The Coppa Ugo Agostoni is the second race of the Trittico Lombardo ("Lombard Trilogy"), held every summer in NW Lombardia, (Italy), coming between the Tre Valli Varesine (won by Eddy Ratti) and the Coppa Bernocchi (the latter is going to be held tomorrow).
The race is organized by the Societa' Ciclistica Mobili Lissone (a cycling team sponsored by a furniture firm, as furniture, together with pollution and great riders such as Saronni and Bugno, is one of the main products of this area called Brianza, which lies just to the NW of Milan). And it is dedicated to the local rider Ugo Agostoni, who won the Milan-San Remo in 1914 with the impressive time of 10h32'32" (sensational average speed of this rocket man: 24,822 km/h). Curiously, also an Aussie named Donald Kirkham (who was the first English-speaking human being to take part in the Tour de France) participated in that edition, taking an honourable 9th place.
The "Coppa Agostoni" starts and finishes in the town of Lissone, the route is a circuit, to be repeated many times, which includes two hard climbs: the Sirtori and especially the Lissolo (2.5 km., average gradient 8%, but max. gradient 18%). Maybe the ones who followed the live coverage of the Italian National Championships at the beginning of July might remember those names, as the circuit is the same.
But, much as we like to see the “young guns” of cycling do well today was the turn of two of the sports great veterans to show the youngsters how to win a Classic race. Gianni Faresin (Gerolsteiner), born on the 16/7/1965 in Marostica, Italy, and a professional since 1988, and “new boy” Laurent Jalabert (30/1/1968 - and a mere novice compared to Gianni, turning professional in 1989) rolled back the years for yet another day of glory under the sunny Lombardy skies.
When the two veterans made their escape from the peloton, at around the 100 kilometre mark, few observers would have guessed on the remarkable events that were to follow. Indeed, the two old lions never really gained a huge advantage on the peloton, which due to the hard parcours, heat, and crashes (Telekom's Bobby Julich and Sergej Yakovlev both fell heavily), reduced the chasers to around 30 riders by the end of the race. The two men never gained more than around two minutes and a half on the peloton but both men had the experience to know that if they worked steadily together a result could be achieved.
Not since Giovanni Battaglin had won the race in 1979 with an epic solo ride of around 180 kilometres has there been such a long and successful breakaway in this race...Indeed as the two veterans hit the “Wall” of Lissolo (2km climb with gradients of 14%) for the first of five times on the closing circuits with only a small advantage on the peloton, the game seemed to be over for the “old boys.”
With Fassa Bortolo setting the pace for Casagrande (who indeed leads the three day series) and the usual suspects all still in the race (Bartoli, Di Luca, Kessler, Celestino, Giunti, Pelizzotti, Frigo, Borghi, Donati, Sevilla, Cardenas, Ratti, Popovych, Dufaux, Di Grande, Rasmussen), few would have bet on the Italian and Frenchman staying clear. But the two men, working together until well under the Flamme Rouge, managed to hold the gap at around a minute.
Eventually the two fellow escapees had to break their day long truce and in the last 500 metres sprinted it out for glory. Sadly for Faresin it was "the youngster," Jalabert, who proved to have the strongest legs - and Jaja was able to celebrate his 163rd career victory, and one of his most memorable ones at that!
As for Faresin - the Italian crowds were extra generous in their applause - after what was a truly heroic exploit by two of cycling's veterans.
1 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) CSC-Tiscali 4.56.21 (40.088 km/h)
2 Gianni Faresin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
3 Massimo Giunti (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 0.56
4 Oscar Sevilla Ribera (Spa) Kelme
5 Massimo Donati (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Emmegi
6 Eddy Ratti (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step
7 Michael Rasmussen (Den) CSC-Tiscali 1.04
8 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 1.22
9 Gerrit Glomser (Aut) Saeco-Longoni Sport
10 Bo Hamburger (Den) Index-Alexia