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Cobbled conclusions: Cancellara finds glory, Omega Pharma struggles

Hushovd, Pozzato gone without a trace

Earlier this spring, it looked like Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) just might show up this year ready to build on his second place at last year’s Ronde and cement his spot in cobbled history. It was a good thing, too — with Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) on the sidelines following a horrific off-season training crash, most of Italy’s classics hopes rested firmly on “Pippo’s” shoulders.

Pozzato started his season with a win at the Trofeo Laigueglia on February 16, then took a promising if embarrassing second place at the Roma Maxima, celebrating victory on the line without realizing that Ag2r’s Blel Kadri had already slipped away for the victory. But Pozzato was never able to carry his form in the Italian semi-classics north of the Alps. His best finish from an anonymous cobbled classics campaign was 22nd at Paris-Roubaix, 2:52 behind Cancellara.

Fortunately, the young Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) and veteran Luca Paolini (Katusha), winners at Dwars door Vlaanderen (Across Flanders) and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, respectively, stepped in to salvage the pride of the nation that was once the brute of the cobbled classics with riders like Gianluca Bortolami, Andrea Tafi, Michele Bartoli, and Franco Ballerini.

Looking at the records those men amassed, it’s important to remember that although Pozzato turned professional in 2000, he is still only 31 years old. That’s younger than Tafi was when he won Roubaix, younger than Ballerini when he won his second Roubaix, and younger than Bortolami was when he won the Ronde.

Like Pozzato, Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) started the season off with a win, though his came at the decidedly low-key Tour du Haut Var in France. It was nevertheless a good sign for a rider who’d spent his 2012 season off the back, scratching from race after race before finally calling it a season in mid-August. A team doctor later announced he was the victim of an unspecified viral infection — hardly a satisfying diagnosis, but a diagnosis at least. After a winter trying to rebuild, Hushovd was hopeful he’d be able to contend again in his coveted Roubaix, but after Haut Var and several top-10 finishes at Tirreno-Adriatico, he never really materialized in the north.

After finishing 77th at Het Nieuwsblad — a race he won in 2009 — Hushovd didn’t finish Harelbeke but showed signs of life with a 17th at Ghent while teammate Greg Van Avermaet was in the break up ahead. He abandoned the Ronde a week later and was outclassed as soon as the game got serious in Roubaix, rolling across the line in what could pass for the peloton at Roubaix, 3:29 back.

Unlike Pozzato, age is no longer an asset for Hushovd. After two unproductive springs, and at 35 years old, Hushovd will be happier than ever that he signed a three-year deal with BMC Racing, giving him one more shot to capture cobbled glory before the next round of contract negotiations.

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