Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won a thrilling edition of Roma Maxima, holding off the peloton to round out a great weekend of racing after finishing third in Strade Bianche on Saturday.
The Spaniard broke clear with Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) on the steep Campi di Annibale climb with 35 kilometres to go and they managed to carve out a 30-second lead. The peloton swelled in strength during the fast run-in to Rome and closed to within a few metres by the line. They cruelly swept up Pozzovivo in the final metres but Valverde wisely started his sprint early and managed to hold off the rest of the race and win by a single second.
Pozzovivo hung on for a fifth place result, while his teammate Davide Appollonio took the field sprint for second ahead of Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF). Thirty-two riders finished in the front group with the sprinters cursing in anger that they had failed to catch Valverde.
With race radios not permitted in non-WorldTour races, some of the riders, including Colbrelli, didn’t know that there was an attack off the front and the confusion helped Valverde win.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) finished seventh but was also angry and frustrated due to problems with cars on the course as he worked to get back to the chasing peloton in the finale.
Valverde was happy to have won and celebrated with his family in Rome. Surprisingly it was his first ever victory in Italy. The Spaniard has endured difficult relationship with Italy after the Italian anti-doping investigators pursued his involvement in Operacion Puerto and used a DNA test taken when the 2008 Tour de France visited Italy to prove he was linked to the blood doping ring.
Valverde was eventually banned for two years and has shown little remorse since returning to racing in 2012.
Asked about his feeling for Italy and the CONI investigation, he told Italian television: "I don’t want to look back into the past, I'm just interested in the present and the future."
He was more willing to talk to the media about his victory.
"In the finale we calculated things perfectly. I'd seen that the sprinters were coming after us in the finishing straight and so I decided to go early to avoid being caught," he said.
"I launched the attack and Pozzovivo came with me and did some good turns, so that I could recover between my turns. It was close but we made it."
Despite his excellent form, Valverde will not ride Tirreno-Adriatico.
"No, I'm going to enjoy some time in Rome with my family. I'll focus on my big goals later in the season: the Tour de France, the Vuelta and then the world championships in Spain," he said.
How it happened
This second edition of Roma Maxima started under a warm spring sun, with the stunning Roman ruins of the Fori Imperiali, the Coliseum and Piazza Venezia offering the same back drop as that of the Oscar winning movie The Great Beauty. It was perhaps a sign of the spectacular finale that would unfold later in the day.
Most of the 16 teams fielded the same riders that rode Saturday's Strade Bianche race. Key changes included the arrival of Philippe Gilbert in the BMC line-up and Nairo Quintana joining forces with Alejandro Valverde in the Movistar squad.
A total of 122 riders rolled out of Rome in the sun, with Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Tewelde Weldegabir (MTN-Qhubeka), Lucas Euser and Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) the only non-starters. Kessiakoff and Euser were involved in nasty crashes at the Strade Bianche.
The racing started fast as riders fought to get in the break of the day. After 15km the right combination formed, with seven riders going clear. They were Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Niccolò Bonifazio (Lampre Merida), Daniel Teklehaimanot and Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN Qhubeka), Kiel Reijnen (United Healthcare), Ben Gastauer (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano).
The seven quickly opened a lead on the flat roads heading south from Rome. The gap reached 6:30 after 50km, with the peloton beginning a gradual chase. The fast start meant the first hour of racing was covered at an average of 45.5km/h.
The first hills of the race came after 100km and the 10km climb up to the summit of Rocca Massima and Colle Callaccio saw the gap fall significantly. The seven led the peloton by just three minutes at the summit, with the big teams careful not to make the same mistake of 2013 and let the break stay away. Movistar did a lot of the chasing at the head of the peloton, with Bardiani-CSF giving them a hand with the work.
The climb to Rocca Priora after 144km was more controlled, with the teams knowing the break was within reach. The break also fell apart with Gastauer going clear alone, trying to imitate his teammate Bel Kadri, who won alone last year.
The decisive move by Valverde and Pozzovivo came on Campi di Annibale climb. Valverde made the first dig and inspired Pozzovivo, who danced up the cobbled climb. Valverde joined him over the top and they began to carve out a slight lead as the chasers hesitated.
