Elia Viviani (Italy) earned himself the title of European road race champion with a victory at the UEC Road European Championships on Sunday, which he recognised as "totally different" to his usual diet of bunch sprints, and indeed to his and his team's plans at the start of the day.
Viviani, who finished a frustrated second place two years ago, beat his trade teammate Yves Lampaert (Belgium) in a two-up sprint in Alkmaar, with Pascal Ackermann (Germany) taking the bronze medal several seconds further back.
As a sprinter, Viviani was among the pre-race favourites on the pan-flat course in northern Holland, but the race was more open and chaotic than anyone expected. The 45-kilometre opening loop out into the exposed countryside saw the peloton split to pieces in the crosswinds, while the 11.5km town-centre finishing circuit – covered 11 times – gave the finale the feel of a Kermesse.
Viviani's victory was just reward for the way the Italians took the race by the scruff of the neck. They were well represented in the front echelon, and when the race regrouped on the opening local laps, they set about shredding the 60-strong peloton. After a couple of laps of pace setting, they accelerated fiercely en masse with six laps to go, with 2018 champion Matteo Trentin instrumental in forcing a 13-rider selection in which the Azzuri had no fewer than four representatives.
With the Dutch and Norwegians leading the chase behind, a second selection came about with just over two laps to go as one of the many tight bends caused a natural split. Viviani was on the front and suddenly found himself with Lampaert and Ackermann, and the trio improvised and cracked on, while their former companions fell back to the chase group.
The trio collaborated until 3.5km to go, whereupon Lampaert – needing to come up with something against two of the world's leading bunch sprinters – went on the attack. Viviani initially sat behind Ackermann but soon sensed weakness and attacked to spring clear and link up with Lampaert.
From there, he was in the box seat, and trailed his Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate into the home straight before picking him off with ease in the sprint. Lampaert was resigned to his fate and settled for second place, while Ackermann took the bronze medal, half a minute ahead of what remained of the bunch, led home by 2017 champion Alexander Kristoff (Norway).
"It's one of my best wins, because it's totally different from a bunch sprint," said Viviani.
"We did a completely different tactic from what we were thinking this morning. This morning we were thinking about the sprint, but then we wanted to make the race hard. We see from the other categories - U23, women - the race had a lot of corners, that cobbled section, then the wind makes the difference.
"With five or six laps to go we decided to go, and we split that group. That was the right move. We knew in the last few laps it would be about all about tactics and whoever had something in the legs. Luckily we had still something in the legs."
How it unfolded
After a minute’s silence in memory of Bjorg Lambrecht, who died earlier this week after a crash at the Tour de Pologne, the riders set out from Alkmaar for 172.6 kilometres of racing. The first 45 took them on a loop south of Alkmaar, and the strong winds quickly split the race to pieces, with no fewer than six echelons on the road. Belgium and Italy were well represented up front, although the former lost one of their key cards, national champion Tim Merlier, to a puncture.
Despite the early chaos, the race soon settled down as it returned to Alkmaar for the local laps, where the roads were more sheltered by buildings. The first few echelons merged to form a peloton again, although the damage was apparent as there were only around 60 riders in there.
Italy took control and dictated the pace, and while it was rather steady to start with, they really lit things up on the sixth-to-last lap, with just under 70km to go. Taking advantage of the technical nature of the early section of the course, they lifted the pace and strung the bunch out through the corners to the point that it split into pieces. Trentin notably twisted the knife, and soon they were away in a selection of 13 in which they also had Viviani, Simone Consonni and Davide Cimolai. Ackermann was the only other rider with a teammate, in Rudiger Selig, while the other members of the group were Lampaert, Kasper Asgreen (Denmark), Florian Senechal (France), Luka Mezgec (Slovenia), Chris Lawless (Great Britain), Erik Baska (Slovakia) and Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands).
There was panic behind, and attempts to jump across were made – notably by Belgian sprinter Japser Philipsen – but they were soon forced to settle into a 30-rider chasing group. It soon became apparent that Holland and Norway, riding for Dylan Groenewegen and Alexander Kristoff, respectively, were the only teams willing to invest in the chase.
