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Team Italy upset but optimistic after Innsbruck worlds

The Italians managed a fifth-place finish in the men's elite road race with Gianni Moscon, but they're hopeful for the future.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali tried. Gianni Moscon too, remaining until the final kilometers. Italy, though, came away from Innsbruck, Austria, without a world championship medal in the elite men’s events.

“I know, it’s good for the future,” Moscon said of his result, a fifth-place finish behind winner Spaniard Alejandro Valverde. “But there are guys my age who’ve already won the worlds.”

Nibali has won all three grand tours, owns victories in one-day races like Il Lombardia and, this spring, Milano-Sanremo with a stunning solo ride. He considered this worlds, with its 4,670 meters of climbing, one that perhaps could finally give him the prized rainbow jersey.

Peter Sagan held the jersey for the last three years, but this edition better the suited climbers in the peloton.

“Maybe if I had that 2017 form, the form that I had in the Giro dell’Emilia and in Lombardia last fall, then it would’ve been a different story,” said Nibali, who rides for trade team Bahrain-Merida.

A fan caused Nibali to crash in the Tour de France and he abandoned with a fractured vertebra. After surgery and a rushed training period, he raced the Vuelta a España with the idea of preparing for the worlds.

Instead, he leaned over to the team car near the end and told the director Davide Cassani, “Diamo tutto per Gianni.” The team would “give its all to Gianni” Moscon, suggested Nibali, as he explained to Cassani how he lacked that something he needed to contend for the rainbow jersey. With 23km remaining, Nibali faded from the group of favorites.

“I’m a little upset with myself,” Nibali said. “I had some good days at the Vuelta, but it wasn’t enough to take Italy to the top.”

The top of the Höttinger Höll climb proved to be the crucial point for the worlds circuit. The road only climbed 2.8km but its gradients touched 28 percent. After the summit, 8.8km remained to the finish.

Everyone took note of Valverde, who had been flying under the radar for the majority of the race. Canadian Michael Woods, who ended up third, blasted ahead on the climb. Frenchman Romain Bardet, the eventual runner-up, followed. Dutchman Tom Dumoulin and Moscon lost ground.

“The climb was a wall, my legs were no longer turning. I wanted to get off and push my bike!” Moscon said.

“Dumoulin managed the climb well and had strength afterwards. I knew I had to do so too, but you know when you are there at the front you think differently.”

Followers thought that Moscon might have a chance to give Italy its first world title since Alessandro Ballan flew solo to his win in 2008. Moscon was disqualified from the Tour de France for throwing a punch at another rider, but he returned in the late summer to win the Coppa Agostoni. He then won the Giro della Toscana.

“Maybe if I raced the Vuelta, something would’ve gone better, but I did all I could to be here and be ready,” Moscon said. “Fifth. It’s nothing to celebrate.”

Cassani congratulated the riders on the race. He gave the team an eight out of 10 overall. The fifth-place result follows a fourth last year for Matteo Trentin and a fifth in 2016 for Giacomo Nizzolo.

“We had a good group here in Innsbruck. United,” Nibali added. “That’s good for the future.”