The final Cappuccini climb gave Valverde and Pozzovivo a final chance to gain time and they had a 30-second gap with 20km to go. Their chances of staying clear seemed slim but Valverde was incredibly strong. Pozzovivo generously did some turns but often struggled to get back on Valverde's wheel when he moved over.
A chase group of a dozen riders stayed at 30 seconds but was unorganised and was eventually swept up by the peloton. The gap slowly came down but Valverde refused to give up, even on the cobbles of the Appia Antica in the final five kilometres.
Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo) tried a brave lone chase, as did Samuel Sanchez (BMC), who made a late surge. The race suddenly seemed wide open when the chasers had Valverde and Pozzovivo in sight after the loop of the Coliseum. Yet they were unable to catch them before the final three hundred metres.
Valverde was as quick-witted as he was strong and timed his sprint to escape the grasp of the peloton and so finally win a race in Italy.
|1||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team||4:45:45|
|2||Davide Appollonio (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:01|
|3||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Antonio Parrinello (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Alessandro Bazzana (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Jarlinson Pantano (Col) Colombia||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Mauro Finetto (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa) Team Katusha||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Lampre-Merida||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Christopher Sutton (Aus) Team Sky||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Daniele Ratto (Ita) Cannondale||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Colombia||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Yannick Eijssen (Bel) BMC Racing Team||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Jonathan Fumeaux (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC Racing Team||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Patrick Schelling (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Marcel Wyss (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Julien Berard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Diego Rosa (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Matteo Rabottini (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida||0:00:06|
|35||Sebastian Henao Gomez (Col) Team Sky||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Alexander Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) Cannondale||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Stefano Pirazzi (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:11|
|47||Johann Tschopp (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:00:13|
|50||Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Francesco Manuel Bongiorno (Ita) Bardiani CSF||0:00:33|
|52||Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team||0:00:46|
|55||Joshua Edmondson (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:50|
|56||Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Col) BMC Racing Team||0:01:13|
|57||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team||0:01:29|
|58||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale||0:06:40|
|59||Rafael Andriato (Bra) Yellow Fluo||0:07:50|
|60||Marc de Maar (AHo) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Lawrence Warbasse (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||0:09:06|
|63||Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Dennis van Niekerk (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Thomas Damuseau (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Simone Ponzi (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Marcel Aregger (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Benjamin Day (Aus) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Fabio Taborre (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||Francesco Failli (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Rudiger Selig (Ger) Team Katusha||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|78||Angelo Pagani (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Team Sky||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Cannondale||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Nathan Earle (Aus) Team Sky||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|83||Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Maxim Belkov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Luca Dodi (Ita) Lampre-Merida||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Stefano Locatelli (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Daniele Colli (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|89||Ian Boswell (USA) Team Sky||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||Dmitriy Kozonchuk (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||Andrea Zordan (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|92||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Dayer Uberney Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team||0:16:56|
|94||Kiel Reijnen (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||0:19:29|
|95||Edward Fabian Diaz Cardenas (Col) Colombia||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|96||Davide Frattini (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 95 - Cell 2|
|97||Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwa) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|98||Matthias Krizek (Aut) Cannondale||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||Darwin Ferney Pantoja Tobar (Col) Colombia||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|100||Enrico Barbin (Ita) Bardiani CSF||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|101||Songezo Jim (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Fredrik Carl Wilhelm Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team||Row 101 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Jani Tewelde (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Lucas Euser (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 103 - Cell 2|
|DNS||Christopher Jones (USA) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 104 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Marco Bandiera (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 105 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli||Row 106 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Androni Giocattoli||Row 107 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Astana Pro Team||Row 108 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Cannondale||Row 109 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Juraj Sagan (Svk) Cannondale||Row 110 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col) Colombia||Row 111 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jonathan Paredes (Col) Colombia||Row 112 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Rodolfo Andres Torres Agudelo (Col) Colombia||Row 113 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Pirmin Lang (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 114 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Lampre-Merida||Row 115 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida||Row 116 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Andrea Palini (Ita) Lampre-Merida||Row 117 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Arg) Lampre-Merida||Row 118 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 119 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Enrique Sanz (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 120 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team||Row 121 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Meron Russom (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 122 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 123 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Martijn Maaskant (Ned) UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team||Row 124 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Andrea Fedi (Ita) Yellow Fluo||Row 125 - Cell 2|
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