Ahead of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships, Cyclingnews is taking a deep dive into the key teams for the elite road races. Here, we put Italy under the microscope.
Italy has been one of the most successful nations in the history of the elite road races at the UCI Road World Championships, with the women's team securing six titles since 1957 and the men's 19 titles since 1927.
Elisa Balsamo is the most recent winner among the elite categories, having won the elite women's road race in Leuven last year, and she will line up in Wollongong as the defending champion and favourite to win for the second year in a row.
Her victory marked the nation's first for elite women since its triple wins with Giorgia Bronzini in 2010 and 2011, and Tatiana Guderzo in 2009, and before that, Marta Bastianelli in 2008 and Alessandra Cappellotto in 1997.
Filippo Ganna won back-to-back time trial world titles in 2020 and 2021. Still, the men's team will be looking to end a 13-year drought in the elite men's road race event since Alessandro Ballan last won the rainbow jersey for Italy in 2008. Since that victory, Matteo Trentin has come the closest to the title with a silver medal in 2019.
The nation's 19 men's road race world titles were on by 16 riders. Alfredo Binda is honoured as having won the inaugural men's world title in 1927 and followed that win with two more titles in 1930 and 1932. In between Learco Guerra secured the nation the rainbow jersey in 1931.
It would be another 15 years before Fausto Coppi won his first and only world title in 1953. The title then went to Ercole Baldini (1958), Vittorio Adorni (1968), Marino Basso (1972), Felice Gimondi (1973), Francesco Moser (1977), Giuseppe Saronni (1982), Moreno Argentin (1986), Maurizio Fondriest (1988), Gianni Bugno (1991 and 1992), Mario Cipollini (2002), Paolo Bettini (2006 and 2007), and Ballan in 2008.
The Italian Cycling Federation (FCI) is notorious for announcing the squadra azzurra at the last possible moment, however, new national team coach Daniele Bennati recently went big with the men's team long-list revealed during a Lorenzo Jovanotti concert in Bresso.
- Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)
- Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
- Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ)
- Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ)
- Elena Cecchini (SD Worx)
- Arianna Fidanza (BikeExchange-Jayco)
- Vittoria Guazzini (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope) - U23
- Soraya Paladin (Canyon-Sram)
- Silvia Persico (Valcar-Travel & Service)
- Silvia Zanardi (Bepink) - U23
- Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)
- Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstan)
- Davide Ballerini (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)
- Andrea Bagioli (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)
- Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost)
- Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates)
- Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma)
- Matteo Sobrero (BikeExchange-Jayco)
- Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè)
- Nicola Conci (Alpecin Deceuninck Development)
Elisa Balsamo will aim to defend her rainbow jersey won last year in Leuven. Once again, Balsamo may not be the obvious favourite, but her run of success this season as the world champion cannot be ignored.
She has secured nine victories, and her ability to climb and sprint makes her a contender for the victory on a punchy route. The course might be hard enough to rid the pure sprinters but not hard enough to distance the more versatile riders.
Trek-Segafredo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini will be one of the outright favourites when stacked against the likes of the Dutch contenders Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering. Her aggressive riding style could animate the road race and pull out a smaller selection over Mount Pleasant and onto the hilly city circuits.
Looking beyond her victories at Paris-Roubaix and Women's Tour, it was her podium performances on the tougher stages at the Giro d'Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes and Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta that make her one to watch for the rainbow jersey.
Silvia Persico was the revelation of the Tour de France Femmes, and a standout rider this season. The 25-year-old, racing for Valcar-Travel & Service, finished seven of the eight stages inside the top 10 and was fifth overall at the Tour. It was a performance that secured her a spot on a WorldTour team in 2023.
A stage win at the recent Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta show that she's carried her form into the late-season. She has the strength, tenacity and confidence to race among her more experienced peers on the world stage.
The on-road captain with years of experience, Matteo Trentin, will lead a team well-suited to the demands of the hilly circuit-style parcours in Wollongong. His ability to climb over the circuit-style route and a long haul of 266.9km while being a fast finisher make him a favourite.
He is the only Italian rider to medal in the elite men's road race at the Worlds since Ballan's victory in 2008, with a silver-medal performance under the downpour in Harrogate, Yorkshire, in 2019. Add to that his victory at the European Championships in 2018, and while both performances were several years ago, Trentin is the type of rider who can surprise.
