By Gregor Brown
The organisers of the first Monte Paschi Eroica have confirmed a large number of cycling stars for the first edition of its race, to run October 9 in Tuscany. Newly confirmed participants include Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Gilberto Simoni and Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Prodir).
Organizers RCS Sport were inspired by races like Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen as well as the long running cyclo-tourist event held on the same white gravel roads, or Le strade bianche. The 180-kilometre race, starting in Gaiole and ending in Siena, will include seven sectors, 70 kilometres of sterrati ('gravel roads').
There will be a total of 15 teams of 10 riders. Other than Petacchi, Simoni and Riccò, there will be Lampre-Fondital's stars Alessandro Ballan, winner of this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Daniele Bennati.
Bennati, recent winner of two Vuelta stages, is enjoying superb form and has already reconnoitred the course. "It was a sensation of turning back in time," he reported to La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I did not think that paths like these still existed, where you only see a tractor every now and then. During the test I covered all seven sectors, and I can say that the last one contains points of 18%. You have to use a 39x25, and you can't get out of the saddle."
The race will finish in the medieval Piazza del Campo, home of the famous horse races. "It will be an important race that could become an important Classic. ... I can already imagine the atmosphere at the finish in the Piazza del Palio."
The team will also field cyclo-cross star Enrico Franzoi, Danilo Napolitano and Fabio Baldato. World Champion Paolo Bettini of Quick.Step has confirmed, but his team-mate Tom Boonen is still in doubt.
Ceramica Panaria-Navigare will bring Emanuele Sella, Luca Mazzanti, Paride Grillo, 'Lucky' Fortunato Baliani and Luis Felipe Laverde. The Italian/Russian team Tinkoff has confirmed Pavel Brutt, Elio Aggiano and Salvatore Commesso. Finally, Giro del Lazio winner Gabriele Bosisio will line up for Tenax-Salmilano.
Cyclo-tourist event L'Eroica dei Pionieri, run two day before the main event on Sunday October 7 has a record number of precipitants in for its 11th edition. There are already 1,510 signed up; organizers expect more than 2,000 to ride the le strade bianche, starting and ending in Gaiole. Last year, 1,503 cyclists took part.