Although the start of the cobbled racing season in Belgium captures the most attention this weekend, the Swiss season-opener GP Chiasso is also a tough race with a great 173km parcours, aimed at a different type of rider than those who will be juddering over the Belgian cobbles. With winners in the last five years alone including Kim Kirchen, Davide Rebellin and Franco Pellizotti, it is a course which attracts the hilly Classics men, with two energy-sapping circuits containing several sharp climbs which can act as launching pads for decisive breaks and attacks.
This year, some of the anticipated challengers for the Ardennes Classics this April will be on the start line, eager to test their legs on the climbs of Italian-speaking Switzerland. There will definitely be no shortage of quality, with ten ProTour squads as well as Italy’s best Professional teams racing continuing to raise the event's profile.
Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) is back to defend his title from last year (won in a small bunch sprint of twenty-two men), after placing highly in the Volta ao Algarve, while his compatriot Frank Schleck (Team CSC) should finish highly on a parcours seemingly tailor-made for his abilities. However, the biggest names here are Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), doyens of cycling’s Classics for several years. Former winners Giuliano Figueras (Lampre) and Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval) will also be looking to perform well here after unspectacular 2005s.
Of the other ProTour teams, David Moncoutie and Sylvain Chavanel of Cofidis could pose threats, while French champion Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Andrea Noe (Liquigas) will be spearheading the challenge for their squads. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) is also starting his season here, though little is expected of him here.
In the continental ranks, Rinaldo Nocentini (Acqua & Sapone), Igor Astarloa (Team Barloworld) and Luca Mazzanti (Panaria-Navigare) are all fancied riders, though the race will also be marked by the likely absence of the pocket Venezuelan rocket Jose Rujano, who is reportedly having contractual disputes with team manager, Gianni Savio.
Full race startlist here; check back for results later.
The Quick Step rider Remmert Wielinga has won this year's edition of the GP Chiasso. He broke away early on with just one other rider, Cofidis' Sylvain Chavanel; together, the two were able to create a hefty advantage over the peloton, which gave them considerable leeway initially. Although a truncated bunch bore down upon them in the closing stages, Wielinga attacked his French breakaway companion and was able to go it solo to the finish in Chiasso to take not just his first win but his first top ten stage finish in almost three years!
Behind, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) was the danger man, attacking hard with recent Tour du Haut Var winner Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis). The powerful Italian pair managed to hold off the bunch, but still finished twenty-three seconds adrift of the winner; Rebellin won the sprint for second place. Meanwhile, six seconds behind these two, the promising Liquigas' Vincenzo Nibali led in the group in fourth with a late acceleration, ahead of Matteo Carrara (Lampre-Fondital) and last year's winner Kim Kirchen of T-Mobile. Former world champion Igor Astarloa also finished in the top ten, while the highest finishing English-speaking rider was his Barloworld teammate Tiaan Kannemeyer, at the back of the group, in twentieth place.
Signed by Rabobank before the start of the 2003 season, after two competent years with De Nardi-Montegrappa, Wielinga had a great early-season, impressing by winning the Trofeo Calvia in Majorca and then a stage in the Ruta del Sol. Wielinga, who sees himself as a climber, also took a fine twelth overall in the Dauphiné Libéré, and earned a controversial spot on the Rabobank Tour team; controversial as fans felt another rider might have been more useful than Wielinga, who was well off the pace even before the mountains, ultimately abandoning on Stage 16. However, considering the serious injuries he’d obtained in the pile-up at Meaux on the very first road stage, he was barely given a chance to perform on cycling's biggest stage.
Following those promising seven months, Remmert Wielinga vanished from professional cycling’s radar, suffering a loss of confidence as well as form. The next two years were also littered by several niggling injuries, the effects of which the Dutchman found hard to shake off. In 2004 and 2005, he posted no top ten results, yet Quick Step had faith in his abilities and signed him when the two-year contract he’d signed with Rabobank, during his only Tour de France, was up. He has already looked much less ill at ease this season, finishing tenth overall at the Tour of the Med with his new squad, and this return to the winner’s circle will undoubtedly boost his morale. Hopefully, Wielinga is finally free of the injuries and self-doubts of the past few years, and can enjoy racing (and victory) again.
GP Chiasso - Results - 172.9km
1. Remmert Wielinga (Quick Step-Innergetic, NED) 4h 38m 07s
2. Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner, ITA) at 0'23"
3. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis, ITA) 0'25"
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas, ITA) 0'29"
5. Matteo Carrara (Lampre-Fondital, ITA) 0'30"
6. Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile, LUX) at same time
7. Dimitri Fofonov (Crédit Agricole, KAZ) s.t.
8. Igor Astarloa (Team Barloworld-Valsir, ESP) s.t.
9. Luis Laverde Jimenez (Panaria-Navigare, COL) s.t.
10. Thomas Ziegler (T-Mobile, GER) s.t.