Tomorrow the season's final phase kicks into high gear with the Coppa Sabatini, an historic warm-up race for the Giro di Lombardia. With the Giro del Lazio off the schedule, prospective winners of the fall monument have the Coppa Sab and Giro dell'Emilia as their last opportunities to test their legs, and in past seasons this hilly Tuscan romp has served as a much-needed entry on the calendar.
The course is a little hard to devine from the official site, apart from the fact that the final kilometer is uphill to some degree. Past reports at CN don't have any further details. Suffice to say that the race typically doesn't break up too much, though it is hilly enough to wear out some folks, and the final KM slants the results heavily in favor of the climbers. That's why the honor roll has lately included Visconti, Bettini, Ullrich and Bertolini (though don't ask me why Tchmil and Tafi are there too -- changed course?).
What I don't get, though, is that the results here will in any way preview Lombardia. First, the honor rolls of the two races have no correlation, even going back to the early Coppa Sab days of the 1950s, when guys like the Campionissimo actually tried to win the warm-up races too. Moser ('78) and Saronni ('82) doubled at the Coppa and Lombardia, but that's all as far as I can tell.
Secondly, the startlist is a pale imitation of a major. Liquigas, Quick Step, Katusha and Silence-Lotto are the only Pro Tour teams coming, and Quick Step's lineup is nothing special (Tosatto, Cataldo, etc). The race will be more the property of the Italian continental juggernauts: Serramenti PVC, Ceramica Flaminia, Acqua Sapone, the disgraced Lpr Brakes and CSF Navigare, and pseudo-Italian ISD. In this decade only Bettini and Ullrich won here for major teams; more typically it's the bigger names from the continental teams that excel. So while Basso, Evans (in his new kit), Pozzato, Gilbert and Karpets are here, I wouldn't install them as favorites just yet.
Well, except Evans. Silence are sending an unusually strong team, either to defend their newfound success symbol or to at least prepare for doing that in another nine days. Evans will have the luxury of Gilbert and Johan Van Summeren at the front along with classy helpers like Lloyd and Wegelius around... all in a race where Italians probably won't let them control out of pride, let alone expect them to do so. Also, to me Pozzato has looked pretty on-form lately, and the finale apparently suits him after he finished second last year to Ceramica Flaminia's Mikhail Khalilov (not presently on the startlist). Still, a more likely winner will come from the pool of smaller-team talents: double winner Giovanni Visconti, Domenico Pozzovivo, Luca Paolini, or any of several Serramenti dudes, including all of the Berts (Bertagnolli, Bertogliati, Bertolini or Bertolini) and Ginanni.
I will go with Giovanni Visconti. He wants it and needs it (Lombardia is a pipe dream), and with three wins and a string of other top-tens over the last two months, he seems to be on form.