Many have marked this route similar to the Tour of Flanders; a race Alberto Bettiol won in 2019. He is a co-leader on the national team because of his experience and success on the WorldTour. He is not afraid to attack alone. His opportunistic style on demanding courses has resulted in h victories at Tour of Flanders (2019) and stage 18 at the Giro d'Italia (2021).
His performance in Mende to take second place behind Michael Matthews at stage 14 of this year's Tour de France could be a glimpse into how the race could play out in Wollongong. A recent 8th place at the GP de Québec shows great late-season form.
A rising talent in his third year on the WorldTour with QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, Andrea Bagioli has learned from the best in one-day racing. He's shown great tenacity across the more challenging terrain and in small group finishes.
Winning a stage at the Volta a Catalunya, a fourth-place on a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné and previous podiums on medium mountain stages at the Vuelta a España are all indicative of his potential. His third place at the GP de Montréal in a breakaway sprint behind winner Tadej Pogačar and runner-up Wout van Aert make him an exciting prospect for the World Championships.
The Italian team's biggest strength is its unity, especially on the women's side, which led to their victory in Leuven last year. As the powerful Dutch team fell apart during the final and left their biggest hitter Marianne Vos isolated, the squadra azzurra gave a master-class in team cohesiveness and tactics that delivered their then up-and-coming sprinter Balsamo to the victory.
The Dutch team might be the favourites again in Wollongong, but the Italians have several potential winners. Balsamo has what it takes to match the likes of Vos, and in a challenging and tactical one-day race, Longo Borghini is on par with Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering. Persico is an outstanding and unpredictable wildcard.
Their strength will be in having three riders that could be in the final of any given race scenario. In a long race of attrition, having team support could make all the difference between winning and losing. No matter how the tactics play out on the road, the Italian team has riders who can be part of various types of breakaways, and their strength will be in numbers.
Trentin, Bettiol and Ballerini bring their experience, Affini and Sobrero bring their time trial power to the road team, and Bagioli and Battistella bring youthful enthusiasm and possibility.
But perhaps their biggest strength is having the backing and knowledge of the new head coach, former pro, Daniele Bennati.
The Italian team's weakness will be every team's weakness, except for the Dutch - Annemiek van Vleuten.
There may not be anything a cohesive team can collectively do to stop Van Vleuten from riding away from the peloton as she has done this year to win the Giro d'Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
Some may think Van Vleuten's from is struggling after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the time trial on Saturday. But remember this – at the 2019 Worlds, she struggled to finish third in the time trial and then went on an audacious 104km solo attack to win the road race and the world title in Harrogate.
The Italian men's team does not have that one outright favourite. A team without a laser-sharp focus on one goal to support one specific rider who can consistently deliver could find themselves worn thin across too many potential race tactics.
They have three riders who are fast in a small group with Trentin, Bettiol and Bagioli, and who could potentially be in the final but perhaps not fast enough to beat a Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, or Tadej Pogačar.
The Italians bring a well-rounded team to contest the elite men's road race with a mix of experience and youth, sprint, time trial power and opportunistic qualities. The challenging circuit-style route makes for unpredictable racing, and the team brings riders that could be part of many different scenarios on the road.
Their strength will be in their numbers, and if they use them well, this could be the year the team ends the 13-year drought in the men's road race to bring home the rainbow jersey.
The women's team goes into this event with a proven-cohesive team and several favourites to win a second consecutive world title. The growth and strength of their top female riders make this nation one of the strongest in the world - and a direct rival to the Dutch.
They will miss Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne winner Marta Cavalli. Still, there is no shortage of talent and capability with the likes of Balsamo, Longo Borghini, and Persico. And with the first-ever crowned under-23 time trial world champion Vittoria Guazzini on the team, Italy is already off to a great start at the Wollongong World Championships.
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Kirsten Frattini is the Deputy Editor of Cyclingnews, overseeing the global racing content plan.
Kirsten has a background in Kinesiology and Health Science. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's biggest races, reporting on the WorldTour, Spring Classics, Tours de France, World Championships and Olympic Games.
She began her sports journalism career with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. In 2018, Kirsten became Women's Editor – overseeing the content strategy, race coverage and growth of women's professional cycling – before becoming Deputy Editor in 2023.