Italian riders head home from the cobbled Classics empty handed yet again this spring, forcing the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper to analyse what went wrong for their riders on the pavé.
While Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana last year, an Italian rider has not won a major one-day classic since Damiano Cunego won the Tour of Lombardy in 2008. That long spell without a major Classics win, and especially success on the cobbles, is starting to hurt Italian pride.
Alessandro Ballan (BMC) finished sixth in Paris-Roubaix after joining Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd in the break but his spring has been overshadowed by the doping investigation on Mantova. Poster boy Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) crashed out and had a generally poor spring, while Daniel Oss (Liquigas-Cannondale) failed to live up to expectations after being ill in March.
Francesco Moser took a rare hat-trick of wins at Paris-Roubaix in 1978-1979-1980. The late Franco Ballerini won in 1995 and 1998 and fellow Tuscan Andrea Tafi won in 1999. Filippo Pozzato was second in 2009 but so far the next generation of young Italian classics riders has failed to emerge, leading the Gazzetta dello Sport to ask why.
According to Moser, it’s a combination of circumstances.
“It’s simply because we haven’t got a good group of Classics riders at the moment and because of a series of other circumstances,” Moser said.
“We’ve got good stage-race riders and that’s because the teams and their sponsors are more interested in the attention they get from three-week races rather than the big Classics.
“The truth is we’ve never really had a real group of riders for the cobbled Classics, our success has always come from individual performances. In the more modern era of cycling, it was people like Gimondi, then me, then the Mapei riders with Ballerini and Tafi. Because we live 1000km away from the pavé, nobody learns to ride on the pavé when they’re young. You can learn during your career but you’ve got to love the pavé, it’s something inside you. I loved it. During my first-ever Roubaix I went in the break and got in the action. I finished second and went close to winning.”
Moser was at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday and reportedly travelled with Flavio Becca, the backer of the Leopard Trek team. He spotted former Under 23 world time trial champion Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) as a possible future Italian contender.
“Daniel Oss seems the rider most suited to the pavé of the new generation, while Malori could suit the cobbles. Oss didn’t do anything this year because he wasn’t at his best, so it’s unfair to judge him. But he’s got to show what he can do next year. He’s got to be given the time to develop but he’s got to love the pavé too. That the key for the Italians if they want to succeed.”