Blazin' Saddles

Paolini pulls Pippo’s leg amid Roma radio chaos

Blazin' Saddles

Who can forget Filippo Pozzato's hilarious celebration for second place in last year's Roma Maxima race, when the Italian wrongly thought he had taken the spoils? Clearly Luca Paolini can't.

Twelve months after his friend Pippo raised his arms over the line in the shadow of the Coliseum, Paolini did exactly the same thing - while wearing a comedy red nose.

Sprinting against countryman Rinaldo Nocentini for 52nd place some 33 seconds behind the winner Alejandro Valverde, Paolini had time to don the red proboscis prosthetic before raising his arms in mock celebration to tease his former team-mate Pippo.

When Paolini posted a photo of his finish on Twitter later in the day, Pozzato, who finished in 12th place on Sunday in the main pack just one second behind Valverde, accepted the jibe with grace but made sure he had the last word.

Pozzato made a collage of his and Paolini's 'victory' celebrations and claimed that his was more impressive because the Coliseum in the backdrop of Paolini's photo was clad in scaffolding while undergoing restoration.

Frenchman Blel Kadri of Ag2R-La Mondiale won the 2013 Roma Maxima by 37 seconds after managing to stay out in front and defy the peloton.

With race radios not permitted in non-WorldTour events, the majority of the pack had no idea that Kadri still rode out ahead, with Pozzato and Slovenia's Gregor Bole of Vacansoleil-DCM contesting the sprint for what they thought was the win.

Funnily enough, despite Paolini's jesting antics in the latest Roma Maxima race, history almost repeated itself once again on Sunday.

Valverde and the piano-playing Italian Domenico Pozzovivo broke clear of the peloton on a punchy climb 35km from the finish. Numerous riders tried to bridge the gap, including Matteo Rabottini (Yellow Fluo) and Samuel Sanchez (BMC). When Rabottini was reeled in with just 300m to go, many of the main pack of sprinters had forgotten that Valverde and Pozzovivo were still out ahead as the race wound around the Coliseum ahead of the closing straight.

The likes of Davide Appollonio (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani CSF) entered the final straight thinking they were about to sprint for the victory, only to see two men still up the road. Pozzovivo was swept up and would finish fifth, but Valverde launched his sprint early and managed to hold on for the win - his first ever in Italy.

"To be honest, I didn't know that Valverde and Pozzovivo were away," a dismayed Colbrelli said after his appearance on the bottom rung of the peloton. "I only saw them in the finish straight. I'd seen that the Yellow Fluo rider (Rabottini) was off the front in the final kilometres but then we caught him and I thought we were sprinting for the win."

For Valverde, victory capped a superb weekend after the Spaniard finished in third place in Siena at the conclusion of a typically enthralling Strade Bianche race over the white dirt roads of Tuscany. It was the fourth victory of the season for the man who, in July, will spearhead Movistar's quest to dethrone Chris Froome as Tour de France champion.

Many eyebrows were raised when Movistar announced that last year's Tour runner-up, Nairo Quintana, would focus on the Giro and Vuelta instead of riding the Tour this summer - but perhaps Valverde's strong form in 2014 is an early indication that the Spanish team has made the right decision.

After all, Valverde's chances were scuppered last July due to an unfortunate mechanical incident just as Alberto Contador's Saxo Bank squad caused echelons off the front of the peloton. Despite losing more than 10 minutes that day, Valverde recovered to post a top-10 finish in the Tour.

With old-hand Valverde a decade Quintana's senior, Movistar may have not been so loopy after all to opt for experience over youthful expectation. Either way, neither Valverde nor Froome will put in an appearance at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico after the Spaniard said he needed to rest and his British rival pulled out with a back injury.

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Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde

Froome's exit caused a controversial reshuffling of Team Sky's pack just hours before the start of the opening stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday, with defending champion Richie Porte pulling out at the 11th hour to take Froome's place in Tirreno-Adriatico, which starts later this week.

While a disgruntled Paris-Nice race director Christian Prudhomme described the perceived snub as a "cavalier move", Porte was quick to underplay any accusations of disrespect. With 'Race of the Two Seas' offering a more favourable parcours to Porte than the 'Race to the Sun' this year, the Australian said it made tactical sense as well as a logistical one in the wake of Froome's injury.

In his absence, Welshman Geraint Thomas will have the chance to lead Team Sky for the first time, while Porte will soon be able to compare the contrasting joys of rooming with Froome and his fellow Brit Bradley Wiggins.

Despite his eagerness to race the white roads of Tuscany, Wiggo mysteriously pulled out of Saturday's Strade Bianche but is still down to race Tirreno-Adriatico for Sky. Although Wiggins was watching on TV, Team Sky put in a spirited performance in Tuscany, with surprise Omloop victor Ian Stannard putting in some big digs on the front towards the business end of the race.

But it was a blistering attack by Peter Sagan on the eighth gravel sector which did the damage, Polish all-rounder Michal Kwiatkowski the only rider able to match the Slovakian's acceleration. When OPQS's Kwiatowski danced on the pedals on the final paved climb into the centro storico of Siena, Sagan had no answer.

For a second year running, Sagan crossed the finish in Siena's famous Piazza del Campo in second place - but this time without the comfort of his Cannondale team-mate Moreno Moser taking the plaudits for first place.

Sagan's face was a picture of anger as he crossed the line 22 seconds down on the winner. In fact, Sagan couldn't muster anything remotely resembling a smile until he found himself on the podium alongside Kwiatkowski.

Even then, it was more of a cheeky grin as the podium girl lent over to kiss the winner on the cheek, proffering a pair of cheeks of a very different kind towards the runner-up.

A year ago, he could well have done something he'd regret - but this time round a more sober Sagan kept his hands to himself...

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