Italy had been sailing through these World Championships on cloud nine, picking up medals at every turn, and there was more than a chance of one final hurrah as the in-form Sonny Colbrelli lined up for the elite men’s road race.
However, their fortunes finally flipped, with their game-plan going up in smoke before 75km had even been ridden.
Matteo Trentin and Davide Ballerini went tumbling to the tarmac during a relatively innocuous phase of the race and, to make it worse, Denmark’s Mads Pedersen - looking behind to call for a team car - went straight into the back of them.
“It was like a bowling alley - we were the skittles and Mads was the ball,” Trentin told Cyclingnews after limping from the Italian team bus in Leuven.
“Someone basically braked randomly in the middle of the bunch. We were kind of saving it but Mads was looking for the cars. It was quite bad. He rode into the back of Davide then into the back of me."
The incident effectively forced Italian back to the tactical drawing board, and without the luxury of race radios.
Trentin and Ballerini were supposed to be the key riders to support Colbrelli deep into the race, marking moves and bringing dangerous attacks back. However, they were both in significant pain with apparent hip injuries, and it was clear they would not last. They were sent to work to drag back a dangerous big break with Remco Evenepoel and Kasper Asgreen, but soon after that their day was done.
Colbrelli did end up with two teammates in the final 25km, but Andrea Bagioli had already been in an earlier break and was dropped when Alaphilippe lit up the race on the Wijnpers, leaving just Giacomo Nizzolo for support. Eventual winner Julian Alaphilippe was a furiously attacking presence and, crucially, he was not on Colbrelli’s watch-list.
“My tactic for this World Championship was to follow [Wout] van Aert and [Mathieu] van der Poel, and no one else,” Colbrelli told Cyclingnews.
“Matteo and Davide were the riders who were designated to follow Alaphilippe and [Jasper] Stuyven.”
Colbrelli did follow Alaphilippe when he suddenly attacked on the Smeysberg, but with some 50km to go and three Belgians behind, it didn’t last. When Alaphilippe went solo on the Sint-Antoniusberg on the penultimate lap of the Leuven circuit, Colbrelli was stuck behind. It soon became apparent that gold had gone, and so too had the other medals, as Dylan van Baarle, Michael Valgren, and Neilson Powless slipped clear in pursuit of Alaphilippe.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Colbrelli said. “I had a super good condition and the chance to become world champion.
“Alaphilippe is on another level. He was super strong. I did try one time to follow him on the big loop but that was nothing. Then on the local loop I saw the attack but I was following Van Aert and Van der Poel, who were dangerous riders. Alaphilippe, of course, is also dangerous, but I cannot follow everything.”
Colbrelli will not wear the rainbow jersey next season but he does have the consolation of the starred jersey of European champion, which itself has replaced the tricolore that goes with his status of national champion.
“Italian champion, European champion, it’s not so bad,” he concluded. “I’m happy with the condition but not the result.”
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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