Davide Villella ensured the final race day of 2016 was a success for both himself and Cannondale-Drapac with the Italian claiming his first professional victory at the Japan Cup ahead of the Orica-BikeExchange duo Chris Juul Jensen and Rob Power. The 25-year-old, who started his season in February at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, carried his strong form from Il Lombardia where he was fifth into the 1.HC race to claim the victory.
Villella made his race winning move on the 14th and final lap of the race and held his advantage to take the victory by six seconds.
"When I attacked, I thought: 'This is how I can win this race'. I felt sure if I attacked that I could win. I'm in really good shape at the end of my season," said Villella, adding his team and the roadside fans provided added motivation. "I love the Japanese fans. I've never seen anything like this in my life. They were crowded on the circuit, and they were so excited. It was really an amazing thing.
While the victory was Villella's first in the pro ranks, he enjoyed several prestigious victories prior to moving into the WorldTour winning the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and Piccolo Giro di Lombardia in 2013.
The win was Cannondale-Drapac's first since Jack Bauer took out stage 5 of the Tour of Britain in early-September and just its tenth of the season (including national titles for Paddy Bevin and Ramunas Navardauskas). While Villella's victory took the tally into the double figures, Cannondale-Drapac close out 2016 without a victory at WorldTour level.
Director sportif Eric van Lancker explained that he had asked his five-man team for complete commitment to the plan to ensure they came away with the win to end the season on a high, and was duly repaid.
"We started with one leader in Villella because we knew he has really good shape. He's trained well since Lombardia, where he came in fifth place. We wanted to bring him in good condition into the final," said Van Lancker. "The idea was that Villella would attack on the steep hill just past the finish line at the start of the last lap. We wanted him to go full gas from the bottom. He couldn't wait until the top. Attacking from the bottom would give him a bigger gap."
With several changes in the rider and staff roster expected over the off-season as the merger with Drapac is completed, Van Lancker added that the win was a perfect send off and reward for effort after a long season.
"I have to say thank you to the entire team. Not everyone is staying in the team for next year, and it's not always evident that you can make a good team from a group where some are staying and some are leaving," he said. "Full credit to all five for doing an incredible job today and all the other days. I saw great teamwork, great cooperation and great morale bring us the win."