Wout van Aert shrugged off talk of a mega-merger between Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-QuickStep, to race hard against his possible future teammates and then beat them all in a nine-rider sprint at the Coppa Bernocchi in northern Italy.
Tiesj Benoot and Jan Tratnik worked hard for Van Aert in the decisive 38 km attack, going shoulder to shoulder and turn for turn with Julian Alaphilippe, Andrea Bagioli and Fausto Masnada of Soudal-QuickStep.
Van Aert started his sprint early but had the speed and power to hold off Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) and Bagioli on the flat finish in Legnano.
Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) was fourth, with Alaphilippe eighth after working hard during the 40 km attack.
Van Aert has enjoyed another consistent and eclectic season but with a huge number of prestigious placings perhaps overshadowing his success and range of talents.
The Coppa Bernocchi was Van Aert’s fifth win of the season and his performance confirmed he is on form for Sunday’s Gravel World Championships in the northeast of Italy.
“It’s a nice feeling, especially after the season where I missed out sometimes on the win. It feels nice to raise the hands again, especially with the team performance we did today,” Van Aert said.
“This victory is for the people who keep on believing in me: my family, my trainer and of course my team. Today all seven guys on the start line were committed to controlling the race and we did it to the very end. It feels good to finish it off.”
Van Aert did not speak about the Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-QuickStep merger post-race, preferring to count down the races that stand between the Coppa Bernocchi and the end of his season that started with cyclocross on December 4.
Van Aert will target Thursday’s Gran Piemonte, before heading to Treviso for Sunday’s Gravel World Championships.
“I have two more this season and I’ll focus on that. I’m also looking forward to some rest too. I’ll try and improve for next season but my head is still focused on the races coming up,” he said.
The 186.65km Coppa Bernocchi is the second race of the end-of-season Trittico Lombardo series, with Tuesday’s Tre Valli Varesine completing the three-race series in the area north of Milan before Saturday’s Il Lombardia. Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) won the Coppa Agostoni on Friday.
The early break formed virtually from the start, with Michael Belleri (Biesse Carrera), Alessio Cialone, (TotalEnergies), Floris de Tier (Bingoal WB), Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Dstny), Andrea Piras (Beltrami TSA- Tre Colli), Jeferson Ruiz (GW Shimano Sidermec) and Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroen) going clear.
Britain’s Charlie Quarterman (Corratec Selle Italia), who announced on Sunday that he will retire after the Italian races, tried to join them but was unable to get across.
Jumbo-Visma controlled the peloton and allowed the break to gain six minutes as they covered the hilly circuits north of Legnano, including the twisting climb of the Piccolo Stelvio.
However, the seven soon became six and then just three in the heat of the warm Italian autumn.
With 40km and the final climb of the Piccolo Stelvio to go, Soudal-QuickStep raised the pace and split the peloton as they closed down on the attackers.
Alaphilippe, Bagioli and Masnada were there, with Van Aert, Tratnik and Benoot representing Jumbo-Visma.
Also able to join the nine-rider attack were Albanese, Hirschi, plus Christian Scaroni (Astana-Qazaqstan).
Alaphilippe committed to the attack and worked for Bagioli, doing huge turns on the front and chasing after every surge in the attack. Tratnik was equally as generous and equally as decisive.
For a while, on the rolling ride to the finish in Legnano, Jayco-AlUla led the chase and kept the nine attackers at just 15 seconds. However the elastic eventually snapped and the nine knew they would fight for victory.
Benoot made a late attack to force Bagioli to act and then he combined with Tratnik to give Van Aert a long lead out. Van Aert started his sprint early on the wide finish but controlled his effort and acceleration, making it impossible for Albanese and Bagioli to come past him.
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