On a beautiful day in the green valley, whose sights excited both the athletes and the attending personnel and media, Italy celebrated the return to the success of arguably its most talented representative: Gerhard Kerschbaumer (Specialized Racing Team) took his first victory of the season in style, relaunching his ambitions in view of the Tokyo Olympic Games and the World Championships in Val di Sole, the latter being an even more cherished goal for the Alto Adige native.
On the same day, a long-time champion like Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team) managed to return to success just four months after giving birth to her first child: the race organized by SSV Colle/Casies could enjoy two champions on the top step of the podium and two beautiful stories to tell.
OPEN MEN: KERSCHBAUMER BENDS IMPRESSIVE AVONDETTO
It was July 20, 2019, when Gerhard Kerschbaumer won his second consecutive Italian title at Chies d’Alpago, a few weeks after winning the 2019 edition of the Internazionali d’Italia Series. From there started a long winless stretch, also due to the sad COVID-affected season, that was finally interrupted on Wednesday, June 2nd, right in his own Südtirol region, in that same Val Casies where he had competed as a child, and that now welcomed him back as arguably the best Italian MTB rider of his generation.
On the hard course of the 4th stage of the Internazionali d'Italia Series, Kerschbaumer immediately wanted to impose the pace, and only one athlete could keep up with him: fresh off the first podium in the UCI MTB World Cup among Under 23, Simone Avondetto (Trek-Pirelli) keeps on showing his progression towards the highest level of this sport, race after race.
In a selective race in which the 30-year-old of the Specialized Racing Team has repeatedly tried to force the pace, both uphill and in the technical descents, the best Under 23 of the Internazionali d'Italia Series always found a way to respond until the penultimate lap, when he had to surrender to the decisive break by Kerschbaumer. In the end, 37 seconds separated Kerschbaumer and Avondetto, who still got the satisfaction of wearing the Internazionali d'Italia Series Open Men leader's jersey with just one race to go.
Kerschbaumer claimed his first success with his new jersey and the confidence that things are finally turning around. "Today it went really well," said the Italian. “Honestly, I was not worried about the lack of results in this early season; at 30, I know myself well, and I know that when the warmer weather comes, that's when I give the best of me. Today in Val Casies it was warm, and my feelings were exactly what I hoped for. Congratulations to the organizers for a high-level course; I am glad that next year's Italian Championships will be raced here. Right now, I look forward to Tokyo and Val di Sole: my biggest dream is a winning a World title at home, possibly in front of a cheering public. Let's hope to make it happen."
In the Open Women's race, Valle di Casies - Südtirol Trophy hosted one of the toughest tests of the entire season to date: five-plus-launch laps on the 4 km track with 175 mt elevation gain resulted in nearly one hour and forty minutes of an exciting challenge.
Canadian Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team) won the first edition of the Südtirol Trophy. The North American is certainly not new to success, having two World Cups and an Olympic bronze medal from Rio 2016 in her palmares.
Anyway, this victory came just four months after Pendrel gave birth to her first daughter, Dara, whom she embraced just after the finish. The one in Valle di Casies was Pendrel's first victory after becoming a mother.
After the launch lap led by another Canadian, Jennifer Jackson (Norco Factory Team XC), Pendrel took command for good from the second lap, with only GC leader Chiara Teocchi (Trinity Racing) remaining within striking distance.
The situation only changed in the last lap, when Teocchi paid the efforts of the early laps, while another Canadian, Sandra Walter, managed a remarkable comeback, finishing in second place just 7 seconds behind the winner. Third place at 1.21 for Teocchi, who further strengthened her hold on the Internazionali d'Italia Series Open Women leader's jersey. Eva Lechner (Trinx Factory Racing) was fourth at 2.38, ahead of Martina Berta and home-athlete Greta Seiwald (both Santa Cruz-FSA).
“It was a very tough race, longer than what we are used to - said Pendrel - but on a really beautiful course. In my career I have raced in Italy very few times; if that's always like this, I should do it a lot more. I'm fresh off the biggest training block of this season and didn't know what to expect today: I'm happy to have shown myself that I could come back so strong after motherhood. Now I will continue to build up towards the World Cup and the Tokyo Olympic Games, hoping to live there another day to remember."
The first time for Valle di Casies – Südtirol Trophy in the Internazionali d’Italia Series was inaugurated, as usual, by the Junior Men’s race.
The four-plus-launch laps on the South Tyrolean ring proved to be tough and selective as expected. It resulted into an elimination race, which saw the leading group gradually fall apart until the strongest of the day emerged: it was the Italian champion, Matteo Siffredi (Scott-Libarna), to take his first seasonal win in the circuit, distancing the duo of Filippo Agostinacchio (Scott-Libarna) and Yannick Parisi (Cicli Lucchini) by 40 seconds.
The three leaders had set themselves away of the rest in the first lap, but in the following ones, first Parisi and then Agostinacchio gave way to the Ligurian athlete, who could manage his pace solo in the final part of his effort. Agostinacchio won the sprint between the two riders from the Aosta Valley; Agostinacchio also held on the GC lead with just one race to go, the one in his own region in La Thuile.
Among Junior Women, Sara Cortinovis (Four Es Racing Team) continued her perfect season by winning her fourth race out of four at Internazionali d'Italia Series, with a wide margin on her closest rivals. Noemi Planckesteiner (Trinx Factory Racing) was second at 3.07, with Sophie Auer (A.s.d. St. Lorenzen Rad) in third at 4.30.
A great season of the Internazionali d’Italia Series is now coming to an end. The final act is scheduled for Saturday 26 June in La Thuile (Aosta Valley), when the technical and spectacular track designed by Enrico Martello will crown the winners of an edition to remember.
As usual, the final stage of the circuit will assign double scores: therefore, the odds are still very open for the Open and Junior Men's categories, whilst Chiara Teocchi can rely on a good cushion among Open Women, and Sara Cortinovis is all but guaranteed to show off in La Thuile in her Junior Women's winner jersey.
2021 INTERNAZIONALI D'ITALIA SERIES' CALENDAR
Stage 1 - Andora Race Cup - March 7th
Stage 2 - Capoliveri Legend XCO - April 5th
Stage 3 - Marlene Sudtirol Sunshine Race - April 10th
Stage 4 - Valle di Casies - June 2nd
Stage 5 - La Thuile MTB Race - June 26th