Il Lombardia review

Pocket rocket Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) soloed to a historic win in today’s race – the last of the five monuments. He threw caution to the wind in the pouring rain, attacked on the final climb and held on to become the first ever Spaniard to win this race. The points from his victory all but ensured he will take the top spot in the UCI’s year-end WorldTour ranking, replicating his 2010 triumph. Indeed it was an all-Spanish speaking podium with runner-up (again) Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Gran Piemonte winner, Colombian Rigoberto Uran in third.

First Spanish Il Lombardia victor: Joaquim Rodriguez (image courtesy of official race website)

Initial breakaway and several wantaways

The 251km race started out from Bergamo, on the occasion of Felice Gimondi’s 70th birthday, in wet conditions which combined with damp misty fog to cloak much of the race in mystery. A group of 11 riders – Emanuele Sella and Miguel Chavez (both Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Frederico Rocchetti (Utensilnord Named), Tom Jelte Slagter (Rabobank), Romain Bardet and Julien Berard (both AG2R), Christian Salerno (Liquigas), Stefano Locatelli (Colnago), Nicki Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Steve Morabito (BMC) – formed the early break after around 60km, although they never built too much of an advantage.

The group fell apart and were down to just Bardet, Losado, Salerno and Morabito with 88km remaining. Bardet was the last to be caught having enjoyed [not sure that’s the right word in those weather conditions – Ed] a solo ride over the summit of the feared Muro di Sormano, only to be caught on the Ghisallo. A number of riders unfortunately came to grief on the treacherous descents including former world champion Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and his team leader, current world champion Philippe Gilbert, both of whom climbed off their bikes. Others fell too, including Rodriguez’s wing man Dani Moreno and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), but they remounted and returned to the fray.

Multiple attacks – war of attrition

With everyone back in the rapidly dwindling field, Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) attacked, not once but twice and enjoyed a spell out front on his lonesome. He too took a tumble on the descent of the Ghisallo and was caught although he hadn’t been given  much leeway by the Katusha-directed peloton, now down to 30 or so riders, and including all of the main contenders bar Gilbert.

Rui Costa (Movistar) was next to go on the offensive only to be followed by Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) but the latter sat up once the peloton was within sniffing distance, and all too soon they were both back in the pack before the final climb. Now it was the turn of Sky and Lampre to try to control what was left of the field. Defending champion Oliver Zaugg (BMC) was on the shoulder of Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), the rider many, including Gilbert, had cited as the man to watch after his recent victory in Milano-Torino.

Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM), no doubt keen to give the team’s special edition jersey in the traditional duck egg-blue of Bianchi a bit of a showing was next to try his hand in the company of Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) on the early slopes of the final climb but they were brought back by Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).

Bianchi sweater to commemorate Fausto Coppi’s five victories (image courtesy of Vacansoleil-DCM)

Many thought the final climb might prove too short and insufficiently steep to launch a winning attack. Exactly what happened was literally shrouded in mist but Rodriguez was first off the mountain and rapidly built an unassailable lead, despite the deluge. Or indeed because of it, as the treacherous conditions effectively negated the numerical superiority of his pursuers. The initial chasing group of Uran, his Sky teammate Sergio Henao, Contador and Nairo Quintano (Movistar) swelled as they reached the foot of the descent and although they combined their efforts it just wasn’t enough to bring back Rodriguez. Indeed, Purito had just enough time in hand to celebrate his win by exuberantly throwing his water bottle over his head.

Il Lombardia podium (l-r): Samuel Sanchez, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rigoberto Uran (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

A few bons mots from the victor

After the race, Rodriguez confirmed:

I have to thank Igor Makarov and ITERA for putting me in the best condition to have this perfect season. This is the most important triumph of my whole career.

Today I was feeling in great shape. In fact I made my teammates work during all the crucial moments of the race. When I saw that all my rivals were tired and I felt so great, I realised I had a great chance to win.

The Villa Vergano climb suited me well. I managed to make the difference. To tell the truth I thought that somebody could join me in that attack, but instead nobody could answer and that makes this victory even greater. I think I was one of the favourite riders from the beginning. I was fighting for a double goal: to win this prestigious competition and to take the lead of UCI WorldTour ranking, and I managed to, so I’m really happy.

I think it’s safe to assume that Rodriguez’s increased demands have been met by team management and he’ll stay with Katusha. Indeed, they would be foolish to let him go.

Closing thoughts

Yesterday Gilbert had said that he was fired up by the challenge and thoughts of being in the rainbow jersey. Sadly that enthusiasm was extinguished by a fall in the appalling weather conditions, but I don’t think they were that much worse than 2010 when he last won here.

However, he’d rather tempted fate I feel by claiming that he wasn’t put off by the forecasts of bad weather:

It is very good for me as I am very good in the descents, and I have the best tyres in the market. Continentals will help me tomorrow. [Clearly not! – Ed.] The legs also. But we have a strong team. I still had a good week of training behind me. I think the condition will still be there. We will see in the final.

Crucially, Gilbert admitted that he had no idea what the gruelling Muro di Sormano was like and had instead watched the final two hours of last year’s race yesterday as a form of reconnaissance, relying on the guidance of his team mates for today’s unknown.

