So far this week at Tour de Beauce in Québec, Amore & Vita-Selle SMP has rewarded its Canadian director Phil Cortes with two wins in four stages. The Italian-based, Ukrainian-registered team won the first stage with Luca Benedetti in a bunch sprint, while Leonardo Pinizzotto soloed to victory during Saturday's stage 4 Québec City circuit race after being off the front in a five-rider breakaway for most of the day.
The most recent success is the culmination of a two-week North American jaunt that started with the Philadelphia Cycling Classic at the beginning of the month. Pinizzotto took fourth-place at that one-day race before the team headed north for the Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay and this week's race in Beauce.
“We came into this block of racing knowing that it was very important to the team, knowing that we had the legs, we had the firepower,” Cortes said Saturday after watching his rider take the stage win. “We saw that the level of these races was very well adapted to us. We've been showing it the past two weeks – even in Philadelphia. A fourth place in Philadelphia for our team is something that hasn't happened for a lot of years, so it's unbelievable. We're on a high, and I think it's something that we have to build on.”
The team's first US trip this year to the Winston-Salem Classic in April didn't bear any fruit, so Amore & Vita raised expectations this time around.
“[Winston-Salem] didn't go as well as we'd hoped,” Cortes said. “But hey, you have to go into certain races expecting more, and this block was something we really, really focused on. All the guys have had their heads in the game, and we're showing it.”
Benedetti took the team's first win on stage 1 at Beauce after Pinizzotto spent the day in the breakaway and then set up his teammate for the sprint by hanging on solo until the final kilometer. But when Pinizzotto and teammate Viesturs Lukshenkos made it into the move during Saturday's stage, the plan was for them to go all in for the stage win. This year marks Cortes' 10th trip to his “home” race as a competitor and a director, so he knew the course well, and he believed a strong break could make it to the line.
“We knew that this was a finish that was scripted for him 100 per cent,” Cortes said of Pinizzotto. “I had a big hunch that the breakaway was going to survive today, and so they were just drilling the breakaway. And if that had come back, we had Benedetti that could close. And that's exactly what the game plan was.”
Cortes said the plan for Sunday's final stage on another difficult circuit in St-Georges is to once again be very aggressive and then rely on Benedetti if the finish is contested by a large group. The director would obviously like to finish off the race with another great result, but he is also looking down the road to bigger things in the coming months.
After Beauce, Amore & Vita will head back to Italy for the country's national championships, followed by a trip to China for UCI 2.HC Tour of Qinghai Lake.
“I think we're coming in with the strongest team we've ever had at this point in the season,” said Cortes, who rode for the team in 2008 and 2009 and is now in his second season as the director. “Continental teams tend to fall apart with big programs like ours, but we've made some changes. We've had training camps and we've raced much, much less in the month of May. It's showing here because we're coming in with fresh legs and good form. I couldn't ask for anything more.”
But Cortes will get a little bit more, as the team has recently signed Mattia Gavazzi, a sprinter with 15 professional wins, and Simone Stortoni, an Italian climber who rode with WorldTour team Lampre-Merida in 2012 and 2013.
“We're just adding to the firepower,” Cortes said. “So going into July and Qinghai Lake and everything, we're just going to keep going on this. This is momentum for us.”
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.