Sonny Colbrelli spectacularly kept pace with Remco Evenepoel before out-sprinting him to win the men’s European Road Race Championships.
On a fantastic and at times breathless day of racing in Trento, Colbrelli ensured a home victory by being one of only two others to bridge across to Evenepoel’s late attack, the Italian then refusing to be distanced by the Belgian in the hillier sections of the parcous and then sprinting to a memorable victory.
It continues a sensational, career-defining season for Colbrelli, the Bahrain-Victorious rider winning for the sixth time in 2021 and having also impressed in the high mountains at the Tour de France.
In beating a clearly frustrated Evenepoel, the current Italian champion, 31, scored the most significant triumph of his career and maintained Italy’s remarkable run in the championships.
The race only became open to professionals in 2016, and Italy have now won each of the last four editions with four different riders.
For Evenepoel, it represented disappointment after his stunning performance, the 21-year-old not content with silver medal. Benoît Cosnefroy of France was happier with his bronze.
How it happened
The final event of the 2021 European Championships was bathed in late summer sun in Trento, Italy.
A 179km race, the riders had to ascend three mountain passes in the opening 70 kilometres before entering the 13km finishing circuit for eight laps, each loop including the ascent of the 3.4km Povo climb, a steady climb that had a maximum gradient of nine percent. Overall, riders had to ascend almost 3,500 metres of elevation.
A breakaway of four went clear almost immediately, containing Franck Bonnamour (France), Aurelien Paret-Peintre (France), Antonio Jesús Soto (Spain) and Harm Vanhoucke (Belgium).
The quartet, however, were never allowed a sufficient advantage and in contrast to tradition, the peloton exploded into action before joining the final circuit, Romain Bardet of France attacking 116km from the line.
Bardet’s move forced a select group of elite riders at the head of the race, but the race remained chaotic. 30km later, Victor Campenaerts from Belgium put in a ferocious dig that spawned a new leading group of four.
The peloton once again regrouped but there was no calmness, former champion Matteo Trentin the next to force his move, the Italian joined by Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar, Campenaerts, Mark Padun and Markus Hoelgaard.
With five laps remaining, the lead of five swelled to 10, Evenepoel, Cosnefroy, Colbrelli, Marc Hirschi, Pavel Sivakov and Ben Hermans showing their face at the front.
An unfortunate mechanical saw Campenaerts drop into the chasing group, almost a minute in arrears, but Evenepoel was still aided by his national team-mate Hermans.
Twenty-two kilometres from the line, and on the penultimate climb of the Povo, Russia’s Sivakov tried his fortune, and a few seconds after Evenepoel counter-attacked expertly, bringing with him Cosnefroy and Colbrelli.
Pogačar had tried to bridge across but was unable to, and within minutes it became clear that the day’s winner would come from the trio.
Cosnefroy, though, couldn’t keep pace and dropped into no-man’s land behind, while Colbrelli refused to do a turn on the front, the Italian knowing that his best chance of victory was beating Evenepoel in a sprint.
Colbrelli spectacularly kept pace with the Belgian up the final ascent and as the duo began the final 10 kilometres, Evenepoel remonstrated with his fellow escapee for refusing to work on the front.
At 6km, Colbrelli did finally start to stick his face in the wind, and having kept Evenepoel on a leash, with 600m to go, he tightened his shoes and allowed Evenepoel to lead onto the cobbles.
Colbrelli came on the outside to pass Evenepoel as the rounded the final corner and despite the young Belgian’s best efforts, Colbrelli eased to victory. Cosnefroy held onto finish third and take the bronze medal.
Men’s European Road Race Championships: Trento > Trento, 179km
1. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) in 4-19.45
2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel), at same time
3. Benoît Cosnefroy (Fra), at 1-30
4. Matteo Trentin (Ita), at 1-43
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo)
6. Marc Hirschi (Swi)
7. Markus Hoelgaard (Nor), all at same time
8. Ben Hermans (Bel), at 1-45
9. Pavel Sivakov (Rus), at 1-49
10. Victor Campenaerts (Bel), at 5-41