Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport was happy to celebrate the end of the cobbled Classics season and look forward to the Ardennes races this week after one of the worst spring campaigns for Italian riders for many years.
An Italian rider has not won one of the big five cycling monuments since 2008 and Gazzetta dello Sport has described this spring as the worst for Italian riders since the second world war. Only six Italian riders finished Paris-Roubaix, with Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) in 50th, 6:44 behind winner Niki Terpstra. Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) has taken the best results by an Italian so far in the Classics, with his sixth place in the sprint at Milan-San Remo.
"At last, we've stopped racing on the cobbles and are back on asphalt roads," Claudio Ghisalberti wrote as the introduction to his story on the start of the Ardennes races.
Gazzetta dello Sport is hoping that the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Diego Ulissi and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) can do much better in the Ardennes races.
Nibali will study the cobbles that features in this year's Tour de France on Thursday before heading to the Netherlands for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race.
The first of Ardennes Classics will be a shakedown for the Sicilian after two weeks of intense altitude training on Mount Teide in Tenerife. Nibali finished second in the 2012 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and is hoping to perform well after a spectacular but under par early season.
Lampre-Merida failed to make an impact on the cobbles with Filippo Pozzato but hope that world champion Rui Costa can do well in the Ardennes. The Italian team also has Diego Ulissi and Damiano Cunego in its squad. Ulissi has spent two weeks at altitude on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. He won a stage and was third overall at the Tour Down Under and won the GP Camaiore, but suffered at Tirreno-Adriatico.
"I'm really keen to race again, I'm ready for a challenge. I've trained hard, especially for my endurance," he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Cunego has shown infrequent moments of form in recent years but the 32 year-old from Verona finished in the top five on three stages at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He won the Amstel Gold Race in 2008.
Italy is also hoping Colbrelli and Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani CSF) can impress on Sunday. Colbrelli was sixth at Milan-San Remo as he desperately searches for his first ever professional victory, while Battaglin has the class and skills to handle the twisting roads of the Limburg region.
Peter Sagan will not ride the Amstel Gold Race for Cannondale and Moreno Moser is also absent, preferring the Giro del Trentino on home rods after a knee problem hit his spring campaign.
Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat) is still flying the flag for Italy despite being 42 but in many way symbolises Italian cycling. He won the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2004 before being caught for doping at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.He refused to show any kind of remorse, served his ban and then returned to race with a minor team, outside of the UCI WorldTour.
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