Of his own admission, much has been expected of Diego Ulissi and today in Prato he delivered on that promise, beating Michele Scarponi and Alessandro Proni in a late-race selection that showed the future is bright for the young Italian.
And the 21-year-old, who was junior world champion in 2006 and '07, had an illustrious audience in front of whom to perform, with the legendary Alfredo Martini and current national team manager Paolo Bettini in attendance.
Ulissi also beat 2009 Prato winner and current Italian national champ Giovanni Visconti, who is preparing for next month's world championship road race in Australia, plus experienced sprinter Luca Paolini and the ever-reliable Alessandro Bertolini.
"I am growing stronger and finally the big result has arrived. Prato has brought me good rewards: a year ago I imposed myself here in the Coppa 29 Martiri di Figline. I still didn't know my role as a rider. It's taken a couple of years to understand even when I've felt more adapted to stage races," said Ulissi.
"I always have high expectations on my shoulders in the light of the junior world championship successes: for this reason I have to reset myself at the end of each year, look at my achievements and results and get back into the game. You never stop improving."
The 65th edition of the Gran Premio Industria e Commercio di Prato started with a bang and it wasn't until 43km in that the day's first move stuck. The aforementioned Bertolini (Androni-Diquigiovanni), Filippo Savini (Colnago-Csf Inox), Mauro Da Dalto (Lampre-Farnese), Ermanno Capelli (Footon-Servetto), Ruggero Marzoli (Acqua e Sapone), Stefano Borchi (De Rosa-Stac Plastic), Daniele Callegarin (Cdc-Cavaliere) and Swiss rider Bernhard Oberholzer (Price Custom) got away and built a maximum advantage of 1:15 after 85km of racing.
Just 25km later the break was annulled by the chasing bunch, having spent 67km leading the race. A further 24km later, defending champion Visconti forced the pace on the penultimate lap, taking Francisco José Ventoso (CarmioOro NGC), Francesco Gavazzi and Ulissi (both Lampre-Farnese), Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Acqua e Sapone pair Paolini and Alessandro Proni, and the Androni-Diquigiovanni trio of Scarponi, José Serpa Perez and Bertolini plus Alessandro Bisolti (Colnago-Csf) and Polish rider Przemyslaw Niemec (Miche) with him.
A crash for Gavazzi ruled him out of contention but fortunately the Italian wasn't badly injured, although it left the door open for Ulissi to demonstrate what he could do against a quality field.
With two kilometres to go it was Proni forcing the pace on two occasion, the second of which Scarponi joined him as they headed under the red kite. From behind came the remainder of the selection as Ulissi kicked hard in the final 205m to secure a narrow win, the biggest of his fledgling career.
"My sport director Fabrizio Bontempi, who won here in Prato in 1995, told me before the start that only champions usually win this race: I gave my best, now I hope that Bontempi's forecast could be true," said Ulissi.
"This first season as pro has been until now very satisfying and this victory enriched it. Today the team was amazing, it was a pity that Gavazzi had to gave up his chances of victory beacause of the crash: this fact gave me even more energy because I really wanted the team work to be rewarded with an important result."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||4:03:00|
|2||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|3||Alessandro Proni (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|4||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) ISD - Neri||0:00:11|
|5||Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) CarmioOro NGC|
|6||Luca Paolini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|7||Alessandro Bertolini (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|8||Alessandro Bisolti (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox|
|9||Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale|
|10||Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Miche|
|11||Jose Rodolfo Serpa Perez (Col) Androni Giocattoli|
|12||Vladislav Borisov (Rus) Amore & Vita - Conad||0:00:35|
|13||Ruslan Pydgornyy (Ukr) ISD - Neri|
|14||Eugenio Loria (Ita) CDC - Cavaliere|
|15||Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone||0:00:40|
|16||Jure Kocjan (Slo) CarmioOro NGC|
|17||Aristide Ratti (Ita) CarmioOro NGC|
|18||Mirko Tedeschi (Ita) CarmioOro NGC|
|19||Daniele Callegarin (Ita) CDC - Cavaliere|
|20||Bernhard Oberholzer (Swi) Price - Custom Bikes|
|21||Julien Berard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|22||Oleg Berdos (Mda) De Rosa - Stac Plastic|
|23||Nicolas Schnyder (Swi) Price - Custom Bikes|
|24||Volodymyr Bileka (Ukr) Amore & Vita - Conad|
|25||Marcello Pavarin (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox|
|26||Clemens Fankhauser (Aut) Vorarlberg - Corratec|
|27||Krzysztof Szczawinski (Pol) Miche|
|28||Volodymyr Starchyk (Ukr) Amore & Vita - Conad|
|29||Elias Schmaeh (Swi) Price - Custom Bikes|
|30||Marco Cattaneo (Ita) De Rosa - Stac Plastic|
|31||Marcin Sapa (Pol) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|32||Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon-Servetto|
|33||Julien Loubet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|34||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) Vorarlberg - Corratec|
|35||Francesco Tizza (Ita) CarmioOro NGC|
|36||Davide Bonuccelli (Ita) CDC - Cavaliere|
|37||Ermanno Capelli (Ita) Footon-Servetto|
|38||Jure Golcer (Slo) De Rosa - Stac Plastic|
|39||Patrick Schelling (Swi) Price - Custom Bikes|
|40||Andrea Tonti (Ita) CarmioOro NGC|
|41||Enrico Magazzini (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|42||Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Miche|
|43||Piergiorgio Camussa (Ita) Vorarlberg - Corratec|
|44||Enrico Zen (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox|
|45||Andrea Masciarelli (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|46||Hubert Schwab (Swi) Price - Custom Bikes|
|47||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|48||Cristiano Fumagalli (Ita) Ceramica Flaminia|
|49||Massimiliano Gentili (Ita) Ceramica Flaminia|
|50||Carlos José Ochoa (Ven) Androni Giocattoli|
|51||Volodymyr Zagorodny (Ukr) Miche|
|52||Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) ISD - Neri|
|53||Luciano Barindelli (Ita) CarmioOro NGC|
|54||Alfredo Balloni (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|55||Paolo Bailetti (Ita) Ceramica Flaminia|
|56||Adriano Angeloni (Ita) TFB|
|57||Diego Caccia (Ita) ISD - Neri|
|58||Leonardo Giordani (Ita) Ceramica Flaminia|
|59||Francesco Di Paolo (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|60||Enrico Rossi (Ita) Ceramica Flaminia|
|61||Simone Stortoni (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox|
|62||Markus Eibegger (Aut) Footon-Servetto|
|63||Alessandro Fantini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone|
|64||Jackson Rodriguez (Ven) Androni Giocattoli|
|65||Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Androni Giocattoli|
|66||Arkaitz Duran Aroca (Spa) Footon-Servetto|
|67||Michele Gaia (Ita) Colnago - CSF Inox|
|68||Leonardo Pinizzotto (Ita) Miche|
|69||Luca Zanasca (Ita) CDC - Cavaliere|
|70||Fabien Wolf (Swi) Price - Custom Bikes|
|71||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini|
|72||Paolo Ciavatta (Ita) Acqua & Sapone||0:02:05|
|73||Roberto Antonio Richeze (Arg) TFB|
|74||Leopoldo Rocchetti (Ita) Miche|
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