One of the most underrated races on the calendar, Trofeo Laigueglia, once again did not disappoint this year with its hilly parcours providing much excitement in the last 40 kilometres. UAE-Emirates brought a squad of strong puncheurs including Diego Ulissi, Jan Polanc, Juan Ayuso and Alessandro Covi. They dominated and eventually swept the podium, despite questionable tactics in the finale. Jan Polanc took the win with a late surprise attack, coming from behind after such his teammate Ayuso refused to work with Covi ahead. This is already the 11th win for the UAE-Emirates team in 2022 after Trentin won Le Samyn yesterday.
Trofeo Laigueglia is one of the more fun races on the UCI calendar, but it never gets much media attention because it is literally impossible to watch this race legally if you are not in Italy as it is geo-blocked and shown only on RAI Sport TV, which is owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The race exploded before the broadcast started, with a leading group already formed with 17 riders. The biggest winners were UAE-Emirates and INEOS Grenadiers who had each 4 riders and Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux and Astana-Qazaqstan with 3 riders each. The biggest losers were Trek-Segafredo, who missed the move, although they brought last year’s winner Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone to the startline.
With 22 kilometres to go, after Richie Porte attacked on the Colla Micheri climb (2 km, 8.2%), the leading group had thinned down to six riders, Alessandro Covi, Juan Ayuso, Diego Ulissi (UAE-Emirates), Richie Porte and Carlos Rodriguez (INEOS Grenadiers) and Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché).
Rota who was isolated, attacked right before the descent. His attack was the best form of defense. Only Rodriguez, Covi and Ayuso were able to follow him. Later the leading quartet was joined by Jan Polanc, who escaped from the chasing group. Now the UAE-Emirates had the 3 out of 5 riders in the first group and perfect tactical situation to attack the other non-UAE riders in the group.
With 11,6 km to go Polanc, after a brief rest attacked at the bottom of the Colla Micheri climb, and the UAE team were using their numbers forcing Rodriguez and Rota to chase the Slovenian. After Polanc was caught, Rota did not hesitate and again attacked, countering the next UAE move that was incoming. Rodriguez and Polanc could not follow as he was before going solo for some time and was tired.
Rota now was with Covi and Ayuso. He worked with him, which is sensible as it kept together the group and did not encourage the UAE duo to attack for some time, while Rodriguez behind them, with Polanc on his wheel, was chasing full-gas.
The finish was coming closer and closer and the UAE needed to use their numbers. With 3 km to go Covi attacked, but then surprisingly, Ayuso tried to chase him. The young Spaniard closed his teammate and gave Rota some draft. This gave flashbacks to the infamous Quick-Step mess when they lost with three riders against Ian Stannard in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2015.
Ayuso is only 19-years-old and many expect he is the next great Spanish superstar. On his Twitter before the 2022 season, he posted a promo video for his new brand, which included his U23 wins. His ambitions are big and it will be interesting to see how much he is willing to sacrifice for his teammates.
Covi, of course, was not happy with Ayuso’ move, while Rota was benefiting from this situation when Ayuso and Covi were not willing to pull for each other. After this move Rota refused to work and the UAE riders responded with one attack from each, but Rota was strong enough to close them both easily. Into the last 1500 metres Covi and Ayuso could be seen shouting at each other through the radio whilst Ayuso refused to lead out the in-form Covi.
They were caught by Rodriguez and Polanc, the latter of whom used this chance perfectly. He surprised with an attack at full-speed. The Slovenian had saved energy in his legs as he was drafting behind Rodriguez the whole time. Rodriguez was tired and could not chase, while Rota hesitated to respond and also was tired.
Polanc easily won this exciting race with the biggest threats to him being his teammates Ayuso and Covi. Behind him they where leading out the group for the sprint, but the gap was too big, so it did not matter. Ayuso and Covi beat Rota in the sprint, which meant the UAE-Emirates team swept the podium in Trofeo Laigueglia despite questionable tactics, but strong legs saved the day.