Vicenza – Against one of the most spectacular and photogenic backdrops in professional cycling – the packed porticos climbing to the Santuario della Madonna di Monte Berico above Vicenza – on Wednesday Dorian Godon (AG2R Citroën Team) became the first Frenchman to triumph in the 114-year-old Giro del Veneto, outsprinting Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Dstny) in a thrilling stampede to the line.

A breathless finale was in keeping with the rest of the 170.1km race, with Godon’s final average speed a dizzying 45.8kph. A gentle giant (190cm) and increasingly prolific winner, Godon will be a popular champion – and was both surprised and delighted to prevail after struggling in recent weeks.

After a podium ceremony in which La Marseillaise rung out over Vicenza, the city’s skyline bathed in beautiful autumn sunshine, Godon gave the following account of his winning ride: “Our aim was to win one before the end of the season, like Paris-Tours, which was within reach, but I was super disappointed after that race at the weekend; I couldn’t breathe that day, so much so that I was worried I had Covid. But then here I am today. I felt really good and I made that clear from the start, although we had other candidates for victory in Benoît Cosnefroy and Andrea Vendrame. Benoît bent over backwards for the team and, voilà, this is the result. Thank you, thank you to him, to Stan Dewulf who was in the break and to the whole team. This morning in a little corner of my head I did wonder whether I had a chance today, but it’s true that the sensations had been a bit weird over the last few days. But I saw the course when I crossed the line for the first time and I said to myself it was made-to-measure for me. So I concentrated on the sprint and the team did an incredible job.”

The race had set out from Tombolo under cloudless skies and the conditions would remain glorious if unseasonably warm throughout the day. On the road, flurries of early attacks came to nothing, until, finally, with 117km remaining, four riders wrestled free – Stan Dewulf (AG2R Citroën Team), Joey Rosskopf (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team), Brent Van Moer (Lotto Dstny) and Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X). They were joined by two more – Michael Belleri (Biesse-Carrera) & Davide De Cassan (Eolo-Kometa) – and soon the peloton trailed by over four minutes.

The six-man leading group slimmed down to just five on the descent of the Brendola, with De Cassan losing touch. Three-and-a-half minutes back, meanwhile, Davide Formolo of race favourites UAE Team Emirates was on pacemaking duty, keeping his leaders Marc Hirschi and defending champion Matteo Trentin sheltered and within striking distance.

With 60km to go, the breakaway group began their first ascent of Monte Berico – and soon another rider, Belleri, had fallen behind what was now a leading quartet composed of Dewulf, Rosskopf, Abrahamsen and Van Moer.

The gap continued to come down until Hirschi’s powerful move on the last ascent of the Monte Berico sealed the break’s fate, despite a final strike-out by Van Moer. Two short-lived counter attacks by Tobias Johannessen of Uno-X and Florian Vermeersch of Lotto Dstny marked that pair out as danger men for the uphill sprint – and indeed it would be a bunch gallop of around 40 riders, with UAE Team Emirates leading Hirschi and Uno-X launching Johannessen into the final kilometre.

That pair both looked poised to strike until the dying metres – when, pushing an enormous gear, 2023 De Brabantse Pijl winner Godon appeared over their left shoulder and thundered over the finish-line to take victory ahead of Johannessen and Vermeersch. Now in his seventh season in cycling’s top tier, with today’s success, the 27-year-old Godon celebrated his eighth pro win – and his first in Italy.

Below are the reactions of second-place finisher Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Dstny), who was third.

Tobias Johannessen (2nd): “It was hard, but that suits our team. And yeah, we had a strong guy in the break the whole day, so on the last lap, I almost thought that he could make it. But in the end, the guys did a really good job for me and I just missed a little bit in the end, so it feels close to the victory. But, yeah, we will try again on Sunday. I think if the finish-line had been 100m further up the hill, I could have won. Then it’s more by strength and not so much about positioning. Second place was was good for us, but, yeah, you always want to win, so it feels a bit disappointing. The race itself and the route were really nice and to have the last races with nice weather and everything, it’s perfect. In my hometown, it was minus two degrees in the morning today. There’s a big difference and I’m enjoying Italy, so thank you!”

Florian Vermeersch (3rd): “I was tired after the World Gravel Championships, but I’ve managed to recover pretty well over the last few days. I’m just pretty relaxed and the form is super good, so I’m still very happy to be here. And then, yeah, today, third was a very nice result. I said to the guys with five kilometres to go that I wanted to come from the back because it’s a steep sprint. But when you come from behind with a lot of speed, you can gain a lot of momentum. And that’s what we did. Brent put me in 12th or 13th wheel in the final kilometre, which was actually where I wanted to be. So the team did perfect, and then I accelerated with, I think, 200m to go. But in the end, Dorian and Tobias managed to get ahead. I think that indicates that they were a bit stronger today. It’s a beautiful region here and I always think I want to keep the season going as long as possible and go into the winter with a good feeling. The last few years I’ve always had the feeling that in October I’m still very good, so I don’t see why I should stop earlier when I can ride around with this form.”

The Ride the Dreamland series continues on Friday with the third edition of the Serenissima Gravel, starting and finishing in Cittadella.