Italy has still to name its team for the elite men’s road race world championships in Qatar but the squadra azzurra is all but decided, with national coach Davide Cassani hoping that Elia Viviani or Giacomo Nizzolo can step up and produce a sprint that can beat bigger name rivals and faster finishers such as Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen.
Cassani was at the Giro della Toscana last week observing his riders and Italy’s rivals. He saw Sam Bennett win the final stage and noted that Cavendish was strong despite losing to the Irishman.
“Unfortunately for us Cavendish is on form…” Cassani told Cyclingnews.
Cassani is expected to name his squad of 11 riders after Thursday’s Gran Piemonte race. Eleven riders will be selected and will travel to Qatar, with nine riders starting the race on Sunday October 16. The riders expected to pull on the Italian jersey are Viviani, Nizzolo, Daniele Bennati, Fabio Sabatini, Jacopo Guarnieri, Matteo Trentin, Manuel Quinziato, Daniel Oss, Sonny Colbrelli, Marco Coledan and Filippo Pozzato.
Both Viviani and Nizzolo staked a claim to team leadership when speaking to Cyclingnews during the Tour of Britain, with a final decision likely to be made on the eve of the race depending on their form and the weather conditions in Qatar.
The Italian team will gather for a short get together next week before riders compete at Paris-Bourges and Paris-Tours with their trade teams. Former Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi has been invited along to inspire some national pride and perhaps recall how he sacrificed his own chances to lead out Mario Cipollini in 2002 when he won the rainbow jersey. Italy was once the dominant nation at the world championships but has not won the rainbow jersey since 2008, when Alessandro Ballan won in Varese. Cassani is under pressure but aware that he does not have the fastest or most experienced sprinter in the peloton.
“We aren’t the favourites that’s for sure. The favourites are Sagan, Greipel and Boonen, who has won 22 stages in Qatar and the whole Tour of Qatar four times. Tom is devastating in the wind,” Cassani told Gazzetta dello Sport as he discussed the form of the Italian riders and their rivals.
“The weather will be a big factor on the day. If there’s no wind then it’ll just be a normal sprint race. If it’s windy, then it’ll be very hard and just a group of 30 or 40 riders, coming from the front two echelons. The heat will also play a big part. Temperatures of between 36 and 39 degrees are expected. It’s not easy to race in heat like that for 250km and it's something nobody has ever really faced before in a World Championships. I’ll need to look the guys in the eye to see who is riding better before I decide leadership roles and strategies."
A strong collective
The Italian team seems built for a hard day in the Qatar desert, with strong domestiques such as Oss, Quinziato and Sabatini all good in the wind. Like France and Germany, the Italian squadra will also have two sprinters in its starting nine. Bennati will be the experienced road captain with Colbrelli expected to have some kind of leadership role after his recent run of success in the Italian one-day races.
“We’ll have two sprinters as protected riders in Viviani and Nizzolo,” Cassani confirmed to Cyclingnews at the recent Giro della Toscana. Both are going well. It’s just a pity that Viviani was ill and missed the Eneco Tour. He needed it to find some endurance. To be competitive he needs to be 100% but he knows how to read a sprint.
“Bennati is like wine, he gets better as he gets older. He’s an important rider for the team. He knows how to race in the wind in Qatar and has experience. Colbrelli is riding well and I’ve got a lot trust in him even if there are questions about his ability in the heat and the echelons.
“Bennati, Oss, Sabatini, Guarnieri, Trentin and Quinziato can all teach people a few things about riding in echelons. We’ll be a strong collective but we’re aware that it’ll be difficult to win. If we don’t get a result we’ll just roll up our sleeves, try to understand why and work harder for the future.”