11 Seasonal victories for Fassa-Bortolo, two of them for Fabio Baldato, 28 so far in the man's pro career. These are the numbers of the 27th "Trofeo Pantalica", a race disputed on Saturday's afternoon in the southeastern part of Sicily, the first of a trilogy usually held in the Mediterranean island in the first half of March, and encompassing "Trofeo Arance Rosse " ("Red Oranges Trophy" former Giro della Provincia di Siracusa), to run tomorrow, and next Tuesday's "Trofeo dell'Etna" ("Tour of Aethna").
Today's contest took the riders from Sloraino to Ferla (a town which hosted the race for the first time since 1986) over 197 kms, and featuring quite a demanding ascent (to be climbed three times) in the last part of the course.
The list of participants featured 17 teams, lining-up several big names. The TACCONI SPORT team was at its debut with the new co-sponsor, and consequently the brand new name TACCONI SPORT-EMMEGI. Indeed Vini Caldirola stopped its sponsorship in cycling.
Here is the teams list with some of the likely (well, at least before the start) protagonists
* ACQUA&SAPONE-CANTINA TOLLO (ITA) - Conti, Gentili
* ALESSIO (ITA) - Caucchioli, Pellizzotti
* INDEX-ALEXIA ALLUMINIO (ITA) - Paolo Lanfranchi, Paolo Savoldelli,
* AMORE&VITA-BERETTA (POL) - Rodolfo Massi,
* CAGE MAGLIERIE - Lelekin (Rus), Cristiano Frattini
* PANARIA-FIORDO (ITA) - Giuliano Figueras, Valdimir Duma (Ukr)
* COLOMBIA-SELLE ITALIA (COL) - Fredy Gonzalez (Col) , Fortunato Baliani
* DE NARDI-MONTEGRAPPA (SVK) - Palumbo, Alberto Ongarato
* FASSA BORTOLO (ITA) - Michele Bartoli, Francesco Casagrande, Fabio Baldato, Paolo Tiralongo
* LAMPRE - DAIKIN (ITA) - Raimondas Rumsas (Lit),
* LANDBOUWKREDIET - COLNAGO (BEL) - Rolf Sorensen (Den), Oscar Cavagnis
* MAPEI - QUICK STEP (ITA) - Andrea Noč, Luca Scinto
* MERCATONE UNO (ITA) - Sgambelluri, Borgheresi
* MOBILVETTA - FORMAGGI TRENTINI (ITA) - Moreno Di Biase
* SAECO MACCHINE PER CAFFE' - LONGONI SPORT (ITA) - Mirko Celestino, Biagio Conte
* TACCONI SPORT-EMMEGI (ITA) - Gianluca Bortolami, Eddy Mazzoleni
* TEAM COLPACK-ASTRO (ITA) - Denis Lunghi, Giordani
The first part of the race was marked by the solo escape of Poland's Przemyslaw Niemec (Amore e Vita-Beretta) who rode away from the peloton after no more than 1 km. of riding. His lead on the peloton went up to a maximum of 14'30" by km. 60 (Sortino town). After two hours or racing, Fassa-Bortolo took the initiative at the front of the "chasing" group.
And soon later one of their riders riders, Slovenia's Gorazd Stangelj, managed to get away from the bunch, along with Italy's Fortunato Baliani (Colombia Selle Italia team). The pair quickly opened a 3' gap on the main peloton, and their chasing work on Niemec proved to be successful, as they caught and immedately dropped the Polish rider at the km. 126 mark. Congrats to Niemec anyway, as he managed to stay clear for 125 kms.
About nine kilometres later, Niemec was caught also by a Yugoslav rider, Alessio's Sasha Gajicic, who had previously succeeded in getting clear and gaining almost a minute on the peloton (although he remained about 2'25" behind the leading duo). But the Serb's adventure didn't last for long.
With some 30 kms. to go, on the Canicattini Bagni climb, Baliani was dropped and the Slovene remained alone at the front, while the Saeco-led bunch was nearing. But today's show by East-European (strangely neither Russians nor Ukrainians though) riders was fated to end soon. Indeed the first to bring back (and drop) him was Acqua e Sapone's Gentili, soon joined by Panaria's Giuliano Figueras. In the meantime the bunch splintered, with 30 riders in the leading part not much later catching both Figueras and Gentili. But the 32-strong group would be soon joined by 20 more riders.
Another 13-man short-lived break went clear with some 20 kms. to go, on the Villa Bibbia ascent. Then it was the turn of a trio made up of Paolo Savoldelli (Index-Alexia), former teammate and Siclian rider Biagio Conte (Saeco-Longoni Sport) and Luca Mazzanti (Mercatone Uno). But all they got was a 15-second lead, which vanished soon (at 5 km. from the finish line).
The last kilometre, featuring a gradient going up to 11% proved decisive: Massimiliano Gentili launched an all-out attack with 250 metres to go, but Baldato came around him and took the stage showing an impressive strength. Figueras came in third.
Watch out for all of these guys in two weks, they could be among the main stars of Milan-San Remo (even if Gentili would likely have to sacrifice his own ambitions and play the part of Cipollini's domestique).
Results - TOP 10 Places:
1. Fabio Baldato (Ita - Fassa Bortolo) - 5h40'27"
2. Massimiliano Gentili (Ita - Acqua e Sapone - Cantina-Tollo)
3. Giuliano Figueras (Ita - Panaria-Fiordo)
4. Massimo Giunti (Ita - Acqua e Sapone - Cantina-Tollo)
5. Mirko Celestino (Ita - Saeco-Longoni Sport)
6. Francesco Casagrande (Ita - Fassa Bartolo)
7. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita - Mobilvetta-Formaggi Trentini)
8. Pietro Caucchioli (Ita - Alessio)
9. Luca Mazzanti (Ita - Mercatone Uno) - at 10"
10. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita - Fassa-Bortolo)