Italy is among the most successful countries in Olympic Games history, having taken 207 gold medals across 27 participations. Their recent high watermark in cycling, though, was five medals – including four golds – in Atlanta in 1996.
Since then, success has been more sparse, though. There have been four golds – two back in 2000 – including Elia Viviani's Omnium victory in Rio, while between 2004 and 2012 the country only took home three medals on the bike.
This time around there's more hope for success, with strong road squads and stars like Viviani and Filippo Ganna primed to medal. It would be a disappointment if Italy's cycling team left Tokyo without a gold.
Italy for the road race and time trial
Vincenzo Nibali is the veteran of the Italian men's road squad and also the leader who represents the best chance of a medal at the Fuji International Speedway. The 36-year-old has vast climbing pedigree – evidenced by his four Grand Tour victories – as well as one-day racing ability, having won Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia (twice) in the past. Bigger questions centre on his current ability, though, with his powers clearly in decline over the last few years. His Giro d'Italia bid this year was hindered by a broken wrist three weeks before the race, while his two weeks at the Tour de France passed largely anonymously.
Damiano Caruso is in the midst of a career-best season at the age of 33. He finished top 10 at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico before taking a shock second place at the Giro d'Italia, winning the final mountain stage along the way. He was supposed to be a super-domestique for Mikel Landa there before the Spaniard crashed out, and he'll take a similar role in Tokyo. He finished 10th at the Imola Worlds last year and has finished top five at the Italian Championships three times so he's not a stranger to performing in one-day races.
Giulio Ciccone is another rider who can thrive on a mountainous course such as the one the peloton will face on Saturday. He was among the strongest climbers in the race at the Giro d'Italia, finishing among the front groups on the early mountain stages before crashing out on stage 17. He's a solid performer on one-off days, too, having taken two Giro stage wins as well as the Trofeo Laigueglia and Giro dell'Appennino during his career. Not a top-tier contender but it wouldn't be a surprise if he were to end up as Italy's top finisher.
Alberto Bettiol (Road race and time trial) is the pure one-day racer in Italy's squad, having won the Tour of Flanders in 2019 and taken top-five finishes in a host of other Classics, including Strade Bianche, the GP Quebec, Gent-Wevelgem, and the E3 BinckBank Classic. He has the ability and the tactical nous to excel in one-days, last shown on stage 18 of this year's Giro where he won from the break. The climbing – and climbers – in Tokyo, however, should prevent him from bidding for glory. Expect him to be chasing moves and working on the front for his team leaders.
Gianni Moscon will be making his Olympics debut along with Ciccone and Bettiol. The 27-year-old is another rider who can excel in one-day races, though has endured a couple of lean years in recent seasons. Moscon hadn't taken a win since the 2018 Tour of Guangxi before he picked off two tough hilly stages at the Tour of the Alps in April. Since then, his fourth place at the Italian Championships, a win at the GP Città di Lugano, and a stellar job working for Giro winner Egan Bernal all suggest that he'll be a key player if Italy are to have success in the road race.
Filippo Ganna (Time trial) has emerged as the world's preeminent time triallist in the past two seasons, sweeping almost all before him since racing began after the mid-season lockdown last year. He is 10/13 in TTs since then – including five Giro stages and a Worlds title – and will be the overwhelming favourite in Tokyo. On the track he'll be part of a Team Pursuit squad which has taken Worlds bronze in 2017, 2018, and 2020.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Road race and time trial) is the prime contender for a medal on the women's team. The 29-year-old has been a solid top 10 rider in the women's peloton for nearing a decade now and has all the tools to contend in Tokyo. Back in Rio five years ago she missed out in the final sprint and had to settle for bronze. Since then she's racked up one-day victories, including Strade Bianche, the Trofeo Binda, the Giro dell'Emilia, and three national titles. She's not in the form of her life, going by her 14th place at the recent Giro Donne, but then again she only finished 11th before heading to Brazil in 2016.
Marta Bastianelli is 34 and the most experienced rider on the Italy team, despite Longo Borghini being the only woman with Olympic experience among the four. She has won just about every one-day race in the sport, including Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Ronde van Drenthe and the World and European Championships. Longo Borghini is the undisputed leader, though, so it will be all hands on deck for the rest of the Italy team.
