The battle for leadership roles in the Italian national team has intensified with Elia Viviani (Team Sky) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Segafredo) both staking their claims to lead a squad that has not won a men’s road title since Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego took gold and silver in Varese in 2008.
Viviani and Nizzolo have had very different campaigns in 2016 but their paths have converged in the second half of the season with both riding this week’s Tour of Britain and the subsequent Eneco Tour as part of their preparation for the world road race championships in Qatar on October 16. The course in Doha suits the sprinters and Italy have a deep squad without holding a standout favourite.
Along with Viviani and Nizzolo the Squadra Azzurra have Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep) – who has developed into one of the most accomplished riders in the bunch – and a strong support cast that includes Daniel Oss, and leadout men Jacopo Guarnieri and Fabio Sabatini. Daniel Bennati (Tinkoff) is expected to again be a key road captain.
After his gold medal in the Olympic Games in Rio, Viviani has stepped forward with a bold but clear assertion that he would only travel to the Middle East if it’s to lead.
“If I go to the World Championships it’s to be the leader. If I’m not the leader then I don’t go,” he told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Britain.
Nizzolo, on the other hand, who is the Italian national road champion, appears willing to be part of a team that will have several options. He and Viviani agreed that clarity from the Italian national coach Davide Cassani was imperative and both riders pressed that whatever decision was made the team should ride accordingly in order to gain the best result possible.
“As far as leadership goes, to be honest we’ve not talked about it yet. I’m just focused on being there with the best form and then we’ll see. It’s crucial that we have a clear situation,” the Trek-Segafredo rider told Cyclingnews.
“I also want to be the leader and everyone is going to go for their chance. Once we decide on who the leader is then we’ll work to get the best result.”
When asked if the Italian team should rally around one sprinter or two, Nizzolo added: “It depends. Now that the main circuit is changed it means that we’ll do more kilometres in the desert. So it would be better to have options but it must be clear from the start who the sprinter is. Who is number one and number two.”
Viviani was more direct, stating that a team should start with one leader, as the British and probably the Germans will do with Mark Cavendish and either Andre Greipel or Marcel Kittel, respectively.
“In a race like that one, if the national coach decides on having one leader, that’s for sure the best move. Eight riders for one leader is the best choice,” the Olympic champion told Cyclingnews.
“For sure we have one of the strongest teams. A lot of leadout men in the WorldTour are Italian. Guarnieri, Oss, Sabatini, they’re the biggest names so we have a strong team. Then if there’s some cross winds we can be ready. We’re not the favourites because I’m not the best sprinter in the world but we can battle. Sometimes I’ve beaten the strongest sprinters in the world and maybe this could be another chance.”
Less racing could mean better form in October
Vivian has raced less than 50 days on the road this year and like Mark Cavendish – the man he beat to win gold in the omnium on the track at the Rio Olympics – the Italian is using the Tour of Britain in order to find his road legs. This season Viviani has dovetailed his track and velodrome ambitions and he believes that a lack of race days so far this year should see him peak perfectly for Doha.
This year’s Worlds come almost a month later than normal – a point that has seen riders and coaches alter their training and race plans accordingly. With no proven blue print for success of this kind, the Olympic and track racing combination may well prove to be an advantage over riders who have raced more traditional road seasons.
“I can be a lot fresher than some of my rivals on the road. I’ve only done 47 or 48 days of racing on the road and that’s a good point. It means that I can now race a lot and find my best condition. I don’t have a lot of race days in my legs,” Viviani told Cyclingnews.
“We need to understand that if my condition from the track can be a good condition for a race over 250 kilometres. That will be analysed between now and the end of the Eneco Tour.”
Time is perhaps the most important factor. The Tour of Britain and Eneco Tour are still to be safely navigated and both races will provide Cassani with the data and evidence before making his final selection at the end of the month.
“I think we have time. I have ten days at home to train and I’ll do a lot of training then. The Eneco Tour is an important race and after that I’m sure I’ll be in good enough condition.”