The "Criterium degli assi" (aka "Criterium dei Campioni"), a now traditional post-Giro competition held since 1999 on the Tuesday following the Tour of Italy's end, and organized in the Southwestern Lombard town of Broni by the hometown cycling glory, namely Russian-born but local resident Eugeni Berzin (Giro and LBL winner in 1994, Yellow Jersey for a few days in the 1996 TdF, and currently a car dealer) took place yesterday night.
For an area too many times neglected by the great professional cycling (as for the amateurs, things are different, a lot of small races are held over there), the Criterium represents a unique opportunity to watch the champions in action, and for the ones usually not interested in cycling its always a good chance to spend a night in a different way.
The contest was, as usual, divided in two halves: a short (some 1.5 km.-long) but extremely demanding ITT on the San Contardo Sanctuary climb, whose max. gradient is more than 20%, and a 30-lap city circuit in Broni "downtown".
The Broni criterium was the second leg of a "trilogy" which started on Monday in Albese con Cassano (hometown of Fabio Casartelli, the Motorola rider that died after crashing on a descent during the 1995 TdF), and will end in the Piedmontese town of Arona, with a further similar event originally scheduled for Wednesday, but reportedly postponed to next Monday, due to unfavourable weather conditions.
The race featured many top-class riders, from an in-form Paolo Savoldelli still wearing his pink jersey to Giro podium place getter Pietro Caucchioli, from climbing sensation Pérez Cuapio to fellow Mexican Meza Flores to other protagonists of the "Corsa Rosa" such as Dennis Lunghi, Giovanni Lombardi, Mario Scirea, Yaroslav Popovych etc. Even "The Cheetah" Quaranta, the unfit Savoldelli's teammate who didn't finish the Tour of Italy, joined the party in Broni.
Many big names didn't instead: from Cipollini (who never took part in the criterium's previous editions either) to another local rider, Daniele De Paoli, winner of the 2001 race but not part of the field this year. And of course the previous Giro winners Simoni and Garzelli, "pretty in pink" in the two last Criterium editions, but currently with different thoughts in their minds. And mr. Berzin for the first time played the race organizer part only, without getting on his bike and competing with the others.
The competition started at 7 PM with a brand new feature, not part of any previous edition: a contest reserved to younger categories, with Daniele Tansella taking line honours in the "Esordienti" Category, and Davide Magnitti soloeing to victory among the "Allievi".
But the big surprise came from a rider unknown to most fans (at least of road cycling only): Italy's Dario Acquaroli, a MTB ace, Italian and World Champion in the past, now riding for Full Dynamix, edged out all "roadies" to clinch victory in the first contest, the uphill TT, where Savoldelli ranked second and favorite Pérez Cuapio only took third. Acquaroli clicked a winning time of some 4'05". 34 riders climbed the San Contardo ("Such a hard climb. I didn't expect it to be so diifcult" in Savoldelli's words), with the first of them starting at 830PM.
The same competitors went downhill soon later and started the circuit race, the 30-lap competition marked by several breakaways, attacks and counter-attacks, most of them short-lived, with many riders in the spotlight, and the decisive move made by Paolo Savoldelli, "podium-mate" Pietro Caucchioli and Colpack's Dennis Lunghi (Giro stage winner) with a few laps to go. The trio went clear and extended his lead on the not-so-chasing peloton to a maximum of 40". In the end it was "Il Falco", who outsprinted Alessio's Caucchioli.
Savoldelli was the overall winner of the competition, and talked to journalists after the end. "My Giro victory came as a total surprise to me. I'm still euphoric. It's a wonderful sensation, and besides that, plenty of letters and messages from fans and supports are continuously coming to my home".
The man has one more reason to be happy, as girlfriend Simonetta will give him a son. That is one of the certainties regarding Savoldelli's future. Another is that the Falcon will fly not over the French roads, as he won't take part in the TdF, but will likely be at the startline of the Tour de Suisse, a country that brings him luck, as won the 2000 Tour de Romandie and two stages the follwing year.
The pink jersey's last words were about the doping side of the matter :"I think people still love this sport, and proved that in the final days of the Giro, where many many fans were along the streets cheering us. As for the doping subject, my opinion is that the whole affair has also been somehow exploited (by the medias)". Facts proved him right, at least for the "people still love cycling" topic, as the Giro champions and all other contenders, no matter if Italians or foreign, were cheered by a huge crowd.