Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) defended his Giro di Lombardia title after attacking on the final climb of the Villa Vergano and soloing to victory in the 242km race on Sunday. The Spaniard finished 17 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and 23 seconds up on Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff). Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) placed fourth at 45 seconds.
Rodriguez came into the race as the red hot favourite after finishing second in last week’s World Championships and just as in 2012 the defending champion used the Villa Vergano as his launch pad, skipping clear on the 15 percent slopes and establishing a small but crucial buffer on the chasers.
“If I wanted to win, I knew I had to attack then,” Rodriguez said. “Lombardia is never easy, especially in weather like this. It was a very hard race – I think we raced faster than last year.”
The win was nearly identical to that of Rodriguez’s 2012 Lombardia success, although this year’s rain was not nearly as torrential as last year’s. The Spaniard not only gained important points toward the overall WorldTour, he also turned around a season riddled with disappointments, the last of which came last Sunday with his devastating second place at the world championships.
In Florence last weekend, Rodriguez’s 10-second advantage wilted under the power of Rui Costa’s chase, but the same advantage in Lombardia was enough to net him another Monument for his palmares. Rodriguez said he thought about the similarity of the race situation to that of the Worlds, and was never quite sure until the end if he would win.
“My radio fell out and it was only in the last kilometer that I could hear from my directeur sportif that it was done.”
The group behind Rodriguez contained Valverde – the rider who many criticised for costing Spain gold at the Worlds – plus Martin and Majka but on the slippery descent to the line the trio’s chase broke down, first with Valverde dropping his two companions and then with Martin crashing on the final turn.
Joaquim rodriguez (katusha) with second-placed alejandro valverde (movistar) and third-placed rafal majka (saxo-tinkoff bank):Antonio Calanni/AP/Press Association Images
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) with second-placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and third-placed Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff Bank)
Rodriguez, though, had no such problems, creating clear air between himself and Valverde, while world champion Rui Costa sacrificed his chances of victory by working for Valverde earlier in the race.
The win provided Rodriguez some amount of solace after his tearful display at the end of the Worlds, and with Chris Froome (Sky) a non-starter the Katusha rider claimed the WorldTour’s top spot for a second consecutive season.
Rodriguez admitted that the world championship loss was hard to handle, but said he preferred to focus on the future, and the victory today will help him look toward 2014.
“Of course I wish I could win the WorldTour while wearing the world champion’s jersey,” he said. “You can’t forget about the world championships because of its importance, but it’s important that I could recover so well and be able to focus on today.”
While the riders enjoyed some tentative sunshine at the start of the 242km race in Bergamo, the clouds were touching the tips of the climbs, soaking the riders as they headed toward Lake Como. The first moves went on the slopes of the Valico di Valcava with six riders emerging together: Fabio Felline (Androni-Giacatolli), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), Reto Hollenstein (IAM Cycling), Carlos Quintero (Colombia) and Willem Wauters (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Albasini and Felline were the first to get dropped, while further back Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and later Andy Schleck (RadioShack) called it a day. The four men left up front never gained much of an advantage, and what was a two-minute lead was whittled down to mere seconds on the Colle Brianza at the mid-point of the race, and then the race was all back together.
A large group of 21 riders separated themselves from the peloton over the crest, but the lower slopes of the daunting Colma di Sormano called an end to their lead. A crash leading into the climb spelled the end of Vincenzo Nibali’s race – he limped to the ambulance, favoring his left knee.
Saxo-Tinkoff led what was left of the peloton up the wall of the Sormano, but lost Alberto Contador before the upper reaches of the climb. It was instead Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who gained separation at the top. The pair were joined by Astana’s Enrico Gasparotto, Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Italian champion Ivan Santaromita (BMC) on the tricky descent.
On the way to Bellagio the main chasing group came within striking distance of the five leaders, and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) took the chance to attack, bridge to the leaders and then leave them all behind. With the Madonna del Ghisallo looming, the group behind seemed content to let him burn his matches. Only Marcel Wyss (IAM) could be lured into chasing solo, but a crash took the impetus out of his effort.
A steady tempo set by Katusha for defending champion Rodriguez allowed the chasing peloton to swell to 30 riders as they made their way up the Madonna del Ghisallo, 2:35 behind Voeckler.
However, with a long stretch of flat roads and Michael Rogers marshalling the chase for Saxo-Tinkoff, the Frenchman looked to be riding on borrowed time. Strung out, and with the conditions worsening, the peloton began to slowly close with Voeckler ticking through his show reel of facial expressions in time with every desperate second lost.
With the waters of Como as the backdrop, and the Villa Vergano quickly approaching, Voeckler’s defences were futile. His earpiece theatrically discarded with the bunch on his heels, it was Mickaël Chérel (Ag2R) who led the reduced peloton up to Voeckler on the lower slopes of the climb.
Quintana and Valverde were still in menacing mood but Rodriguez lurked in the shadows watching every move. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and Daniel Martin also looked comfortable but it was another Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who scampered clear first. He drew Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R) with him and when the remnants of the peloton regrouped only a dozen riders remained in contention.
Pozzovivo decided to remain at the front of the action, setting the pace as the bunch held tight as they approached the final tough ramps of the climb. Rodriguez had played his first card in hunting down Pozzovivo and Pinot moments before, but his second turn of speed inflicted the significant damage.
It was a textbook move from the Spaniard. On the front, out of the saddle, Majka, Valverde and Martin could only watch as the rider everyone calls Purito left only a trail of smoke.