Reading the runes of the ‘opening weekend’ in Belgium, it was tricky to draw too many clear conclusions, but one of them would surely be the confirmation of Sonny Colbrelli‘s rising stature as a cobbled Classics rider.
Best known as a sprinter who thrives on punchy terrain, the Italian has been introduced to the pavé since joining Bahrain-Merida from Bardiani CSF last year.
In his first full spring of Flemish one-day races, he was a notable presence, even if it was behind the big favourites and the race-defining moves. He finished 7th at E3-Harelbeke, 13th at Gent-Wevelgem, and 10th at the Tour of Flanders on his debut.
On Saturday, he made it into the decisive selection over the Muur van Geraardsbergen but had to settle for a place in the bunch after Astana outnumbered and outfoxed the rest. On Sunday, having been part of a group that formed after the Oude Kwaremont, he bagged himself a place on the podium when the race came back for a sprint.
“Today was a very, very hard day but I had good sensations, and thank you so much from to my guys. It’s a good result for me today, so I’m happy,” Colbrelli said in Kuurne in English that continues to improve.
“Yesterday was a good day for me, too. It’s been a good weekend, and I’m happy with it.”
After seven seasons with versions of the second-division squad Bardiani CSF, Colbrelli’s move to the WorldTour has helped him take the next step in his career. Winner of Brabantse Pijl and a stage of Paris-Nice last year, he has also benefited from a more diverse and high-calibre race programme, including the cobbled Classics.
“Last year was the first time he did all those races, and he managed to be in the top 10 many times, so of course he wants to progress, and I hope he will. He showed this weekend that he’s ready for the next block in Belgium,” Bahrain-Merida directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman told Cyclingnews in Kuurne.
Asked if he was surprised at the 27-year-old’s smooth transition to such rough terrain, where experience is a vital commodity, Hoffman said Colbrelli has all the natural ingredients.
“He’s a typical Classics rider, for me. He’s always a little bit nervous, but he knows how to fight for position. He has the engine for the little climbs to go two or three minutes full gas.
“He can read the races very well – he knows when to move to the front, knows when he needs to fight for position. He’s always looking because he doesn’t know the roads so well, but he’s always looking at the favourites, and when they move up, Sonny’s also there. You also need the legs of course for this.”
After laying such solid foundations this weekend, the question now is how far Colbrelli can go when the fortnight of big Flemish Classics rolls around in a month’s time.
“I hope a lot of top 10’s again, and then one win,” said Hoffman.
“Last year he won Brabanstje Pijl – we cannot forget that. If you take, let’s say, from the cobbled Classics until Liège, and he wins one … if he can do that again and be part of the selections and take it from there. Of course, we dream about him winning a WorldTour race but you have to take it race-by-race, and he showed good performances this weekend, so I have confidence for the coming races.”
By the time that period comes around, Colbrelli is increasingly likely to be talked about in the pre-race build-up, and indeed thought about in the races themselves by the established stars.
“On Belgian television yesterday they said ‘for sure a Belgian guy will win’ and then Valgren won,” noted Hoffman, “And today it’s a Dutch guy who wins. It’s very international and in the end Sonny will be one of the guys they have to look out for now.”