group to finish with bare arms and legs. "If you race then you don't feel the cold and in the finale we were going flat out. I didn't need the clothes."
Meanwhile, Voeckler started struggling in his solo effort and cramped within sight of the finish line. "I expected that Voeckler wouldn't be able to complete his move," said Gatto. "With 1.5 kilometres to go I feared that he was doing it, though, but then [Ian] Stannard went flat out. I chose his wheel because I saw in San Remo that he was very strong. At 300 metres from the finish I knew we were going to catch him."
More fast men like Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge) were present in the group but Gatto was well aware that he had a good chance to win in Waregem. "I had to start my sprint from far out because it was the only way to win. I feared Bozic. I know him and he's very fast but I felt good," Gatto said.
As Stannard ended his work in front of the group it was time for Gatto to launch his sprint. The Italian powered past Voeckler in the final metres while Bozic and the rest of his rivals were unable match his finishing kick. An ecstatic Gatto threw his fist in the air when crossing the line as he realized he'd achieved a significant step in his development as a Classics specialist.
By doing well in the Flemish Classics Gatto might be looked at as a successor to another Italian who's had success on the cobbles: Filippo Pozzato. "I'm uglier than him on the bike but it's an honour to be compared with him. He always rode well in the Flemish Classics and those are the races where I want to excel, too."
The Vini Fantini-Selle Italia team received a wild card invitation for the Tour of Flanders on March 31 and clearly Gatto will be ranked amongst the outsiders for a good performance in that cycling Monument.