News Feature, September 18, 2008
The road World Championship returns to Varese 57 years after Ferdi Kubler's win over Italian Fiorenzo Magni. It's a challenging parcours that will suit the likes of Samuel Sánchez, Phillip Gilbert and defending champion Paolo Bettini as Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown discovered during a mid-September day.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) confirmed the return of the world championships to Varese three years ago in Madrid. The governing body bestowed the honour upon the Lombarda città over its southern Toscana rival, Lucca, and Valkenburg in the Netherlands. It's only four years since Italy last hosted the Worlds in 2004 - in Verona - but if any country can get behind this annual event it is the land renowned for its passionate sports supporters.
Italy boasts over 18 world champions on the road, with Paolo Bettini taking the most recent of those victories. Passion for the sport flows so freely in the bloodlines of this cycling-rich country that Varese has changed its ordinary Le Bettole horse track into the Mapei Cycling Stadium, the host for the start and finish of all six of this year's world title events.
Tom Boonen became world champion three days after the UCI announced that the 2008 title would be decided in Varese. And while the Madrid parcours suited his 'built for speed' body type, it quickly becomes apparent that this won't be the case on the Varese course. It has 237 metres of climbing over the 17.35km course, with the men facing 3,555 metres of climbing over their 15 laps.
The Montello climb greets the riders from the gun, and they'll face it at the start of each circuit. This short, steep kilometre-long climb will provide an opportunity for selection as the laps count down. Villa Bernocchi, on the left, starts the climb and Scoula Europea ends it, but in between there are pitches of 10 percent. The climb, last used in the Giro d'Italia's stage 18, is still marked with the name of 2007 Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti.
The Montello is a prime spot for an opportunist to form a move and gain time on the dive down to Santuario di Sant'Antonio. The gradual descent passes the 15km to go marker before a sharp left and a flattening out as Lago di Varese can be seen to the right side.
Flat and further down
Flat roads followed by a fast descent follow the Montello. Riders come down Via Marzorati, right around Santuario di Sant'Antonio's and onto Via Crispi. This road is straight, with a long left bend on Via Campigli, allowing the peloton full view of any developing breakaways. Under a bridge, the 10km and 9km to go markers pass, and then riders will have to touch their brakes through a chicane – right and left – before heading down to Via Macchi and the 8km to go marker.
A left-hand turn onto more flat terrain on Lungolago della Schiranna provides a bit of respite before the next climb begins. Along the one-kilometre stretch, with views of Lago di Varese, riders will size each other up for the Ronchi.
Watch for some of the big teams to send one of their men in a move on Montello's descent. Early on in the race a break could get established here and then build up some distance along the Lungolago run. A chance for Spain's Luis León Sánchez or Ezequiel Mosquera, Italian classics rider Alessandro Ballan or Belgium's Stijn Devolder.
The 3.13km Ronchi comes at 10.66 kilometres into the course; it's long and will be loaded with crazed fans the week of the world championships. Its twists and turns – averaging 4.5 percent but kicking up to a maximum 11 percent – will allow for attacks and counter-attacks, and it will likely be the location of the winning move on the last lap.
Turning left off Schiranna, riders will follow signs for Villa Recalcati where the climb begins gradually before ramping up steeply into a series of two switchbacks. The 6km to go marker comes before the second switchback, where Ivan Basso and Visconti's names dot what was a peaceful road on the day of our preview.
The peace was broken after a left turn and the kick of the 11 percent grade. Any gaps taken need to be gained upon here – from 1,000 to 1,500 metres into the climb – before the grades ease up into the power climber's territory on the Montebello.
The Ronchi eases off but keeps gaining altitude as it passes the Ivan Basso club to the left. After a right-hand turn onto Via Trentini, the course passes under a bridge, to the right past Villa Recalcati and onto the final kick up Montebello. The open grassy fields at the base are exchanged for the more intimate affair of Recalcati and the closed roads edged with churches. It's the last chance for climbers to capitalise on their advantages and drop those with a sprint.
The final 3.5km are flat and this is the place where a lead is consolidated or tension built as the field chases over the closing circuits. Riders will take Via 25 Aprile to Via Sacco and enter Varese's citta centro. Sunday city-goers will see the elite field zoom past on its way to the final gallop.
The long stretch down Via dei Mille leads to the red triangle and Viale Valganna. Approximately 400 metres remain from the final turn, a left-hander onto Viale dell'Ippodromo. It is the finale of a challenging Varese circuit; the short stretch that leads to a right-hand turn into the Mapei Cycling Stadium and the smooth asphalt finish on the barriered straight. Glory awaits.
The Giro's stage 18 utilised the same circuit, but the finish line was closer to the top of Ronchi, on Via Sacco. This time the riders will face an extra three kilometres – predominantly flat – before arriving at the line. This will spoil the chances of the attacking rider and give way on the final lap for a scouting move. If a team has more than one rider in the group, it will play tactics by sending one up the road. Look for the moves on the tricky streets though the centre of Varese, like Via Casula.
The course is tough and technical, but not dangerous. The new asphalt along most of the route will keep the racing safe even if rain dampens the events. The most demanding point – after the start of the Montello descent – will require attention to avoid crashes.
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