Dan Martin timed his winning attack to perfection, coming like a speeding train from the back of the leading riders with 450 metres to go and catching them unaware to take a well-deserved victory without a panda in sight, as he did at Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year. The seemingly eternal bridesmaid Alejandro Valverde was second and former world champion Rui Costa finished third.
Usual script, usual suspects
Monuments are usually won by those who play the long game. This year’s revised parcours of 256km from Como to Bergamo, bathed in early autumn sunshine – a welcome contrast to the previous two editions – was lined with tifosi.
There was an early 11-man break including perennial breakaway artist Jeremy Roy (FDJ) which enjoyed a ten-minute advantage before the teams of the leading contenders took turns to slowly reel them back. Meanwhile many attacked from the bunch trying – some succeeding – to join the leading group, including the ever aggressive Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural). But as the much reduced peloton, probably only 60 riders, upped the pace under the impulsion of Katusha in defence of Joaquim Rodriguez‘s title and headed toward the final ascent of the day, only late escapees Ben Hermans (BMC) and Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) were dangling tantalisingly just off the front.
Patience triumphs in monuments
The dangerous duo was swept up at the foot of the Bergamo Alta by the leading bunch, who’d been keeping their powder dry. Onto the cobbled section and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) attacked along with Fabio Aru (Astana). They were hotly pursued by former two-time Lombardia winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC), leading the other contenders up the steeper sections and over the crest. With just over 3km to go noted descender Samu Sanchez (BMC) attacked on the downhill. The others followed.
Sanchez was tailed by birthday boy Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida). He checked over his shoulder, no doubt seeking the whereabouts of teammate Gilbert, and attacked again.
The leading group now comprised only a handful of riders as they turned right under a narrow bridge. Into the final kilometre, Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) zoomed past on the right-hand side, attacking from the back of the leaders who briefly hesitated before Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) gave chase. But it was too little too late and Martin had time to savour his hard-fought victory.
Valverde finished second and took enough points to leap above Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) into top spot in the UCI WorldTour standings. Contador, who was in the second chasing group, was caught up in a crash in the final 250 metres, falling on the same knee he injured in the Tour de France.
So, really not that dissimilar to Liege-Bastogne-Liege
In our preview we likened the revised course to another of the monuments so why didn’t we pick 2013 Liege winner Dan Martin as one of our riders to watch? Largely because this season he hasn’t enjoyed the traditional luck of the Irish – he’d already had three falls and was due some good fortune!
— Argyle Panda (@argyle_panda) 5 Octobre 2014
As Martin explained post-race:
It’s just incredible to win it after all the bad luck this year. The team believed in me all the way. To win this is just, ah, incredible.
I actually planned to attack on the last climb but I couldn’t get through. There were too many people. I needed to try something and the opportunity happened. I just had to go as hard as I could and not crash in the last corner, as I did at Liege.
And all without a Panda in sight!
It’s been a long, hard season
Newly crowned world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), looking resplendent in the rainbow stripes with the Pollock-inspired paint job of his trusty steed, was only one of many to be afflicted with cramps just 10km from the finish but he bravely soldiered on.
There were a number of falls aside from the one in the final straight involving Contador. Yaroslav Popovych (Trek) was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) locked handlebars in the last 10km but were both able to continue racing. Let’s hope no one was seriously injured.
For many today, this was their swansong (at least as far as European racing goes). Riders such as Cadel Evans (BMC) and Nicki Sorenson (Tinkoff-Saxo) have announced their retirement but they may not be the only riders enjoying their final participation in this race. With only 17 WorldTour teams for 2015 and many of those paring down their squads ahead of the proposed changes to the UCI WorldTour, many more will either be dropping down or calling time on their careers.
1. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) 6:25:33
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:01
3. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) same time
4. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
5. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) s/t
6. Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
7. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) s/t
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s/t
9. Fabio Aru (Astana) s/t
10. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:14