The simplest word to explain the world championship in Varese this past Sunday was clinic. In an impressive display of power and tactical prowess, the Italian team placed three riders in the top five and dismantled the powerful Belgian and Spanish teams en route to taking the third rainbow jersey for Italy in as many years. Once an for all Italy proved that they are the premiere nation for competitive cycling, as they dominated a quality field on home soil.
The winner of Sunday's race, Alessandro Ballan, was able to escape from a select group thanks to perfect tactical riding from the entire team, including Davide Rebellin and Damiano Cunego. As the final lap was raced, all three of the Italians took turns attacking the field, and Ballan's final surge with only three kilometers remaining was too much for the remaining riders to answer. Denmark's Matti Breschel was the strongest of the non Italians, but was unable to match a solid Cunego in the finishing sprint.
Cunego showed just how good a one day rider he is on Sunday, and proved his worth as a quality team member of the Squadra Azzura. In the post race press conference, Cunego answered questions about his future as a grand tour contender. "Yes I had an off year in the grand tours, but I still think I can contend in three week events. I have always been a good one day rider, but it is also true that I have the talent to contend in the grand tours. My plan will not change. I will continue to target select one day monuments, but will also continue to try to win three week tours." With his second place in Varese though, talk of Cunego as strictly a one day threat will only increase.
Ballan meanwhile is a more than worthy champion to wear the rainbow jersey. He is a rare rider in that he is, as Cunego himself said, "present from January through October. He is a selfless rider who is always willing to work for his team, and he deserves this win." Cunego's statement is a sage one. Ballan has characteristics that few other riders do. He is capable of winning all types of races throughout the year, and he has earned the right to wear the rainbow jersey for the next season.
For defending champion Paolo Bettini, retirement seems to be the path he has chosen. Ballan described that hearing of Bettini's retirement the night before the road race was "like a cold shower, a real shock." Still, Bettini was gracious enough to allow the rest of his team to try for the win after he realized that he was being controlled by the Spanish and Belgian teams. In a show of sportsmanship, Bettini could be seen celebrating Ballan's win as he rode into the stadium. "Il Grillo" is gone for now, but surely the lure of competition will bring him back to competitive cycling in the near future. For now though, the spotlight belongs to Ballan, the new champion of the world, and king of Italy.