Maybe it was because, as a Sicilian, he's much more accustomed to today's darn hot climate (the race was held in temperatures up to 37°C) than many of his colleagues from "cooler" northern Italy, maybe it was because the "chasing tactics" put in by his rivals will definitely not be taught in cycling schools. Or maybe it was just because Damiano Caruso
had great legs and put up a helluva performance today, with his thirst for victory, after two years filled with good placings but never atop any race podium, doing the rest.
In any event, the young (he will turn 21 in October) gun from Ragusa, racing for the Tuscany-based team Mastromarco Chianti Sensi Grassi (whose manager is nobody else but the legendary Andrea Tafi...) "picked" such a prestigious event as the Italian Nationals to get back to success and open his account in the U23 ranks, courtesy of the great solo attack he put in with some 20 kilometres to go.
Despite the torrid climate, the 163-km contest running over several laps around Alemanno San Salvatore town (in Bergamo land) was off to a surprisingly fast start, with 47.6 kilometres covered in first hour, and the average speed stayed around 43-45 kph all through the event. Early moves came from a strongman like Zalf's Manuele Boaro as well as Fabio Fissore (Brunero Promociclo) and Alessio Marchetti (Progetto Ciclismo-OTC Doors). Boaro is full of talent and grinta - or he wouldn't have clinched the silver medal in the ITT race won by Adriano Malori a few days ago, and victory at the prestigious GP Liberazione one-day event the past year - but nevertheless his move couldn't prosper this time. Next (in vain) on the attack was Federico Scotti of the Maltinti-Solgomma team, also based in Tuscany.
A front group of a dozen riders, Caruso included, formed later, but the bunch was basically together again by km. 96, as the race was about to climb the Burlino for the first time. Then twenty-one riders (Caruso, Margutti, Magazzini, Boaro, Locatelli, Salvi, Contoli, Pagani, Rocchetti, Pirazzi, Zango, Busato, De Marchi, Boschi, De Negri, Pinizzotto, Lucciola, Ascione, Di Serafino, Bertolini and Parrinello) managed to distance themselves from the rest of the field with 35k to go, and gained over two minutes in just nine kilometres.
But as we said earlier, Caruso had great legs today, and the right motivation too. So it was no wonder than the Sicilian gave it a go again; first of all as, along with Pierpaolo De Negri (Neri-Lucchini-Finauto), he closed down on Enrico Magazzini (Seano Vangi) and Damiano Margutti (Gruppo Sportivo Podenzano), who had made a prior move. And later as he went clear all by himself about 20 km from the line. Caruso quickly opened up a twenty-second lead on closest chasers Stefano Pirazzi (back to today's "home team" Palazzago after a brief spell in the Zalf roster) and Federico Rocchetti of another Lombard squad, the orange-clad Pagnoncelli, and gritted his teeth as he took on the steep (gradient up to 15 percent) slopes of Burlino for the last time: he crested the climb 16 seconds ahead of such chasing duo.
Another pairing, Alberto Contoli (Filmop-Raimonda) and Alessandro Trotta (Gruppo Sportivo Bedogni-Natalini), attacked the twelve-man second chase group and joined Pirazzi and Rocchetti, but not even such fresh additions could be of help to the chase and put Caruso's white, red and green bid in danger. Quite the opposite: instead of bringing back the Sicilian, the four guys were absorbed by their own pursuers while the man from Ragusa was extending his advantage to 33 seconds about 8 km from the finish, and to 50" a few thousand metres later.
Alberto Contoli finally realized that the peloton's chances to catch Caruso were getting slimmer, and resolved to go clear all by himself and start his own chase of the leader. But such move, as well as a similar attempt made by Pirazzi soon afterwards, came too late for them to stop Caruso's triumphal ride. Contoli and Pirazzi had to be content with landing on the lower steps of the podium (the former finished 58 seconds behind the winner, the man from the "home side" a further 17 secs. back, holding the oncoming group at bay by a very small margin) as much as nobody proved capable to keep the Sicilian from raising his arms across the line as he was having his best day in the saddle thus far. Hopefully his comeback to victory, a couple years after his (frequent) winning campaigns in the junior class, will provide a big moral booster for Caruso ahead of the upcoming challenges of the season.
Under 23 Men's Road Race (163.1 km): Top 10 Places:
1. Damiano Caruso (Mastromarco-Chianti Sensi-Grassi) - 03h40'59"
2. Alberto Contoli (Filmop-Bottoli-Ramonda-Parolin) - at 58"
3. Stefano Pirazzi (Team Grigolin-Solaris-Palazzago) - at 01'15"
4. Pierpaolo De Negri (Neri-Lucchini-Nuova Comauto) - at 01'15"
5. Matteo Busato (Fausto Coppi-Gazzera Videa) - at 01'15"
6. Damiano Margutti (GS Podenzano) - at 01'15"
7. Leonardo Pinizzotto (GS Seano-Vangi) - at 01'15"
8. Alessandro De Marchi (GS Brisot Cardin Bibanese) - at 01'15"
9. Enrico Magazzini (GS Seano-Vangi) - at 01'15"
10. Mirko Boschi (GS Podenzano) - at 01'15"
* Italian National Championships: Junior Men's Road Race
* Italian National Championships: Women's Road Races