By contrast, Contador had done some pre-race reconnaissance on Thursday – and Rodriguez probably did too – which, in the weather conditions, would have been helpful in getting a feel for the major difficulties, in this case the descents rather than the climbs:

Interestingly, there were seven Colombians in the leading group capping off a truly splendid season for them which will see a number, such as the baby-faced Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone), move up to WorldTour teams. They are without a doubt, this year’s must-have.


1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 6:36:27

2. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:09

3. Rigoberto (Sky) same time

4. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) s/t

5. Sergio Henao (Sky) s/t

6. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

7. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t

8. Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t

9. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t

10. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) s/t

Links: Preview, Official race website

Who’s moving where for 2013? #2

From the sublime to the ridiculous, sporting transfer gossip offers no end of opportunities for speculation and distraction. Suffice to say, cycling is no different. This weekly column will bring you up to speed with the latest, greatest (and downright absurd) cycling rumours for your own examination and contemplation.

Ivan Basso – Liquigas to Saxo Bank?

Ivan Basso (image courtesy of Liquigas)

Image courtesy of Liquigas

According to the latest rumours, Liquigas – who will be rebranded Team Cannondale in 2013 – cannot afford to keep hold of their number one climber, Ivan Basso. The 34-year-old Italian, who has ridden for the outfit since 2008, is said to be close to a return to Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Bjarne Riis, who he rode under at Team CSC prior to a doping ban in 2006. Source (in Danish)

Liquigas are withdrawing as a title sponsor ahead of next season after eight years, possibly paving the way for the 34-year old’s departure. Saxo Bank are the favourites for his signature, and he would join an outfit who have strengthened impressively ahead of next season with the likes of Roman Kreuziger, Nico Roche and Matti Breschel.

Will it happen? 3/5. Whether the rumours about the team being strapped for cash are true or not, I’m not sure. However, while Basso would almost certainly be Cannondale’s top climber after the departure of Vincenzo Nibali to Astana, the fact that the likes of key mountain domestiques Sylwester Szmyd and Eros Capecchi are off to Movistar next year suggests he wouldn’t have much mountain support. However, there’s little question he would arrive at Saxo Bank in a domestique role himself. It’s an intriguing rumour and one which will undoubtedly be watched closely.

Jose Rujano – Androni Giocattoli to Euskaltel?

Image courtesy of Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela

According to reports in Spain, Venezuelan rider Jose Rujano could become a rare non-Basque rider on the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, moving to the WorldTour outfit from the UCI Pro Continental team Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela. Rujano is 30-years-old and a very capable climber, finishing on the podium in the 2005 Giro d’Italia and sixth in the 2011 edition. Source (in Spanish)

Reports suggest that the traditionally all-Basque team are being forced to look further afield in order to recruit riders who will guarantee them more WorldTour points, ensuring their place in cycling’s top tier. They have even been linked with non-Hispanic riders, like German Andre Schulze. Vacansoleil and Sky have also all been linked with a move for Rujano.

Will it happen? 3/5. With Rujano moving into the latter stages of his career, a move to a top team is probably the only way he can guarantee the chance to repeat a Grand Tour podium. The Basques may not be happy, but it certainly appears feasible.

Andrew Fenn in Quick Step swap deal for Sky’s Cavendish and Eisel?

Image courtesy of Omega Pharma-Quick Step

It is widely accepted that Mark Cavendish will be moving to Omega Pharma-Quick Step next season after a frustrating summer at Sky. It comes as little surprise to hear that Cav’s best chum and trusty right-hand man Bernie Eisel will be thrown into the deal too. But there has been an interesting twist to the story, with the Gazet Van Antwerpen reporting that Sky want an unnamed “talented young rider” currently on the books of Omega Pharma-Quick Step to be thrown into the deal. Source (in Dutch)

Rumour has it that it is young 22-year-old Briton Andrew Fenn being used as a bargaining chip by Dave Brailsford, a former track champion and winner of the under-23 British national road race championship in 2010. This season he has won two of the five races which make up the Vuelta a Mallorca – the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca and the Trofeo Migjorn.

Will it happen? 4/5. Given that Sky are losing tw0 big-name, valuable riders it comes as no surprise that they want to be fairly recompensed. Given that Fenn is British he’d most likely be delighted with a move to Sky, with Brailsford likewise. It certainly seems to have some substance.

Pippo Pozzato – Farnese Vini to Saxo Bank?

Image courtesy of Farnese Vini

There has been another twist in the Pippo Pozzato transfer saga we first reported on in the last update. After strong links with either Movistar or Katusha, Saxo Bank now appear to have joined the chase for the 31-year old Classics specialist. Source (in Danish)

Pozzato finished on the podium of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and in the top ten of Milan-San Remo this season, and it is little surprise the Italian is being linked with a move back to a team in the WorldTour. 

Will it happen? 4/5. I am fairly certain he will be back in the WorldTour next season, the only question is with which team. Saxo Bank are probably the team with the strongest Classics squad, especially with the re-signing of Matti Breschel to join Nick Nuyens, and because of this Pozzato must surely be considering a move to Bjarne Riis’ outfit.