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.

Result:

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

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