The Italian team does not have a team leader and big favourite for the elite men’s road race but national coach Davide Cassani is hoping the strength in depth of the Azzurri can allow Italy to fight for at least a place on the podium.
The Italian tifosi always expect something special from the Squadra but an Italian has not won the world title since Alessandro Ballan at home in Varese in 2008 and Cassani is under pressure in his second year as national coach.
Vincenzo Nibali is not particularly suited to the Richmond course but is expected to play a key strategic role in the Italian team’s tactics for the final laps, perhaps supporting late attackers Diego Ulissi and Matteo Trentin or closing a gap to set up designated sprinter Elia Viviani.
“I’ve been studying how to ride the race for a month. I’ve spoken to the riders, studied the circuit and we’ve all shared our thoughts in our meeting on Thursday. My ideas count but it’ll be up to the riders to put any strategy in place,” Cassani explained to Gazzetta dello Sport.
“There are 20 variable outcomes in the finale and we’ve got to be ready for all of them. Every one of the nine riders will have a double role with a plan A and plan B.”
Daniele Bennati will be Italy’s road captain, calling the race strategy in the absence of race radios, with a series of blackboards along the circuit offering the riders info on the time gaps and breakaways. Manuel Quinziato will play an early domestique role for Italy, while Giacomo Nizzolo, Daniel Oss and Fabio Felline will go in dangerous late breaks or do the work to bring the race back together.
Nibali, Ulissi and Trentin will stay protected until the final two laps of the race, with Ulissi expected to go with attacks by Philippe Gilbert or Michael Matthews. Nibali could go on the attack but not on the final lap because of his lack of sprint. Instead he could try to break up the peloton for Trentin. If the race stays together, all the riders will work to set up designated sprinter Viviani.
“Try to win with Trentin? Why not?” asked Cassani said, sharing team leadership across his riders. “He’s a great rider as a captain or a domestique. He can do it all. However our strength will be our unity because we be up there in numbers in the finale.”
Cassani has put his trust in Nibali despite his expulsion from the Vuelta a Espana, giving him a chance to earn a place in the Italian team.
“He’s had a terrible spring. But now he’s back to his best and is one of our leaders. He’s intelligent enough to avoid saying he can win and he feels part of the team. He knows he has to give his all,” Cassani explained.
Nibali is convinced he can give his best because there is no pressure on his shoulders.
“If I look back at my career, I’ve always done my best when I’ve no worries,” he pointed out. “After spending time training in Sicily with my dad doing some motor pacing with me, I feel good. I’m not the team leader or even a real option for the win. I’m here to help out so we do our very best. Trentin, Viviani, Ulissi and Nizzolo are our fast riders. We’re riding for at least a medal.”
“The Under 23 race showed that the circuit is fast with little time to recover between the two short climbs. The pave is slippery when wet and it will be important to race up front and race united.”
“My favourite is Kristoff, then Matthews, Sagan and Degenkolb. We’ve got to put them one against each other and avoid fighting with them. We’ve got the riders to be up there in numbers but we’ve got to wait for the right moment and stay focused. If we do, we can bring home a result.”