Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won a thrilling edition of Roma Maxima, holding off the peloton to round out a great weekend of racing after finishing third in Strade Bianche on Saturday.
The Spaniard broke clear with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) on the steep Campi di Annibale climb with 35 kilometres to go and they managed to carve out a 30-second lead. The peloton swelled in strength during the fast run-in to Rome and closed to within a few metres by the line. They cruelly swept up Pozzovivo in the final metres but Valverde wisely started his sprint early and managed to hold off the rest of the race and win by a single second.
Pozzovivo hung on for a fifth place result, while his teammate Davide Appollonio took the field sprint for second ahead of Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF). Thirty-two riders finished in the front group with the sprinters cursing in anger that they had failed to catch Valverde.
With race radios not permitted in non-WorldTour races, some of the riders, including Colbrelli, didn’t know that there was an attack off the front and the confusion helped Valverde win.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) finished seventh but was also angry and frustrated due to problems with cars on the course as he worked to get back to the chasing peloton in the finale.
Valverde was happy to have won and celebrated with his family in Rome. Surprisingly it was his first ever victory in Italy. The Spaniard has endured difficult relationship with Italy after the Italian anti-doping investigators pursued his involvement in Operacion Puerto and used a DNA test taken when the 2008 Tour de France visited Italy to prove he was linked to the blood doping ring.
Valverde was eventually banned for two years and has shown little remorse since returning to racing in 2012.
Asked about his feeling for Italy and the CONI investigation, he told Italian television: "I don’t want to look back into the past, I'm just interested in the present and the future."
He was more willing to talk to the media about his victory.
"In the finale we calculated things perfectly. I'd seen that the sprinters were coming after us in the finishing straight and so I decided to go early to avoid being caught," he said.
"I launched the attack and Pozzovivo came with me and did some good turns, so that I could recover between my turns. It was close but we made it."
Despite his excellent form, Valverde will not ride Tirreno-Adriatico.
"No, I'm going to enjoy some time in Rome with my family. I'll focus on my big goals later in the season: the Tour de France, the Vuelta and then the world championships in Spain," he said.
How it happened
This second edition of Roma Maxima started under a warm spring sun, with the stunning Roman ruins of the Fori Imperiali, the Coliseum and Piazza Venezia offering the same back drop as that of the Oscar winning movie The Great Beauty. It was perhaps a sign of the spectacular finale that would unfold later in the day.
Most of the 16 teams fielded the same riders that rode Saturday's Strade Bianche race. Key changes included the arrival of Philippe Gilbert in the BMC line-up and Nairo Quintana joining forces with Alejandro Valverde in the Movistar squad.
A total of 122 riders rolled out of Rome in the sun, with Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Tewelde Weldegabir (MTN-Qhubeka), Lucas Euser and Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) the only non-starters. Kessiakoff and Euser were involved in nasty crashes at the Strade Bianche.
The racing started fast as riders fought to get in the break of the day. After 15km the right combination formed, with seven riders going clear. They were Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Niccolò Bonifazio (Lampre Merida), Daniel Teklehaimanot and Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN Qhubeka), Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare), Ben Gastauer (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano).
The seven quickly opened a lead on the flat roads heading south from Rome. The gap reached 6:30 after 50km, with the peloton beginning a gradual chase. The fast start meant the first hour of racing was covered at an average of 45.5km/h.
The first hills of the race came after 100km and the 10km climb up to the summit of Rocca Massima and Colle Callaccio saw the gap fall significantly. The seven led the peloton by just three minutes at the summit, with the big teams careful not to make the same mistake of 2013 and let the break stay away. Movistar did a lot of the chasing at the head of the peloton, with Bardiani-CSF giving them a hand with the work.
The climb to Rocca Priora after 144km was more controlled, with the teams knowing the break was within reach. The break also fell apart with Gastauer going clear alone, trying to imitate his teammate Bel Kadri, who won alone last year.
The decisive move by Valverde and Pozzovivo came on Campi di Annibale climb. Valverde made the first dig and inspired Pozzovivo, who danced up the cobbled climb. Valverde joined him over the top and they began to carve out a slight lead as the chasers hesitated.
The final Cappuccini climb gave Valverde and Pozzovivo a final chance to gain time and they had a 30-second gap with 20km to go. Their chances of staying clear seemed slim but Valverde was incredibly strong. Pozzovivo generously did some turns but often struggled to get back on Valverde's wheel when he moved over.
A chase group of a dozen riders stayed at 30 seconds but was unorganised and was eventually swept up by the peloton. The gap slowly came down but Valverde refused to give up, even on the cobbles of the Appia Antica in the final five kilometres.
Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo) tried a brave lone chase, as did Samuel Sanchez (BMC), who made a late surge. The race suddenly seemed wide open when the chasers had Valverde and Pozzovivo in sight after the loop of the Coliseum. Yet they were unable to catch them before the final three hundred metres.
Valverde was as quick-witted as he was strong and timed his sprint to escape the grasp of the peloton and so finally win a race in Italy.
|1||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team||4:45:45|
|2||Davide Appollonio (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:01|
|3||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|4||Antonio Parrinello (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|5||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale|
|6||Alessandro Bazzana (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|7||Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Colombia|
|8||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|9||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano|
|10||Mauro Finetto (Ita) Yellow Fluo|
|11||Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Team Katusha|
|12||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|13||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|14||Christopher Sutton (Aus) Team Sky|
|15||Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling|
|16||Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale|
|17||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|18||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|19||Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Colombia|
|20||Yannick Eijssen (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|21||Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Giant-Shimano|
|22||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|23||Jonathan Fumeaux (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|24||Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC Racing Team|
|25||Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN - Qhubeka|
|26||Patrick Schelling (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|27||Marcel Wyss (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|28||Julien Berard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|29||Diego Rosa (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|30||Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|31||Matteo Rabottini (Ita) Yellow Fluo|
|32||Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky|
|33||Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Movistar Team|
|34||Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida||0:00:06|
|35||Sebastian Henao Gomez (Col) Team Sky|
|36||Alexander Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha|
|37||Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) Cannondale|
|38||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|39||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team|
|40||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano|
|41||Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Giant-Shimano|
|42||Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|43||Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|44||Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|45||Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale|
|46||Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:11|
|47||Johann Tschopp (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|48||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano|
|49||Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:00:13|
|50||Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team|
|51||Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:00:33|
|52||Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha|
|53||Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale|
|54||Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team||0:00:46|
|55||Joshua Edmondson (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:50|
|56||Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Col) BMC Racing Team||0:01:13|
|57||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team||0:01:29|
|58||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale||0:06:40|
|59||Rafael Andriato (Bra) Yellow Fluo||0:07:50|
|60||Marc de Maar (AHo) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|61||Lawrence Warbasse (USA) BMC Racing Team|
|62||Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||0:09:06|
|63||Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN - Qhubeka|
|64||Dennis van Niekerk (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka|
|65||Thomas Damuseau (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano|
|66||Simone Ponzi (Ita) Yellow Fluo|
|67||Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar Team|
|68||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|69||Marcel Aregger (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|70||Benjamin Day (Aus) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|71||Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|72||Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|73||Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|74||Fabio Taborre (Ita) Yellow Fluo|
|75||Francesco Failli (Ita) Yellow Fluo|
|76||Rudiger Selig (Ger) Team Katusha|
|77||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano|
|78||Angelo Pagani (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|79||Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka|
|80||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Team Sky|
|81||Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Cannondale|
|82||Nathan Earle (Aus) Team Sky|
|83||Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky|
|84||Maxim Belkov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|85||Luca Dodi (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|86||Stefano Locatelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|87||Daniele Colli (Ita) Yellow Fluo|
|88||Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano|
|89||Ian Boswell (USA) Team Sky|
|90||Dmitriy Kozonchuk (Rus) Team Katusha|
|91||Andrea Zordan (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|92||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|93||Dayer Uberney Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team||0:16:56|
|94||Kiel Reijnen (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||0:19:29|
|95||Edward Fabian Diaz Cardenas (Col) Colombia|
|96||Davide Frattini (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|97||Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwa) MTN - Qhubeka|
|98||Matthias Krizek (Aut) Cannondale|
|99||Darwin Ferney Pantoja Tobar (Col) Colombia|
|100||Enrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani CSF|
|101||Songezo Jim (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNS||Fredrik Carl Wilhelm Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team|
|DNS||Jani Tewelde (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNS||Lucas Euser (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|DNS||Christopher Jones (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|DNF||Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Androni Giocattoli|
|DNF||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale|
|DNF||Juraj Sagan (Svk) Cannondale|
|DNF||Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia|
|DNF||Jonathan Paredes (Col) Colombia|
|DNF||Rodolfo Andres Torres Agudelo (Col) Colombia|
|DNF||Pirmin Lang (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|DNF||Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Andrea Palini (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Enrique Sanz (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Meron Russom (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNF||Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Martijn Maaskant (Ned) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team|
|DNF||Andrea Fedi (Ita) Yellow Fluo|