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European championships: Sonny Colbrelli outsprints Remco Evenepoel for road race title

Colbrelli outkicks Evenepoel after young Belgian forced selection with fierce attack at 22km to go.

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Sonny Colbrelli (Italy) sprinted into the European road race champion’s jersey in front of a home crowd Sunday.

Colbrelli easily despatched escape companion Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) in the final sprint after clinging to the Belgian’s searing attack at 22 kilometers to go and then maneuvering him into doing all the pulling ahead of the final in downtown Trento.

Benoit Cosnefroy rounded out the podium for France after being the only other rider able to match Evenepoel’s selection-making move on the Povo climb. He finished 1:30 back after being dropped in the final of the eight local circuits that hosted the back-half of the race.

The European title caps a standout season for Colbrelli, who has also won the GC at the Benelux Tour, scored stages at the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné, and twice hit the podium at the Tour de France with his Bahrain-Victorious team.  The 31-year-old also won the Italian title.

“It’s amazing for me, and the team was super, especially [Matteo] Trentin,” Cobrelli said. “I followed Remco on the last climb and I suffered to follow, but in the final I won, so I’m very happy for the victory. It’s double because it’s a championship in Italy.”

Colbrelli’s win came from both strong legs and smarts. He was quick to follow Evenepoel’s decisive move and hung tough when breakaway companion Cosnefroy faded. Knowing the peloton was well out of range, Cobrelli then sat on Evenepoel’s wheel through the final 10km before easily kicking past in the final 100 meters.

Evenepoel was gracious in defeat.

“I can’t blame Colbrelli. He was very strong. We were perhaps the strongest in the race with two. He is the deserved winner if you also saw him racing in recent weeks,” Evenepoel said.

“I climbed very fast that last time, but Colbrelli only had one thing to do – survive. I saw that he was having a hard time, but he didn’t crack. He has a better sprint so he had to bet on that. That’s part of the race. It’s a shame I don’t have a good sprint, but this will happen.”

The race was red-hot from the start as a number of nations looked to put riders in the break and other teams were on a mission to keep the race under control.

The first three hours of racing saw a number of breaks go clear only to gain 20 or 30 seconds before being caught. Italy, France, Spain and Belgium were all active in making attacks to set up an opportunity for pre-race favorites Colbrelli and Evenepoel.

Romain Bardet and Matteo Trentin moved twice for France and Italy respectively, while Belgium moved both Victor Campenaerts and Stan Dewulf into a dangerous move in the middle of the race.

The constant attacks and repeat ascents saw the front of the race come down to around 40 as a number of top sprinters like Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett fall off the pace.

A stellar group of five went clear on 70km to go after Trentin again kicked out of the bunch. Campenaerts, Mark Padun (Ukraine), Tadej Pogačar, and Markus Hoelgaard (Norway) joined the escape.

Evenepoel, Colbrelli and Ben Hermans (Belgium) darted across with Benoit Cosnefroy (France), Pavel Sivakov (Russia) and Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) in the next 15km to leave Belgium and Italy in the driving seat with multiple options in the escape.

Sivakov made a speculative acceleration before Evenepoel made a monster attack on the penultimate climb of the day at 22km to go and only Cosnefroy and Colbrelli were able to hold the pace.

As the weakest sprinter of the three, Evenepoel cranked the pace in the escape group to try to drop his two rivals. Cosnefroy lost touch on the final of the eight climbs of the Povo, but Colbrelli clung desperately to the Belgian’s wheel to set up the final run toward the line.

With the chasers struggling almost two minutes back Colbrelli stubbornly sat on Evenepeol’s wheel through the flat final. The Italian forced Evenepoel into doing the bulk of the pulling ahead of the final sprint before Colbrelli almost inevitably took the victory in the Trento sprint.

Top six:

  1. Sonny Cobrelli (Italy)
  2. Remco Evenepoel (Belgium): S.T.
  3. Benoit Cosnefroy (France): +1:30
  4. Matteo Trentin (Italy): +1:43
  5. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia): S.T
  6. Marc Hirschi (Switzerland): S.T