Surprise, surprise. The eventual winner of the 6th "Settimana Internazionale Coppi & Bartali" wasn't either Saeco's Mirko Celestino (overall leader at the start of Sunday's fifth and final stage of the event) or Domina Vacanze's Michele Scarponi (runner-up in the GC before the last leg, in the same time as Celestino), but Neapolitan rider Giuliano Figueras of the Ceramiche Panaria-Margres team, who started the stage 05" down in the GC, but moved to the top spot thanks to the six-second time bonus he was awarded as he snatched second in the stage (Castellarano-Sassuolo, 170.3 km), won by fellow Italian Ruggero Marzoli (Acqua & Sapone-Caffè Mokambo).
Mr. Marzoli, a stage winner, curiously in front of the same Figueras, also in the 2002 edition of the event (and top 5 finisher in three more stages of this year's edition - btw), was the fastest in a sprint of about 10 riders, among which were also Celestino and Marzoli, that were competing not just for the line honours, but also for the time bonuses that -no surprise in that- were going to determine the race outcome.
The stage dynamics lived up to expectations, with several attacks and the Fazzana "wall" (a 1900m ascent with gradients up to 18-20%, similar to the well-known "La Redoute" of Liege-Bastogne-Liege) proving as selective as expected, and helping the number of DNFs to rise to about 50 riders. Michele Scarponi's Domina Vacanze domestiques forced the pace on the ascent to help the 24-year-old climber and give Mirko Celestino a hard time. The Saecoman struggled and despite losing contact to the guy he (and many others) regarded as the biggest threat to his leadership, never gave up, and managed to regain the leading bunch in the final descent into Sassuolo.
But in the end it was Figueras and not Scarponi that toppled Celestino, who was very disppointed after the finish ("Bertagnolli perfectly set up the sprint for me, it looked like I had it won" Celestino said in post-race interviews), while Marzoli, who will turn 28 next Friday, scored the sixth win so far in his career as professional rider, also thanks to the efforts of his domestiques, whom he didn't waste the opportunity to praise: "My chain snapped on the ascent during the penultimate lap (of the final circuit around Sassuolo), but all of my team-mates helped me regain the bunch, and that made me even more determined in the sprint. That's the way I like to race, I need to have my team-mates around (to help). I became a different kind of rider after moving to my new team, I'm more determined now, and owe it to (Acqua & Sapone's DS) Palmiro Masciarelli'', were Marzoli's post-victory words.
The stage winner wasn't the only one wishing to celebrate after crossing the line. Also Giuliano Figueras had many reasons to be happy. Not just as he set a new victory on his palmares, but also because this could finally put a end to a negative period that saw him involved in certain "unpleasant" affairs he dearly paid for, such that he was sanctioned by the Italian Cycling Federation. But after the suspension the man got back in the saddle, and now he's back to making the headlines in the way we prefer, courtesy of an excellent performance that took him to the top of the podium again.
''This was the most important second place finish in my career. I had to battle it out until the end, and this makes my victory even more appreciated. And now my career can get off to a new start, after two very sad years. The truth is that I can say I'm happy man now; I married in December, I trained well (throughout the winter), often on home roads around Naples" said Figueras, who has been based in Bolonia, not far from the Panaria headquarters, for the past three years "And maybe I'm going fast in this period also because I found back the roads of my home region Campania, as well as my Neapolitan colleagues Raffaele Illiano, Crescenzo D'Amore and Pasquale Muto" .
Figueras definitely went through bad times, but never thought he wasn't a rider any longer, and managed to find the strength to recover, which is what makes him happy the most: "to get out of certain situations is a victory by itself", the Neapolitan confessed in post-stage talks with the press.
And now he can really start again (not from zero, but from one important win), at the age of 28, "with at least five years of my career before me". And with some Giro d'Italia stages (Figueras said he'll be going for some day of glory. but not the overall, in the first GT of the year) and - why not ?- the Verona Worlds as next objectives.
Courtesy GS Emilia.
Stage 5 (Castellarano-Sassuolo, 170.3 km.): Top 10 Places
1. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita - Acqua&Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) - 04h21'24''
2. Giuliano Figueras (Ita - Panaria-Margres) - s.t.
3. Raffaele Illiano (Ita - Colombia-Selle Italia) - s.t.
4. Mirko Celestino (Ita - Saeco) - s.t.
5. Giuseppe Muraglia (Ita - Formaggi Pinzolo Fiavè) - s.t.
6. Michele Scarponi (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
7. Andrea Noè (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - s.t.
8. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita - Saeco) - s.t.
9. Timothy Jones (Zim - Domina Vacanze) - s.t.
10. Kyrylo Pospeyev (Ukr - Acqua&Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) - s.t.
Settimana Internazionale Coppi & Bartali - Final GC: Top 10 Places
1. Giuliano Figueras (Ita - Panaria-Margres) - 21h09'36'' (38.166 kph)
2. Mirko Celestino (Ita - Saeco) - at 01''
3. Michele Scarponi (Ita - Domina Vacanze) - at 01''
4. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita - Acqua&Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) - at 08''
5. Leonardo Bertagnoli (Ita - Saeco) - at 11''
6. Andrea Noè (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 12''
7. Kiryl Pospeyev (Ukr - Acqua&Sapone-Caffé Mokambo) - at 24''
8. Franco Pellizotti (Ita - Alessio-Bianchi) - at 29''
9. Timothy Jones (Zim - Domina Vacanze) - at 29''
10. Luca Mazzanti (Ita - Panaria-Margres) - at 32''
Mountains: 1. Giuliano Figueras (Ita - Panaria-Margres)
Points: 1. Ruggero Marzoli (Ita - Acqua&Sapone-Caffé Mokambo)
Young Riders:1. Alexander Kolobnev (Rus - Domina Vacanze)
Settimana Internazionale Coppi & Bartali - Recent Winners
2001: Ruslan Ivanov (Mol)
2002: Francesco Casagrande (Ita)
2003: Mirko Celestino (Ita)
2004: Giuliano Figueras (Ita)