The Italian Maurizio Bellin
is the winner of the 34th Freccia dei Vini/Memorial Luigi Raffele/23rd Trofeo Pina e Mario Bazzigaluppi, organized by GS Orga Sport and the Viris Vigevano Team. This though race of 172.4 km. - one of the toughest on the Under 23 & Elite-2 international scene - between the Lombard towns of Vigevano and Broni, with seven hills, all of them in the second half of the route, to be climbed, ended up in a close sprint of two, with the 1982-born athlete from Somma Lombardo near Varese pipping more experienced Alberto Milani (GS Vitali) to the line, and giving GS Podenzano-Italfine-Brunero a not-unexpected victory. Their mighty squad was poised to take the win with one of their star riders, Massimiliano Maisto in particular, and they didn't disappoint, getting their men in multiple attacks, and finishing atop of the podium with Bellin, besides being the only team with three guys (Maisto included) in the top ten places.
A field of more than seventy (unfortunately less than in previous editions), with teams from Switzerland and Eastern Europe, and athletes from as far as Namibia in attendance, took the start - in one of the nicest sceneries a cycling race start could ever have: Vigevano's Piazza Ducale - Sunday, about 20 mins past midday. Even if eight riders from the orange team Pagnoncelli graced the Freccia roads, reigning champion Antonio Quadranti didn't: their (now former) teammate made the timely decision to become a professional rider with Naturino-Sapore di Mare 24 hours earlier, and consequently wasn't in the field Sunday.
With or without Quadranti (but certainly with legendary Ernesto Riboldi of Team Ciclo, aged 49 and still in the saddle, arguably the most "veteran" bike racer of the whole Italian peloton), we had a race, and it got off to a fast start, with the speed hovering around 50 km/h over the first kilometres, and a dozen riders or so going on some early breakaway attempts. Their moves were immediately chased down by the bunch, that quickly realized how keeping such a high pace, in such a combination of such a damn tough parcours and such a damn awful heat, was such "kamikaze riding tactics" anyway. Such that the speed came down significantly, and the bunch stayed together for the first 70-75 km. It was gruppo compatto (though without GS Vitali's Marco Salvoni, who had to pull out of the race early) as they crossed the Po river bridge between Sannazzaro de'Burgundi and Casei Gerola and entered the Oltrep˛ Pavese area, and it was gruppo compatto as the peloton hit the first hills of the day after winding through the town of Casteggio.
Then, finally, the Oltrep˛ slopes broke the field apart, and the real Freccia dei Vini, the race all those who have been following it throughout the years know well, got underway. One would just need three words to explain what the real Freccia is about: struggling, struggling and ... struggling. Struggling against the parcours, with three climbs (Oliva Gessi, Mornico Losana and Pietra de'Giorgi) coming in the space of less than ten kilometres, and four more - the Donelasco wall included - to come alter, in what the Spaniards - who sure know what uphill and downhill riding is about - would aptly call a rompepiernas (leg-breaking) course. Struggling against the sun and heat of an early July calientissimo afternoon, capable of turning an already arduous route into the most arduous of them all. And struggling against the perspective of getting dropped too soon in the race, watching what - one minute earlier - looked like real riders racing besides you become smaller and smaller points somewhere ahead of you, and the gap grow faster and faster, while your legs get emptier and emptier, and the car off the back of the bunch with race director aboard "asking" (as in "strongly advising") you to give up "'coz you're never gonna do it anyway" gets bigger and bigger.
Such a struggle claimed several casualties, such that in the end only 19 riders crossed the line at Broni. But also gave young guns with climbing and/or attacking attitude, be them in the finishers list or not, a unique opportunity to show their mettle. A chance Podenzano's Simone Meda did not waste: the boy made his move on the first hills of the race, and opened a significant gap. The Pagnoncelli "orange warriors" responded with Enrico Rossi, who attacked the field and launched a solo chase of the leader. The gap between the two guys was hovering around half a minute at the end of the Pietra de'Giorgi descent, about 80k to from the finish, and stayed the same (more or less) as the race made got to Broni for the first time, with Meda's lead over (what was left of) the bunch yo-yoing between 50" and 01'40". In the meantime another young (20) gun from Italy, Fabio Angeli, racing for the Switzerland-based Team Fidibc.com, also rode away from (what was left of) the pack on the hills and almost closed down the gap to first chaser Rossi.
But even if they delighted their fans and families along the route with their moves (which is no small thing anyway) Meda, Rossi and Angeli couldn't stay clear for a long time, as the bunch (okay, what was left of it ...) started chasing very hard and all three brave attackers were reeled in before they could hit the Donelasco wall (a Muur in pure "Classics of the North" style, short but damn steep, with gradients up to 20%). Close to all riders still in the race were together at the foot of the Muro, but its slopes split the field, and the next climb Mont¨ Beccaria (as well as the relative descents) did the rest.
So that we had a quartet at the front on the way to Broni, with some 20k to go: Podenzano were represented by the duo of future race winner Bellin and Danilo Colombo, Pagnoncelli had Francesco Tizza, eager to get back onto the Freccia podium he climbed in the days of 2002, while Fidibc.com got Switzerland's own Marcel Wyss, a team-mate of previous attacker Fabio Angeli, in the breakaway group. That became a five-man group as another rider aiming for nothing short of victory, Alberto Milani of GS Vitali, joined them before they could cross the line at Broni for the second time and start the first of two laps of a closing circuit with the Cigognola ascent as only difficulty. The Freccia's "home team" Viris Vigevano had a shot at joining the breakaway group as their leader, Russian Denis Sosnovchenko, launched his own chase. And so did a former Virisman, Neapolitan Antonio Marotti, now wearing the Calzature Montengranaro multicolour jersey.
