Laigueglia ’17: Fellini Triumphs!
Race Report: The 54th edition of Italy’s Trofeo Laigueglia ended in triumph for the host nation, as the Piedmontese champion Fabio Felline took his first success of the season in the small Ligurian port. Wearing the white jersey of the Italian national team, Felline rode to victory after launching an astonishing attack in the hilly finale of the 192.5 kilometer race and resisting the return of his rivals.
– By Daniel Thévenon –
After finishing at the foot of the podium in last year’s Trofeo, the talented Torinese could this time add his victorious signature to Laigueglia’s colorful muretto di ciclisti, where he will now feature alongside previous winners such as Eddy Merckx, Franco Bitossi and Roger De Vlaeminck. Felline, a supremely versatile athlete who came first in the points classification of last year’s Vuelta a España, will savor this success, his first since a terrible crash at last year’s Amstel Gold Race threatened to ruin his career.
Voeckler from the word go
There reigned a festive and democratic atmosphere at the start of the race, as small teams with trophy cabinets as bare as Pantani’s pate but a combative spirit second to none prepared to ride side by side with some of the sport’s elite formations. Cries of “Viva Ulissi!” and “Forza Gavazzi!” rose from the narrow beige streets of Laigueglia, which were packed with cheerful supporters, many of them clad as cyclists themselves.
At 10:50am, the contestants set off for a warm-up ride along the Via Dante, preparing for the divine comedy of this year’s Trofeo, and at 11am proceedings began. Early spectators were treated to a race prologue as fizzing as a machine-washed bottle of Prosecco, as attacks came thick and fast. The race director’s flag had barely dropped when France’s Thomas Voeckler went on the offensive, but the Direct Energie rider was rapidly caught by his chasers.
There followed several kilometers of nervous racing on the coast-hugging road to Alassio, during which a number of other hopefuls sought, without success, to escape from the peloton. Tyler Williams (Israel Cycling Academy), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), Alexandre Pichot (Direct Energie), Antoine Warnier (Veranclassic-Aquality), Paolo Prandini (Sangemini-Olmo) and Pierre-Luc Perrichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) all featured in these early initiatives. The average speed during the first hour’s racing amounted to over 40 kilometers per hour.
Orrico sets off the fireworks
After 25 kilometers, the road began to rise under the riders’ tires as they made for Bezzo, and not everyone could live with the pace. Over the race radio, a crackling voice announced the first few withdrawals: Sebastian Lander, riding for GM Europa Ovini, and Anche Maximilian Kuen, representing the Tyrol Cycling Team, had both thrown in the towel.
Davide Orrico (Sangemini-Olmo) attacked on the uphill road, soon emulated by Antonio Di Sante (GM Europe Sheep), Remi Di Gregorio (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) and Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), and before anyone could say “Cima Coppi” the four men had pulled clear. Ettore Carlini (D’Amico-Utensilnord) accelerated in an effort to join them and together they formed a quintet that led the way for much of the race.
As light rain began to fall on Liguria, the group of fugitives built a lead of several minutes over the peloton, but after peaking at 6 minutes at the 50 kilometer mark the gap began to diminish. Under pressure from FDJ, the formation of former Trofeo Laigueglia winner Davide Cimolai of Italy and French national champion Arthur Vichot, the break-away eventually found itself caught, though not before Di Gregorio could crest the Paravenna and Testico passes in the lead to claim the King of the Mountains prize.
The punishing ascent of the Testico had reduced the peloton to just under fifty units and the scene was now set for a showdown between the favorites, as the riders entered the hilly circuit around Laigueglia, to be completed three times.
Those expecting race favorite Diego Ulissi to rise to the fore and deliver a five star performance were in for a disappointment: below par, perhaps still recovering from his exhibition at the previous weekend’s Gran Premio Costa degli Etruschi, the celebrated Tuscan was to play no part in the tussle for the Trofeo.
A group composed of Jan Polanc (UAE Abu Dhabi), Mauro Finetto, Quentin Pacher (both Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Mattia Cattaneo (Androni-Sidermec) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) briefly broke away but it was Felline’s thunderous surge on the steep slopes of the short Colla Micheri, 12 kilometers from the finish, that proved the turning point in the race.
As if released from Apollo’s bow, the Italian shot out of the peloton at a speed no one could match and a counter-attacking group of ten that formed behind, featuring the likes of Vichot and Francesco Gavazzi (Androni Giocattoli ), struggled to keep him within their sights, their task made all the more difficult by the presence of Felline’s team-mate Matteo Trentin in their midst.
When Felline reached the summit of the Capo Melle for the final time with an advantage of 30 seconds, it became clear the day was his. It remained for France’s Romain Hardy (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Italy’s Finetto to complete the podium in second and third place respectively, 25 seconds adrift.
The Trofeo Laigueglia is often described as a dress rehearsal before the great Milan-San Remo classic and after this tour de force Felline will enter la Primavera full of confidence, though he may still lack the burst of speed to outdo Démare and Sagan on the Via Roma. Before that, the Trek-Segafredo rider will work for his leader Alberto Contador in this week’s Ruta del Sol.
Fabio Felline, winner of the 2017 Trofeo Laigueglia: “It was emotional to finish like that. I have been chasing a win since last year. I had a good end of season after my comeback but never managed to win. On the final climb, I was waiting for someone to attack but no one did so I decided to go. When I looked behind me, no one was on my wheel, and so I gave it everything. I was told I had 20 seconds when I entered the final, flat kilometers. I think it was 30 seconds―or 25―at the finish, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is to get the win. It has been more than a year since I have won a race, and for me my goal for 2017 was to win again. To do it in my very first race gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”
Trofeo Laigueglia 2017 Result:
1. Fabio Felline (Ita) Italy in 4:54:01
2. Romain Hardy (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept at 0:25
3. Mauro Finetto (Ita) Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM
4. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Italy
5. Cyril Gautier (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
6. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
7. Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ
8. Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Abu Dhabi
9. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
10. Romain Combaud (Fra) Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM at 0:29
11. Marco Frapporti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli at 0:35
12. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 1:19
13. Ivan Rovny (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo
14. Erwann Corbel (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept
15. Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Direct Energie
16. Maxime Vantomme (Bel) WB Veranclassic-Aqua Protect
17. Quentin Pacher (Fra) Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM
18. Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
19. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Abu Dhabi at 1:46
20. Mikel Aristi (Spa) Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM at 2:08.