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Ganna hints at breaking four-minute pursuit barrier at track World Championships

Italy’s Filippo Ganna (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Filippo Ganna has hinted he could break the four-minute barrier in the men’s individual pursuit at the UCI Track World Championships, which start in Berlin on Wednesday, but the record could be Italy's only moment of success after injury and illness struck the men's and women's squads.

The Italian riders have been preparing for the World Championships on the Montichiari velodrome near Brescia and have not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak in Lombardy and Veneto. However, more common illnesses and injury have left national coaches Marco Villa and Dino Savoldi facing difficult choices for the final line-ups that will race in Berlin from Wednesday.

On Monday, Italy trained with the Chinese national team on the Berlin track and are staying in the same hotel but dismissed any problems or risk of infection from the virus, which has spread across China from its origin in Wuhan.

"We're following the indications of the Italian Health Ministry. We've been told the Chinese team have been training in Grenchen in Switzerland for the last weeks and that the UCI has done the necessary checks.

Ganna is the main source of optimism and ambition in the men's team. He set a time of 4:02.647 during the Minsk World Cup last November but is rumoured to be on even better form after final training and tests. Ganna won the individual pursuit world title in 2016, 2018 and 2019. 

"We've worked well this week and the test went as expected. For sure I want the rainbow jersey again and if the record comes too, then great," Ganna told La Gazzetta dello Sport before travelling to Berlin.

"My form is good, so now it's time to finish it all off. We're on schedule, and we'll soon see what happens."

Twenty-three-year-old Ganna will anchor the men's team pursuit in qualifying on Wednesday and then focus on the individual event later in the World Championships. However, both the men's and women's team pursuit squads have been hampered by injury recently, forcing Italy to lower its medal expectations.

The men's quartet set a new Italian record of 3:39 in Glasgow in November but Liam Bertazzo is out of action and Davide Plebani has been ill in the last few days. Simone Consonni has been forced to travel to Berlin early in the hope he can quickly fit into the team pursuit squad.

Italy is currently ranked fifth in the men's team pursuit and so their place in Tokyo is all-but assured.

Paternoster leads women's squad

The women's team pursuit is also ranked fifth and is also trying to recover from illness. The squad recently trained at altitude in Colombia but Elisa Balsamo and Vittoria Guazzini have been struck by the flu during the final block of training, disrupting key tests. Maria Giulia Confalonieri has been selected for the national team for Berlin but recently crashed while racing in Spain.

Letizia Paternoster will be expected to lead the Azzurre in the team pursuit and then focus on the Omnium.

"It was the first time I'd been at altitude but it went well; we worked hard and a lot. We're determined to do our best, even if we've hit by illness. We can only hope to recover quickly and target a medal. Berlin will be the start of an important moment, with Tokyo the big goal," she said.

Elia Viviani, meanwhile, finished the Volta ao Algarve on Sunday, and has since spent the last couple of days training on the Montichiari track. He has opted out of the team pursuit to focus on the Omnium and Madison.

"It's going to be a low-key World Championships for me," Viviani admitted. "The Olympics is the big one for me and I don't want the World Championships to hurt my road racing form in the spring, so that's why I'm only riding the bunch events on the track."