While waiting for Mario Cipollini to come and bring the title back to Italy after ten years (something that is very far from being certain anyway) Italy could taste the joy of victory two times in the earlier part of these World Championships. First thanks to young Anna Zogno from Brescia, gold medalist in the opening race, the Junior Women Time Trial on Tuesday, and able to take the "Azzurro" color back to the top of the podium after a three-year absence. And three days later courtesy of Francesco Chicchi, a man bearing some resemblances to Cipo himself.
Indeed both are from the Lucca province of Tuscany, and both got the major victories of their respective careers in bunch sprints. You all probably know almost everything about the "Lion King", but as for Chicchi, the 21-year-old Tuscan got the biggest win so far in his career ... exactly today, when he became the new World Road Champion in the U23 Category. The Italian took the gold medal by edging out Holland's Hans Dekkers (later disqualified due to his irregular sprinting), Spain's Francisco Gutiérrez (who as consequently awarded the silver) and Switzerland's David Loosli. Uzbek Serguei Lagutin took fourth.
Chicchi was the fastest man in a sensational, tight bunch sprint, and came from seven spots back in the final 300 meters of racing to take the title. The winner himself talked of his sprint in an interview given to the "Gazzetta dello Sport" paper: "I saw the German train passing on the right and opted for following them. But with 300 metres to go I was boxed, I didn't know what to do, so I switched to the left after seeing a little gap there, and pushed the hardest gear possible ". A winning move for the man, that could cross the line with his arms raised in triumph.
The Veneto-based Tuscan, usually riding for Trevigiani-Mapei, and whose "role model" is Erik Zabel (but he promised he'll be rooting for fellow "Lucchese" Mario Cipollini on Sunday), stayed comfortably inside the main bunch for most of the race, while several other riders (including teammate Antonio Bucciero, Silver medal as a Junior two years ago, who made his move with 2 km. to go but was brought back by the peloton in the final 500 m.) were attacking and counter-attacking, just to wait for the final sprint, where he could finally display all of his (tactical too) skills.
Friday's success was the tenth in the current season for "Fast Francesco", who also captured two stages of the Baby-Giro in June. In spite of these wins, on Friday morning his chances of getting a contract as a pro rider, in the near future at least, were close to zero. But a few hours later things could have taken a completely different turn, and Chicchi might soon enter the world of professional cycling (that's what he actually hopes, according to the interviews he gave after the race).
Francesco Chicchi is the smiling side of the Italian National Team. But the coin has got another side too, bearing three different names: Daniele Pietropolli, Antonio Bucciero and especially Fabio Borghesi.
The first was involved in a crash with about two km. to the finishing line. A crash that took away all chances of a final win to both him and Russia's Mikhail Timochine (Number 1 rider in the UCI Ranking, as well as main favorite of the contest).
The second was the protagonist of the break attempt I mentioned before, and got caught in the last km. of racing. Bucciero's move split the field further and, all things considered, was of help to Chicchi, but the Brescia-based Neapolitan, who will be wearing the Saeco's red jersey next year, was everything but happy at the way things have gone for him. "I hope I may take some good results in the future, when among the pros, but now I'm very upset. The race was marked by several attacks, and I made my move too. Team coach Fusi told me to wait for the final sprint, but I was in a great form, had good legs, so opted for attacking in the ascent during the last lap. But unfortunately the peloton led by the Russians chased me down".
And the third was the rider most badly affected by the crash (involving many) that occurred at about 500 metres from the finish. Borghesi suffered a skull trauma, and had a checkbone injured, but things went better than one may expect to, especially after seeing him standing on the ground, unable to move, for several, long moments. Holland's Hans Dekkers was later disqualified by the race commissaries, who blamed him for causing the accident.