March 9, 2012 by Irish Peloton
Italians at the Classics – The Tour of Flounderers
Oliver Zaugg won the Tour of Lombardy last year in what was most certainly a surprise victory considering he had never won a race before. The 30 year-old chose a monument classic to make his mark on the sport as he beat Daniel Martin into second place. Zaugg became the first post-war rider to take one of cycling’s five biggest one-day races as his maiden victory.
But there was another notable statistic which emerged as a result of Zaugg’s victory.
Since the last Italian victory at the Tour of Lombardy, by Damiano Cunego in 2008, the race has been won twice by Phillipe Gilbert of Belgium and most recently by Zaugg of Switzerland. Three barren years without an Italian victory in their own race is compounded by the fact that the last three winners of their other monument, Milan-San Remo, have been an Aussie, a Spaniard and a Brit.
This is the first time ever that no Italian has won either Milan-San Remo or the Tour of Lombardy three years in a row.
If we widen the net to also include the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liége-Bastogne-Liége, no Italian rider has won any monument classic in the last three years, since that Cunego win in 2008. Zaugg’s victory for Switzerland made it 15 barren monuments in a row for Italy. This has also never happened before.
The Italians have gone 14 monuments in a row without a win a number of times previously, but not for a long time. The last two times this abomination occured were between the years 1968 and 1973. Throughout these years, the classics were utterly dominated by Belgians. Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Walter Godefroot and Eric Leman left very little opportunities for anyone else to sneak a win.
But as the 2012 Milan San Remo approaches, the Italians have reached a new low as they continue to flounder in the classics.
In the figure below, the red plot line indicates Italian riders in the pro peloton who have amassed at least one ranking point according to cqranking.com. The blue bar chart indicates the number of top Italian teams in the peloton.
The most interesting point indicated by the graph is that both the number of Italians with ranking points and the number of top Italian teams have both taken a sharp drop in the past three years. This would translate into the contention that there are simply less Italians out there now capable of a victory.
It’s perhaps also worth pointing out a similar graph I’ve used before. It’s related to Grand Tours so is less appropriate than the graph above, but it nevertheless shows a decline in the Italian influence on the pro peloton. The graph below shows the number of Italians who finished in the top 50 of the Tour de France since 1970:
This graph shows a serious decline in the number of Italians who were competitive for the G.C. at the Tour de France. From their peak of 13 in the mid-90s, they’re now down to just two riders in the top 50 in 2011, Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso.
The last two Italian winners of Milan-San Remo are Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Petacchi in 2006 and 2005 respectively. The latter finished third as recently as 2010 but Ale-Jet certainly has his best years behind him and the prospect of a 298km slog is becoming more and more daunting.
Pozzato is a strange case. He was truly feared throughout the spring classics in 2009 where he won the E3 Prijs, took fifth at the Tour of Flanders and was beaten only by a rampant Tom Boonen at Paris-Roubaix. Despite finishing fifth in Milan-San Remo last year, Pozzato has regressed dramtically since 2009, choosing to follow wheels and scupper the hopes of others rather than ride his own race and take risks. The only race he has won in the past 18 months is the modest GP Beghelli.
But as the old guard of Italian prospects have faltered over the past few years, there is a new wave of young sprinters who have been breaking rank over the same period.
Sacho Modolo finished fourth in Milan-San Remo in 2010 aged just 22. He seems to be approaching decent form having finished fifth behind Cavendish in the bunch sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday. Manuel Belletti is a similar kind of rider albeit a couple of years older and coincidentally finished fifth in today’s bunch sprint at Tirreno-Adriatico.
But on a level above Modolo and Belletti are Elia Viviani and Andrea Guardini. These two Italian powerhouses are perhaps the country’s best chance of breaking their terrible losing streak at the monument classics. Viviani has just turned 23 and has won five times already this year while Guardini is just 22 and has six victories to his name (even if they were all at the Tour de Langkawi).
But regardless of the expectations that will be heaped on their shoulders, both will face the extremely difficult task of defeating the favourites for the race, all of whom graduated from the school of HTC-Columbia – Andre Greipel, Matt Goss and Mark Cavendish.
The Italians regularly win the Giro d’Italia and prior to the past three years, actually enjoyed many wins in the monument classics too thanks to the likes of Cunego, Paolo Bettini, Michele Bartoli and Andre Tafi.
So if we’re feeling sorry for the Italians, spare a thought for the French, who quite apart from their Grand Tour woes (they haven’t won one since Laurent Jalabert won the Vuelta in 1995), haven’t won a monument classic since Frederic Guesdon took a surprise win in Paris-Roubaix…12 years ago.
Irish Peloton - March 9, 2012 @ 5:23 pm
Bollocks, just realised that there have been sneaky Italian teams like LPR Brakes which have masqueraded in the past as ‘Irish’ teams which may have rendered that graph incorrect.
Damien - March 10, 2012 @ 11:38 pm
Yes you are shite! Now go and redo the whole thing again before next Saturday!
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