18 Apr 2018

Niccolo Bonifazio wins a stage in Croatia

By sprinting to the win at the end of the first stage, Niccolo Bonifazio made sure the Tour of Croatia saw the best-possible start for the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM. Meanwhile, Domenico Pozzovivo is showing his climbing skills at the Tour of the Alps, finishing on the podium for the first time in 3rd at the end of the third stage.

The week between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège was all but quiet for the athletes of the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM: With the Tour of the Alps and the Tour of Croatia, the team is currently riding two one-week stage races. Add to that the Flèche Wallonne one-day race as a traditional test of strengths for the most explosive climbers in the run-up to Sunday’s monument. Last year VIncenzo Nibali had won the overall standings of the Tour of Croatia, but this year the team held the expectation low regarding the overall standings: Both Niccolo Bonifazio and Matej Mohoric are free to chase stage wins. While doing so they can rely on the support of highly experienced riders such as Yukiya Arashiro, Manuele Boaro and Kanstantin Siutsou. Last but not least, Domen Novak enjoys a certain degree of freedom at this race to see what he can do in the overall standings without being burdened with being a designated team captain.

The first, long and flat stage was ridden mostly in the pouring rain. At first, the peloton decided to cut the day’s attackers some slack, but after a well-timed effort, it caught the last riders of the breakaway with about 10 kilometers to go. As there were no further attacks on the following local circuit, a bunch sprint had to decide who would win the first stage and get the first leader’s jersey. Matej Mohoric expertly guided Niccolo Bonifazio to the front in the finale, with the latter changing to the wheel of a rival and launching his sprint from there. Since the road surface was very slippery, Bonifazio lost his rhythm after a slip with the rear wheel, allowing Andrea Guardini to get around him. With one last, strong effort Bonifazio managed to accelerate one more time and beat his compatriot to the line, getting his first win in the jersey of the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM. Just like the day before, the second stage seemed to be set for a bunch sprint. Matej Mohoric tried to avoid this outcome with a cheeky attack in the finale, but he was caught with one kilometer to go and crossed the finish line in 8th place. Niccolo Bonifazio lost his leader’s jersey without a fight after he went down in a crash with just a bit over 3 kilometers to go.

As the second stage race of the week, the Tour of the Alps is being held in the border region between Italy and Austria. Since this race does not feature any flat stages, the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM decided not to field any sprinters and focus on Domenico Pozzovivo as its designated leader for the overall instead. Giovanni Visconti, Antonio Nibali, Mark Padun, Valerio Agnoli, Chun-kai Feng and Meiyin Wang are mainly riding in his support. The riders lost no time as the first stage saw a very animated finale already. Domenico Pozzovivo could count on the valuable support of Mark Padun and crossed the finish line in Chris Froome’s wheel in 6th place. The next day’s stage ended with the tough climb to Alpe di Pampeago. Just like the day before Domenico Pozzovivo rode a smart race, following the wheels of the biggest favourites for a long time before attacking at the beginning of the very steep final kilometer. But his rivals reacted promptly, got back at his wheel and passed him in the sprint to the finish line, which Pozzovivo crossed in 5th. In the third stage, Thibaut Pinot surprisingly attacked hard on the Passo della Mendola with almost 50 kilometers to go, and Domenico Pozzovivo was the only overall contender that could follow the Frenchman. While the two were caught by the chasers on the lower slopes of the descent to Merano, Pozzovivo crossed the finish line in 3rd and moved up from 5th to 2nd in the overall standings.

The Flèche Wallonne one-day race is traditionally being held in the week between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And the iconic Mur de Huy does not only serve as the final ascent but twice earlier on in the race. The BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM fielded a lot of well-known riders for this race: Vincenzo Nibali, Ion and Gorka Izagirre and Enrico Gasparotto could rely on the support of Franco Pellizotti, Hermann Pernsteiner und Grega Bole. For almost four hours an eight-man group was riding in the lead of the race, but as this group got within reach of the chasers, Vincenzo Nibali surprised everyone with an attack with 47 kilometers to go. He worked his way from one group to the next, building a lead of almost a minute to the other favourites as a consequence. But as the powers of Nibali and his companions in the lead group faded, the chase became more and more organized, picking up speed continuously and catching Nibali before the final climb up the Mur started. Neither Nibali nor any of his teammates could follow the pace of the fastest riders on this very steep climb. As a consequence, Enrico Gasparotto was the team’s best-placed rider, crossing the finish line in 27th. 

1. Niccolo Bonifazio, ITA/BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM, in 5:45.25 hours
2. Andrea Guardini, ITA, st
3. Eduard Grosu, ROM, st

1. Ben O’Connor, AUS, in 3:30.05 hours
2. Thibaut Pinot, FRA, + 0.05

1. Thibaut Pinot, FRA, in 10:52.19 hours
2. Domenico Pozzovivo, ITA/BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM, + 0.15
3. Miguel Angel Lopez, COL, st