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Will Sonny Colbrelli open his account on a wet day in Lugano?

Photo: Sirotti

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27.02.2016 @ 20:46 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Most of the cycling world may have its eyes firmly on the Belgian opening weekend but while the classics specialists test themselves on the cobbles, a different kind of riders are battling on the Swiss roads. The hilly GP Lugano is like a typical Italian one-day race and should see a big fight between the strongest climbers and the fast finishers who can survive the many climbs on the course.

 

Switzerland has a rich cycling history and the country has always hosted some of the biggest races on the calendar. The Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie are among the best stage races and for several years, the Meisterschaft von Zürich was part of the World Cup. However, the latter race has now disappeared from the calendar, meaning that there are very few major one-day races left in the Alpine country.

 

One of the races that have survived the tough economic times is the GP Lugano which joins the GP Kanton Aargau as the main one-day events in Switzerland. With hilly courses, both races are pretty similar but while the latter is a preparation race for the Tour de Suisse, the former is a key event for many riders that build condition for Paris-Nice.

 

The GP Lugano was once a time trial before it turned into a one-day race in the hilly area close to the Swiss-Italian border. For several years, it combined forces with the GP Chiasso to form a perfect weekend of tough racing one week ahead of Paris-Nice but after the demise of the latter race, the Lugano event is now a stand-alone affair. Due to its hilly course, however, it remains a perfect preparation for the race to the sun.

 

In many ways, the race is strongly linked to Italy. First of all, its location close to the border means that it always attracts all the major Italian teams. However, its nature is also similar to the Italian races which are very often decided in a sprint from a select group after a tough day of climbing. The GP Lugano often follows a similar script and in the finale it often turns into a battle between the late attackers and the small group that has survived the climbs on the challenging circuit.

 

Last year it came down to a sprint from a 20-rider group, with Niccolo Bonifazio beating Francesco Gavazzi and Matteo Montaguti in the final dash to the line.

 

The course

The GP Lugano has always been a very hilly race and even though it is no longer as tough as it once was, it still has a significant amount of climbing. It is a circuit race which makes it very comparable to a World Championships road race and is held over a total distance of 184.9km.

 

The circuit both starts and finishes in Lugano and has a total length of 34km. Before tackling the full circuit, however, the riders do the final 14.9km as a bit of a warm-up. That part is the hardest though as it contains the biggest climb, a short flat section, a descent and another short climb before the riders descend the final 4km back to the finish on the shores of the Lake Lugano.

 

Having returned to the finish, the riders will do 5 laps of the full circuit. The first 12km are mainly flat and then the riders go up the Bora da Besa climb. After the descent, there is another short, flat section before they get to the bottom of the main climb where they will do the final 14.9km that they did at the beginning of the race. In general, it is a highly technical course, with lots of twists and turns and especially the final descent back to the finish is pretty difficult.

 

 

 

The weather

The race has often been marred by bad weather and that will be the case again this year. It will be raining cats and dogs all day and the temperature will only be 8 degrees. There will be a light wind from a northrtly direction which means that it will be tailwind in the first part of the circuit, then a headwind and finally a tailwind in the final section.

 

The favourites

The course for the GP Lugano has changed a bit from year to year but the main challenges have been unchanged in recent years and the main climbs have been the same. In 2014 the riders did five laps of the exact same circuit but didn’t do the opening 15km section but last year the course was the same as the one that the riders will face this year. This means that most know what kind of racing can be expected in the Swiss race.

 

History shows that the race usually comes down to a tough battle between the best climbers who can use the final climb to escape, and a reduced peloton that aims to decide the race in a sprint. Last year Bonifazio won a 20-rider sprint and in 2014 14 riders reached the finish together, with Mauro Finetto holding off Sonny Colbrelli and Diego Ulissi in the sprint to claim the win. The 2013 edition was cancelled due to horrendous weather conditions while Eros Capecchi managed to keep a 15-rider chase group at bay in 2012. In 2011, Ivan Basso and Fabio Duarte stayed away from a 17-rider group.