But neither pursuers succeeded, and Sosnovchenko ended up 12th, while Marotti could just hold onto his sixth place. While the leading quintet held onto their lead until the last lap, until the skirmishes inside the same group started, and Bellini and Milani sped off on their own, turning victory into a two-man affair first, and Bellin's private property later, as the Podenzano athlete had faster legs than Milani across the line. Wyss came in third at 15" to give some international flavour to the podium (and give his combative squad a well-earned prize), which Tizza couldn't hit this time. Namibian Dan Craven had a solid ride and made the top ten, while the Hungarian team Nivo Betona, racing on Freccia roads after they contested the recent Tour of Serbia, got two men in the list of race finishers.
Alberto Milani had an excellent performance, but nonetheless sounded disappointed in his first post-race interviews, as after taking fifth one year ago, his objective was the race winner's red jersey this time. And he had to see it on the shoulders of Maurizio Bellin, who came to the Freccia dei Vini in good shape (also courtesy of some good fine-tuning rides at Spain's recent Circuito Monta˝Ús stage race) and got a win he was extremely happy for, but that perhaps didn't came unexpected to him. Bellin's next target is the Trofeo Briga Novarese, whose latest edition was won by Freccia 2004 champion Antonio Quadranti; so why not trying to continue this tradition? And notably why not making his Freccia triumph the first of a long string of accomplishments that would make Bellin's name known to broader audiences, also in "big gun" scene? Time, and the road, will tell.
34th Freccia dei Vini/Memorial Luigi Raffele (172.4 km): Results
1. Maurizio Bellin (Ita - GS Podenzano-Italfine-Brunero) - 04h23'20" (39.256 kph)
2. Alberto Milani (Ita - GS Vitali) - s.t.
3. Marcel Wyss (Swi - Team Fidibc.com) - at 15"
4. Francesco Tizza (Ita - Pagnoncelli-NGC-Perrel) - at 28"
5. Danilo Colombo (Ita - GS Podenzano-Italfine-Brunero) - at 01'34"
6. Antonio Marotti (Ita - C. Montegranaro-Marini Slivano) - at 01'56"
7. Fausto Fognini (Ita - Pool Cant˙ 1999) - at 02'24"
8. Dan Craven (Nam - Team Fidibc.com) - at 02'24"
9. Massimiliano Maisto (Ita - GS Podenzano-Italfine-Brunero) - at 02'24"
10. Christian Ghildardini (Ita - Pagnoncelli-NGC-Perrel) - at 02'24"
11. Daniel Szombok (Hun - Nivo Betona-Ezspressz 2000) - at 02'24"
12. Denis Sosnovchenko (Rus - Viris Vigevano-Isauto) - at 04'10"
13. Paolo Finotti (Ita - GS Garlaschese) - at 04'42"
14. Andrea Berti (Swi - Team Fidibc.com) - at 05'20"
15. Federico Rocchetti (Ita - Pool Cant˙ 1999) - at 06'13"
16. Antonio Fratepietro (Ita - Montegranaro-Marini Slivano) - at 06'13"
17. Matteo Montanari (Ita - Pool Cant˙ 1999) - at 06'13"
18. Massimiliano Caccin (Ita - Pagnoncelli-NGC-Perrel) - at 06'58"
19. Perler Kusztok (Hun - Nivo Betona-Ezspressz 2000) - at 07'50"
Freccia dei Vini Palmares 1972 Giovanni Battaglin (Ita - Jolly Ceramica)
1973 Gianfranco Pala (Ita - Baggio Gaverina)
1974 Giuseppe Martinelli (Ita - Europack)
1975 Gabriele Landoni (Ita - Itla)
1976 Vittorio Algeri (Ita - Itla)
1977 Dino Porrini (Ita - Lema Mobili) (*)
1978 Luigi Gritti (Ita - System Holz)
1979 Emanuele Bombini (Ita - System Holz)
1980 Juan Arroyo (Ven - Venezuela)
1981 Fabrizio Verza (Ita - Ital-Tessari)
1982 Tullio Cortinovis (Ita - Novartiplast)
1983 Tullio Cortinovis (Ita - Novartiplast)
1984 Stefano Bizzoni (Ita - Novartiplast)
1985 Giuseppe Calcaterra (Ita - Legnanese)
1986 Johnny Carera (Ita - Gloria)
1987 Valerio Tebaldi (Ita - Remac)
1988 Sergio Carcano (Ita - Gloria)
1989 Stefano Cortinovis (Ita - Remac)
1990 Mauro Consonni (Ita - Diana)
1991 Massimo Maestri (Ita - Domus)
1992 Massimo Donati (Ita - Cuoril)
1993 Rosario Fina (Ita - Cosmos)
1994 Marco Bellini (Ita - Brunero)
1995 Walter Pedroni (Ita - Addax)
1996 Simone Mori (Ita - MBM Rosa)
1997 Ellis Rastelli (Ita - Sintofarm)
1998 Alessandro Volpe (Ita - Pagnoncelli)
1999 Eddy Ratti (Ita - Podenzano)
2000 Andrei Moukhine (Rus - Viris Vigevano)
2001 Damiano Giannini (Ita - Pagnoncelli)
2002 Santo Anzß (Ita - Zoccorinese-Vellutex)
2003 Dimitri Dementiev (Rus - Italfine-Podenzano)
2004 Antonio Quadranti (Ita - Pagnoncelli-FMB Perrel)
2005 Maurizio Bellin (Ita - GS Podenzano-Italfine-Brunero)
Full Photo Gallery of the race to come in the next days. Stay tuned!