What’s gone wrong with the I-talians?

We’re just about half way through the 2010 Giro d’Italia and there has still been no Italian stage winner. Liquigas, a team consisting of six Italian riders did win the team time trial but there has yet to be an individual Italian stage winner (or ‘I-talian’ as Sean Kelly would have us say). So we are left to wonder why is it, that on their home turf, the race that most Italians base their whole season on, that none of them can win a stage? Perhaps, if we take a look at recent results elsewhere whe shouldn’t be all too surprised that the natives are struggling to find success in this year’s Giro.

There have been a number of incidents which have hit Italian racing hard over the past couple of years. First of all there’s the retirement of the Italian talisman Paolo Bettini. The double World Champion was a classics specialist who won Milan San Remo, Liége-Bastogne-Liége, the Tour of Lombardy and the Olympic road race throughout his stellar career. Since Bettini’s retirement, there hasn’t been a serious Italian contender for the classics (discounting Davide Rebellin who won Fléche Wallonne in 2009 but has subsequently been banned for doping). The closest rider to a classics all rounder that the Italians can now claim as their own is Filippo Pozzato but he is yet to build on his Milan San Remo success in 2006. Since Bettini’s last monument classic victory in 2006 there have in fact been three Italian winners of a monument. Alessandro Ballan won the Tour of Flanders in 2007 and went on to win the Worlds in 2008, but since then the curse of the rainbow jersey has most certainly had a hold of him. He was struck down with illness for the first half of 2009 and never regained top form and he has now become embroiled in the Mantova doping case which is centred on his former Lampre team. Danilo Di Luca also won Liége-Bastogne-Liége in 2007 but he is currently serving a two year doping ban after testing positive at last year’s Giro. This leaves Damiano Cunego, who won the Tour of Lombardy in both 2007 and 2008, as the only Italian monument winner since Bettini who remains active in the current peloton.

There has been no Italian winner of a monument classic in 2009 or (so far) in 2010. Looking back over the previous monument classics, there has been at least one Italian winner every year since 1992. Looked at another way, there has no been no Italian winner in the last nine monument classics. This is only the third time this has happened in the past 40 years. The only Italian to even reach the podium of a monument so far this year was Alessandro Petacchi. Italian results in general for 2010 have been few and far between. Stefano Garzelli won Tirreno-Adraitico and Giovanni Visconti won the Tour of Turkey. Even considering individual stages of Pro Tour races there have only been three stages won by Italian riders.  At one day races it is even more desperate, Enrico Gasparrato managed to add to Petacchi’s podium finish with a 3rd place at the Amstel Gold Race, but that’s about it. It’s a truly tragic state of affairs when the biggest one day victory by an Italian rider in the past 12 months has been Pozzato’s win in the Italian road race championship.

At the Tour de France it is an equally sorry situation. In the past two editions of the Tour there have been no Italian stage winners. Rinaldo Nocentini wore the Yellow jersey for over a week last year but he was the first Italian wearer of the Maillot Jaune since Alberto Elli ten years previously. Currently there are five Italians in the top 40 of the UCI World Rankings. These riders include Stefano Garzelli, Michele Scarponi, Alessandro Petacchi and Marco Pinotti, none of whom are the right side of 30 and two of whom are the wrong side of 35. Sacha Modolo is the only other Italian in the top 40, only 22 years of age and having finished 4th in this year’s Milan San Remo, Modolo provides a glint of optimism in the otherwise desolate landscape that is Italian cycling right now.

A further element which has severely hindered Italian cycling over the past couple of seasons is the number of high profile doping positives. Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Danilo Di Luca, Davide Rebellin, Riccardo Riccó, Emanuele Sella and Leonardo Piepoli have all been caught and banned for various misdemeanors. This has hit Italian racing, and the prospect for victories, very hard indeed.

There have been some close calls in this year’s Giro with Italians finishing in the top three on a number of stages. Fabio Sabatini has finished 2nd and 3rd in sprint finishes losing to Tyler Farrar both times, but he never looked like getting the better of the American in either sprint. Simone Stortoni, Damiano Cunego and Pippo Pozzato have all also finished 2nd on a stage but again, none ever looked like actually winning. The best hopes of an Italian stage win remain entrenched with the old guard of Garzelli, Scarponi, Cunego and Pozzato. The Giro d’Italia has always been extremely indigenous over the years. The overall winners from 1997 until 2007 were all Italian. But since Contador and most recently Denis Menchov have broken the Italian stranglehold on the race, added to the lack of Italian results over the past couple of years and the number of high profile doping cases, Italian prospects are seeming forlorn indeed. The pressure will remain firmly on for an Italian to win a stage. A Giro d’Italia with no Italian stage winner? It’s never happened!

(Thanks to Paul Kelly for the idea for the post!)

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  1. Richard Lee - May 19, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    Times ticking. Perhaps todays longest stage will give the Italians plenty of time to figure it out for a stage win!

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