 

The race is likely to be decided from either a sprint or a late breakaway but the rainy conditions will favour the attackers. Furthermore, it will make descending skills even more important on the tricky, narrow roads on the shores of the sea.

 

Sonny Colbrelli was close to the win in this race in 2014 when he was only beaten by Mauro Finetto. Last year he was off the pace but there is a vast difference between the 2015 and 2016 edition of the Italian classics specialist. Last year he was set back by illness and never found his best form but this year he has been flying right from the start of the year. He was on the attacks in the Valencia mountains and stayed with the best climbers in the tough Trofeo Laigueglia. This race is easier than the one in Laigueglia and so he will be even harder to drop here. Furthermore, he is one of the very fastest in a sprint as he proved by beating Grega Bole in the sprint for second in Laigueglia. Colbrelli is destined for a big season and we expect him to open his account in Lugano.

 

Like Colbrelli, Grega Bole has had a great start to the year. He won the GP Costa degli Etruschi where he managed to follow the very best climbers. He had a harder time in Laigueglia but made it back in time for the sprint where he was second by Colbrelli in the battle for the runner-up spot. This race is easier and we again expect Bole to be up there. He is fast enough to beat almost everybody and it could come down to a close head-to-head battle with Colbrelli.

 

Francesco Gavazzi can win the race from every scenario. He is one of the best on the climbs as he proved in Etruschi and Laigueglia where no one was able to drop him and he is one of the fastest in the sprint. Unfortunately, he is not as fast as Colbrelli and Bole but at the end of a hard race, it won’t be impossible to beat him. However, his best chance will be to follow the attacks in the finale and if he can get rid of the two sprinters, he will be very hard to beat.

 

In Etruschi and Laigueglia, Diego Ulissi desperately tried to drop the sprinters but he failed to stay away to the finish. He has confirmed his good form in Haut Var and has now set his sights on Lugano. There is no doubt that he is probably the best climber in the race but it will be hard for him to drop a rider like Gavazzi who is faster than him in a sprint. However, he won’t be without a chance in a sprint from a small group of attackers and the bad weather should make the race harder which is a clear advantage for him.

 

Another rider that will benefit from a hard race is Jarlinson Pantano who confirmed his good form with his great performance in Algarve. He is strong on short, explosive climbs and is very fast in a sprint. Last year he was close to victory in reduced bunch sprints in Romandie and this makes him a contender if this race becomes tough

 

Damiano Cunego had a slow start to the year but showed good form in Laigueglia where he made a great solo attack on the final climb before sacrificing himself for Bole. His form is likely to have improved and we can expect him to follow the best on the final climb. He is a great descender and fast in a sprint but he needs to get rid of the likes of Colbrelli, Bole and Gavazzi to have a chance.

 

If Gavazzi joins the attacks and is left fatigued at the end, Androni have another card to play. Davide Vigano loves these kind of reduced sprints and will be ready to take over from his teammate.

 

David Tanner provides IAM with a second card. He is probably not strong enough to follow the best on the climbs but he has a decent turn of speed in case it comes down to a sprint from a small group.

 

On paper, this is a very good race for Kristian Sbaragli who is a good climber and one of the fastest riders here. However, this is only his second race and he was nowhere near his best in Andalucia.

 

Finally, we will point to Mauro Finetto who is a former winner and Rasmus Guldhammer. Both are among the best climbers and fast in a sprint but they haven’t shown their best condition yet.

 

***** Sonny Colbrelli

**** Grega Bole, Francesco Gavazzi

*** Diego Ulissi, Jarlinson Pantano, Damiano Cunego

** Davide Vigano, David Tanner, Kristian Sbaragli, Rasmus Guldhammer, Mauro Finetto

* Andrea Pasqualon, Stefan Schumacher, Omar Fraile, Natnael Berhane, Merhawi Kudus, Daniele Ratto, Daniele Colli, Pawel Cieslik, Antonio Parrinello

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