We were lucky enough to be flown to Italy the other week (it’s a hard life – ed) and while there got the opportunity to watch the opening day of the sixth Coppi e Bartali stage race. It was only a short walk down the road from our seaside hotel, so on the way to the start we were able to check out all the team encampments (watch out for those pics soon). This race is remarkable in that it has a very ‘local race’ kind of feel, and the huge rolling stock of the big teams certainly felt out of place. Mustn’t complain though, it’s rare to get so close to all the big teams, of which there were many.
But many of you are probably wondering what this race is all about, so time for a quick bit of background. The clue is in the title really; Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi were – and still are – two of the biggest Italian cycling legends, and this race is a commemoration of their undeniable impact on the cycling world. Bartali and Coppi were team mates from 1940, when Coppi joined the same team as Bartali was on, and the two would go on to form a great partnership, helping each other to multiple wins in many of the big classics and tours. It was their intense rivalry which pushed them to new levels and their hunger to annihilate the competition. They didn’t take any prisoners, that’s for sure.
This was my first experience of a European road race, and it was fantastic. It’s exhilarating to see the huge entourage of all the teams, the dozens of spare bikes and wheels they bring with them, and more baby oiled legs than I care to see thank you very much. The first stage was a relatively mild 92.5km along the Riccione sea front and out briefly into the surrounding hills. Mostly flat, nothing too tricky for these guys who are used to more demanding courses, but the conditions made up for this. It was sopping wet, and the riders didn’t look at all happy crossing the finish line, mud and road grime dripping of their chiselled faces. It all ended up in a bunch sprint with Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital) winning aboard his Willier.
Later that afternoon and a short 56km team trial. You’ve got to see these boys in action to really believe how incredibly fast they hurtle along roads – roads which were barely cordoned of in most places. It’s a stunning display of speed, organisation and pure guts, it’s a great event to watch.
Lampre-Fondital’s Daminao Cunego (an Italian rider) went on to win the race outright after another three stages in the area north of Riccione.
- 1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital – 20.45.51
- 2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas – 0.02
- 3 Mario Aerts (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto – 0.11
- 1 Davitamon-Lotto – 62.19.40
- 2 Naturino-SaporeDiMare – 1.46
- 3 PhonakHearingSystems – 2.00