The gap moved out to 35 seconds before the Dutch, who had plenty of numbers, really got organised, but they were up against a front group in which pretty much everyone apart from Langeveld was contributing. Dylan Van Baarle in particular put in a huge shift, and brought the gap down to 18 seconds with just over two laps to go.
But then came another shift in momentum. Taking speed through a tight 90-degree left-hand bend, Viviani found himself with Lampaert and Ackermann on the wheel, and a gap to the rest. The three of them quickly decided to roll with it, and by the time they crossed the line for the penultimate the rest of the group had sat up and they suddenly had 40 seconds in hand over the chasing pack.
Despite the four Dutchmen and two Norwegeians working behind, the trio took their lead out to 45 seconds and held onto it as they came across the line once again for the final lap. The gap started to fall as they began to start weighing each other up, but the chase group was losing firepower all the time. Norway’s Kristoffer Halvorssen fell away, followed by Holland’s Tom Leezer and Sebastian Langeveld. With 5km to go, it was just Van Baarle left, and while he took it back to 18 seconds, his efforts took their toll. When he peeled off, legs empty, that left Ackermann’s German teammates on the front. Naturally, they stopped pedalling, and it was clear the medals would be shared among the leading trio.
Almost instantly, Lampaert launched his attack, with a stringing acceleration from the back of the group. Viviani initially looked to place the burden of responsibility onto Ackermann, but it was soon clear the grimaces of pain that had been on his face for the last couple of laps were no bluff. Rather than go down on a sinking ship, Viviani decisively attacked and surged away, reaching Lampaert in no time.
From there, Lampaert seemed resigned to his fate. Viviani came through for a cursory turn on the late cobbled sector to make sure Ackermann remained out of the equation, before slotting back into the wheel. Lampaert led the way into the home straight and almost as soon as Viviani opened his sprint he sat up in resignation, allowing the Italian the chance to savour the moment to the fullest.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Elia Viviani (Italy)||3:30:52|
|2||Yves Lampaert (Belgium)||0:00:01|
|3||Pascal Ackermann (Germany)||0:00:09|
|4||Alexander Kristoff (Norway)||0:00:33|
|5||Michael Mørkøv (Denmark)|
|6||Sam Bennett (Ireland)|
|7||Matteo Trentin (Italy)|
|8||Luka Mezgec (Slovenia)|
|9||Arnaud Demare (France)|
|10||Rüdiger Selig (Germany)|
|11||Jasper Philipsen (Belgium)|
|12||Dylan Groenewegen (Netherlands)|
|13||Christopher Lawless (Great Britain)|
|14||Simone Consonni (Italy)|
|15||Toms Skujins (Latvia)||0:00:34|
|16||Rui Oliveira (Portugal)|
|17||Fabian Lienhard (Switzerland)|
|18||Mike Teunissen (Netherlands)|
|19||Davide Ballerini (Italy)|
|20||Szymon Sajnok (Poland)|
|21||Erik Baska (Slovakia)|
|22||Silvan Dillier (Switzerland)|
|23||Edward Theuns (Belgium)|
|24||Mads Pedersen (Denmark)|
|25||Andreas Schillinger (Germany)||0:00:38|
|26||Dylan Van Baarle (Netherlands)||0:01:02|
|27||Asbjørn Kragh Andersen (Denmark)||0:01:24|
|28||Jens Keukeleire (Belgium)||0:01:43|
|29||Florian Senechal (France)||0:01:55|
|30||Michael Schwarzmann (Germany)||0:02:21|
|31||Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)|
|32||Lawrence Naesen (Belgium)||0:02:39|
|33||Ramon Sinkeldam (Netherlands)||0:04:09|
|34||Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands)||0:04:10|
|35||Luke Rowe (Great Britain)|
|36||Kristoffer Halvorsen (Norway)|
|37||Thomas Leezer (Netherlands)|
|38||Kasper Asgreen (Denmark)||0:06:45|
|39||Laurens De Vreese (Belgium)||0:07:25|
|40||Patryk Stosz (Poland)|
|41||Jan Bárta (Czech Republic)||0:07:26|
|42||Kamil Malecki (Poland)|
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