Soraya Paladin will be working for Longo Borghini in Tokyo. She hasn't had the best couple of seasons after her breakout in 2019 but has still taken top five placings at the Trofeo Binda and Amstel Gold Race and was seventh at La Course in June.
Marta Cavalli is the youngest rider of the quartet at 23, and is enjoying a strong 2021 season. She looks to be in the best form of the team after taking sixth overall at Giro Donne, including a fourth place on the two big summit finishes. That result followed a string of top 10 placings though the spring, showing she know what she's doing in one-day races. It wouldn't be a surprise to see her do well in Tokyo.
Italy for mountain bike XCO
Eva Lechner will be a familiar name to followers of mountain biking and cyclo-cross. The 36-year-old – Italy's sole female mountain biker in Tokyo – is a regular near the front of 'cross races through the winter and finished second at last year's cross-country mountain bike Worlds, albeit three minutes behind winner Pauline Ferrand Prevot. Lechner finished 17th in this race in Rio, and Tokyo looks to be her last chance for a result.
Luca Braidot finished seventh at the cross-country race in 2016, and since then has taken silver at the 2018 European Championships. Last year he was fourth in the cross-country races at the Worlds and Euros, while in 2021 his best result in the UCI World Cup came last month in Les Gets with fourth place in the short circuit race.
Nadir Colledani is the reigning Italian cross-country champion, having beaten Braidot in July. The 26-year-old was eighth in last year's Worlds, and this will be his first Olympic participation.
Gerhard Kerschbaumer is riding his second Olympics, having finished 13th in this event back in London 2012. The 29-year-old finished sixth at the 2020 Euros and was second at the 2018 Worlds.
Italy for track cycling
Letizia Paternoster (Omnium, Madison) is a pro with Trek-Segafredo on the road, but the 21-year-old will be racing on the track in Tokyo. Paternoster is a multi-time European and World champion in a range of disciplines, including both Omnium and Madison in 2017.
Elisa Balsamo (Team Pursuit, Madison) will ride the Madison with Paternoster as well as being part of the four-woman Team Pursuit squad. The 23-year-old was part of silver and bronze medal-winning Team Pursuit efforts at the 2018 European and World Championships.
Martina Alzini (Team Pursuit) is Balsamo's road teammate at Valcar. She has been part of gold medal-winning U23 Team Pursuit efforts at both the 2017 and 2018 European Championships.
Rachele Barbieri (Team Pursuit) was a 2017 World champion in the Scratch Race in Hong Kong. The 24-year old recently finished second on a sprint stage of the Baloise Ladies Tour, so looks to be in good form.
Vittoria Guazzini (Team Pursuit) is another Valcar rider in the women's track team. The 20-year-old was fourth at the Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier this year, indicating a liking for the rough stuff as well as the smooth track. She was part of Italy's European Championships-winning Team Pursuit squad in 2020.
Elia Viviani (Omnium, Madison) is a star on the road having won nine Grand Tour stages and a European title during his career and is also a National, European and World champion on the track, too. In 2016 he won gold in the Omnium – beating Mark Cavendish – and will look to repeat here. He's also taking part in the Madison, which returns for the 2021 Games. In 2015 he took Worlds silver in that discipline.
Simone Consonni (Team Pursuit, Madison) is Viviani's teammate on the road for Cofidis and will also partner him in the Madison. The 26-year-old, who is racing at his first Olympics, has European silver medals in the Elimination Race and Team Pursuit to his name, as well as a Worlds silver in the Scratch Race last year.
Filippo Ganna (Team Pursuit) – see above
Francesco Lamon (Team Pursuit), 27, is the third member of Italy's Team Pursuit squad. He has been part of the team which has taken silver medals at the European Championships in 2016, 2017 and 2020. In 2017 they took bronze in the World Championships.
Jonathan Milan (Team Pursuit) is the second-youngest member of Italy's track squad at 20. The Bahrain Victorious neo-pro has only 23 race days under his belt so far as he focusses on Olympic gold. His best result on the road so far was second in a sprint stage of the recent Settimana Italiana, while he was part of the silver medal-winning Team Pursuit squad at the 2020 European Track Championships.
Italy for BMX
- Giacomo Fantoni: Double Italian BMX champion
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in 2019 after working freelance at pretty much everywhere in cycling media for seven years.
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