After victory in his comeback race at the Coppa Agostoni at the weekend, Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) continued in a similar vein at the Giro della Toscana on Wednesday, as he out-sprinted Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) to claim victory in Pontedera.
Moscon was suspended for five weeks by the UCI following his expulsion from the Tour de France for aiming a punch at Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Oscaro), a ban that forced him to miss the Vuelta a España and seemingly compromised his preparation for the forthcoming World Championships in Innsbruck, where he has lived since earlier this year.
With two wins in three races since his return, however, Moscon has cemented his position as a likely leader of the Italian team and underlined his status among the contenders for the rainbow jersey a week on Sunday in Austria. His victory in Tuscany owed much to the fine work of his new teammate Eddie Dunbar, who made his Sky debut at the weekend following his transfer from the collapsed Aqua Blue Sport team.
"I'm going through a great period of form. The team today did great work," Moscon said. "Dunbar was spectacular. He reduced the group to four riders and I only had to maintain the gap after that."
The Irishman shredded an already reduced peloton with a prodigious turn of pace-making on the third of three ascents of Monte Serra. When Dunbar swung off with a little under 2km left to the summit, only three riders remained on his wheel - Moscon, Bardet and Pozzovivo.
Bardet launched a probing attack soon afterwards that put Pozzovivo into difficulty, and the Italian climber was distanced when Moscon put in a rasping acceleration of his own closer to the summit, which came with a shade under 25km to go.
Moscon and Bardet had what seemed to be a winning gap over the top, but Pozzovivo made light work of the sweeping descent to bridge back up to them with 20km or so remaining. With two Bahrain-Merida strongmen - Matej Mohoric and Giovanni Visconti - in the fragmented chasing group behind, Pozzovivo was able to sit on for much of the final phase of the race, but it had little material impact on the outcome.
Moscon and Bardet's collaboration was stronger and more coherent than the stop-start effort behind - Dunbar again played his part in disrupting the pursuit - and with 10km to go, the escapees had more than a minute in hand on the chasers.
Pozzovivo would later take some cursory turns at the front of the break, if only as a matter of curtesy ahead of his inevitable - and inevitably doomed - late attempt to pre-empt a three-up sprint. When the leading trio slowed and fanned across the road on a slight incline with a little over a kilometre to go, Pozzovivo looked to seize the opportunity, but he knew from the outset that he was fighting a losing battle as Moscon dragged Bardet across to his wheel.
Pozzovivo gamely led out the eventual sprint, he but had no answer to Moscon's searing acceleration. Bardet, another man with eyes on the Innsbruck Worlds, pushed the Team Sky rider all the way, but he, too, had to relent within sight of the line, and victory fell to Moscon.
Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) won the sprint for 4th place, 1:22 behind Moscon, while Marco Tizza (Nippo-Vini Fantini) took 5th ahead of Mattia Cattaneo (Androni-Sidermec) and Mohoric.
How it unfolded
The Giro della Toscana is part of a packed schedule of Italian one-day races in the lead-up to the World Championships, and the field featured a number of riders looking to build their form for next week's demanding road race in Austria.
On leaving the start in Pontedera, the early exchanges were fraught, but a five-man move featuring Iuri Filosi, Alessandro Fedeli (Delko Marseille), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Cofidis), Michele Gazzara (Sangemini MGKvis) and Ettore Carlini (D'Amico Utensilnord) forged clear after 10km. The quintet established a maximum lead in excess of 7 minutes before the gruppo, led by Team Sky and AG2R La Mondiale, behind to peg them back.
Teklehaimanot led over the first of three ascents of Monte Serra, a climb famed as a test site for generations of Tuscany-based professionals, but the gap was dropping steadily. Guillaume Martin's Wanty-Groupe Gobert squad later joined the chase, and the break's buffer was just 25 seconds by the time they hit the top of Monte Serra for the second time, by which point only Teklehaimanot and Filosi remained from the original move.
Danilo Celano (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) would bridge across to those survivors from the early break, but the move had lost all momentum and would eventually peter out completely on the approach to the third and final haul up Monte Serra.
UAE-Team Emirates were active on the run-in to the climb, but Team Sky took over once the gradient began to bite, with Kenny Elissonde snuffing out the first attack from Delio Fernandez (Delko Marseille). AG2R deployed Matthias Frank and Alexis Vuillermoz to attack in a bid to prepare the way for Bardet, but when Diego Rosa faltered, Dunbar stepped up to the mark for Sky and controlled affairs from the front.
Sebastian Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ) was among the elite group of riders to remain in contact as Dunbar set the tempo, but the Swiss rider - who testified to the UCI that Moscon had deliberately caused him to crash at last year's Tre Valli Varesine - was dropped just before the Cork man swung off with 29km to go. When he did, only Moscon, Bardet and Pozzovivo remained, and the result seemed inevitable.
The great shame for Moscon is that his obvious talent is overshadowed by his lengthy rap sheet, which includes his racial abuse of Kevin Reza at last year's Tour de Romandie and his expulsion for an illegal tow at last year's Worlds, as well as his disqualification from the Tour. Interviews in the Italian press in recent weeks, meanwhile, suggest that Moscon - though now 24 years of age - is still lacking the maturity to take responsibility for his previous actions.
Even so, Moscon now looks set to be handed the responsibility of leading the Italian team at the Worlds road race. He might even win it.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky||5:13:03|
|2||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|3||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:00:05|
|4||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida||0:01:22|
|5||Marco Tizza (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini-Europa Ovini|
|6||Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec|
|7||Matej Mohoric (Slo) Bahrain-Merida|
|8||Mauro Finetto (Ita) Delko Marseille Provence KTM|
|9||Mathias Frank (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale|
|10||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates|