The Moment The Race Was Won: Il Lombardia

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Joaquim Rodriguez Lombardia

Joaquim Rodriguez has attacked on the Ello climb to Villa Vergano and pulled out a slender lead over Alberto Contador and Rigoberto Uran. Look closely in the photo and you can see the crowd in the background looking at the chasers as they approach the corner. But by now Rodriguez has the advantage. This was the moment the race was won.

The Muro di Sormano. The first Spanish winner of the race. The race moved to September. The new world champion crashing out. For all the novelty and action this year’s edition might also be remembered for the rain that poured almost all day long.

The rain started at the same time as the race. Sometimes the conditions can suck the morale out of the bunch but this time 46.6km were covered in the first hour as a breakaway struggled to form. Eventually 11 riders went clear but they never got much more than two minutes and on the slopes of the Muro di Sormano the leaders were rinsed down to two, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Alberto Losada (Katusha) with Bardet finally cresting the “wall” solo.

Behind Vincenzo Nibali and others were forcing a selection, he went clear with Alberto Contadro, Joaquim Rodriguez, Sergio Henao, Nairo Quintana and Bauke Mollema. TV doesn’t do the slope justice, note that Rodriguez and Henao both clocked 9m20s for the climb, just 12.3km/h. As they climbed these riders weren’t in a lead peloton but resembled mountaineers on a line as they lifted themselves over the Sormano one by one.

Gilbert Lombardia

Yet the descent was equally damaging and many crashed on the narrow roads. Bardet was cornering with one foot out of the pedals at times, perhaps his brown shorts helped to camouflage any emergency application of brown chamois cream? Several riders went out of the race including Philippe Gilbert. Is the rainbow jersey cursed? No, because Alessandro Ballan and Luca Paolini were also falling like raindrops. Even the race motorbikes were dropping.

Romain Bardet Lombardia

They circled Lake Como and Bardet took the race into Bellagio, normally a swanky place – think of George Clooney’s villa and teak motorboats – but the race struggled to brighten up the day. The Frenchman took a slender lead on the early slopes of the Ghisallo but his pedalling style was getting choppy and he was eventually caught. It’s worth saluting Bardet, a 21 year old neo-pro who, back in April, led the Amstel race for most of the day. Again he went in the early break, again he lasted the longest. Yet Bardet was caught and Omega Pharma-Quickstep’s Kevin De Weert went clear, taking at least 30 seconds on the climb of the Ghisallo. But the Belgian didn’t look dangerous given there was 50km to go and riders were spotted chatting as they held a high tempo up the Ghisallo.

Whether riders asked the Madonna for protection is not known but soon after passing the chapel several riders were struck down, notably Nibali after he tangled with Paolo Tiralongo on a hairpin bend. Ahead De Weert slid on a corner and was swept up by the bunch. Then it was the turn of Rui Costa of Movistar to ride away but he never got more than 35 seconds. Still, he helped team mate and mountain ace Nairo Quintana sit tight in the bunch of 30 riders as they approached the final climb to Villa Vergano.

Then Il Lombardia became Il Diluvio, the downpour. The race has been brought forward a few weeks on the calendar and it seemed the weather followed it too. If it’s sad this race isn’t the finale any more, it was good to see a lot of big names at the start and plenty were present as they started the last climb. And that’s all we saw because what was once “the race of the falling leaves” briefly became a race of dropping images as the TV feed went in the rain.

In old times nobody saw what happened in a race, without TV cameras reporters would follow the race by car or motorbike and hope to get close to the action but often they could only piece together the actions they’d seen that day into a story and the account of the race could vary according to which newspaper you read. All we know is that on the early slopes Vacansoleil’s Marco Mercato launched an attack with Gorka Verdugo of Euskaltel. In time a strong Alexandr Kolobnev jumped across to him. You’d be forgiven for thinking Kolobnev is Russian for “never” because no matter how strong he seems, he never wins. But this move split the lead group as the next photo shows, you can spot Italian champion Pellizotti, Bauke Mollema and Ryder Hesjedal on the corner as the approach the cobbled section.

Villa Vergano

And when the TV images briefly flickered in Villa Vergano and picked out a small Katusha rider it wasn’t Kolobnev but Rodriguez who had scaled the climb the fastest. Predictably the red-clad Spaniard had attacked on the steepest part of the climb but as Uran and Contador tried, they couldn’t bring him back. Rodriguez crested the climb with no more than 10 seconds on Alberto Contador. You feared for Rodriguez on the descent because of his habit of losing races just this year but he was cornering with a knife between his teeth, attacking every angle. It was all the more impressive because as the chase group swelled behind it did not seem to slow, riders were doing long pulls as the rain kept pouring.

Joaquim Rodriguez Lecco

Finally Rodriguez had time to sit up and celebrate. He threw his water bottle high into the air as if to return a few drops back to the sky. He won the race, becoming the first Spaniard to win the Tour of Lombardy and only the fourth to win a monument and in the post-race press conference stated “this is important victory of my career“.

Was this a great race?
Viewers could follow the gradual war of attrition. We did not see the big names take turns to attack nor even Rodriguez’s move. But for the riders it was a hard day of constant effort and attention. Each of the 54 finishes deserves to be saluted. Sometimes in these conditions hidden details like tyre pressure or the choice of clothing can play a role in who is there or not for the last hour. But this time the Muro di Sormano prompted a selection with more than 80km to go. Sadly the rain and narrow roads added to this.

Number One
With Bradley Wiggins already talking about 2013 Joaquim Rodriguez is certain to finish the year at the top of UCI World Tour rankings. But arguably this win was a bigger achievement. He’s come close in the Giro and Vuelta, each time using what the Spanish call repechos, steep ramps, to take the lead. He did the same today and kept his nerve on the descent to take the win.

Toe Strap September 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm

First to comment!
Brilliant write up, many thanks as ever.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale September 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Magnificent job by Rodriguez, winning with a move that nobody saw. I was kind of hoping that @inrng’s photographer would have a shot at it, but of course it is not to be.

Purito has had an excellent season, and while he always seemed to be the guy I was rooting against (for Hesjedal, or for Froome, or whatever) I enjoy watching him and he’s made a fan out of me. Nobody ever considers him a GC threat, yet he rode two GTs brilliantly and could easily have won both. He’s a small guy, not someone you’d expect to win a descent in cold rain. He is supposedly weak on long diesel climbs, but he gained time on Hesjedal on them and marked all but one move of Contador in Spain. Even his TT performances were solid given his skillset. And he races to win.

What a richly deserved triumph.

The Inner Ring September 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm

I think the weather limited the photos too, the one at the top is the best one I can get of Rodriguez’s triumph.

EDIT: I’ve now added the crucial photograph of Rodriguez going clear on the final climb. He’s got about 10 seconds as he fixes the road ahead with his eyes.

Toe Strap September 29, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Brilliant photo – mant thanks. Provides the missing link from the (excusably) poor coverage.

The Ladder September 30, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Great image that one, really pleased for Purito a great way to end a very good season indeed.

Jered Gruber October 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Funny! That’s me in the last picture kneeling – this is the shot from that spot:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/smashred/8036202244/in/photostream

Salsiccia October 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Jered – that’s one of the best cycling photos of this or any other year. Great work.

The Ladder October 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Brilliant work, thanks for sharing.

Dachs September 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Enjoyable read as usual. Trouble is the season is at the end, no more reports.

The Inner Ring September 29, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Thanks, the weekends might be quieter on here but for the last two winters I’ve been doing this there’s still a surplus of ideas, topics and news to explore during the off-season.

Orpheo September 29, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Great race despite TV cockups and late Eurosport entry. Sorry to be so bleedin’ pedantic but Nibali and Tiralongo didn’t tangle, they just both came off in the same place at the same time.

Matthias September 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Your padantry beat me to it!

The Inner Ring September 30, 2012 at 11:17 am

Thanks, I think I looked away and heard they’d both gone down together on the audio commentary.

Bundle September 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Classic race. It will be remembered. Roubaix, Fuente Dé, Lombardia, and the Sky mountain train, have been this season’s highlights. It’s been a good season.

jkeltgv September 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm

I can never get myself up for this race – don’t know why but it just doesn’t get me going like the other 4 monuments and the worlds. Today had all the ingredients – mist covered mountains, rain, rain jackets & gilets, motorbikes with their lights on at the finish reflecting onto the wet road….but yeah, still not that bothered, even if it was an intriguing race. Right up there with the Canadian races and San Sebastian for me. Was pleased Purito got a win finally.

And now the wife is pleased – next big appointment 5 months time for Het Nieuwsblad…..but that will be tempered somewhat by the home trainer getting set up in front of the telly.

The Inner Ring September 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

It’s good different people like different things but if you and your wife are ever interested in a trip to the region then it has plenty to offer and you might begin to like the race more. A visit to Roubaix is less romantic for sure.

Andy Raff September 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Why not head out for a romantic two week-two region holiday?

Tuscany 21-29 Sept
Lombardy 30 Sept-6 Oct

I am sure the wife will love it.

jkeltgv September 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm

@inrng The wife is a Veneta…Provincia di Padova. If ever we get a real holiday that isn’t visiting her family it won’t be in Italy! Usually I can manage to talk her into a visit home mid to late May and she is pretty tolerant of me – no car, no booze, no smoke, no mates so I can justify all my “spend” on bike stuff.

I do think the towns of Belgium like Ghent, Bruge, Antwerp and so on can make for a nice little getaway with “just one day for me…” be it a big cross race, the six days or indeed a spring classic.

@Andy – You’re onto something: Florence and the renaissance!! The Italian lakes!!! Romance, culture, food and wine, stunning scenery!!! whispers….worlds, a monument and 2 other decent races…..

Slapshotjc September 29, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Awesome ride by Purito today, the run into Lecco in particular

Kjetil September 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm

That was 2012…
In March I was screaming that Strade Bianche is the most beautiful race, and then Milano-Sanremo. In April there are too many races to scream about, but that domino that took out Nordhaus at Amstel got the biggest NOOOOOO! And then May and the Giro which was wonderful. A calm June, a somewhat processional TdF, a fine Olympics, a fun Vuelta, exciting world championships, and a Lombardia we’ll talk about. That shot of half a fork leg from Ballan’s bike, Gilbert’s Twitter bic of his bloodied rainbow jersey, and Purito throwing water back up as he crossed the line.
2013 next, but while I wait I read this blog. Thanks again, inrng.

Larry T. September 30, 2012 at 3:01 am

+1

Lori Lee October 1, 2012 at 5:30 am

+1

Belgian Boys Club September 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm

What a fantastic read, summed up the race perfectly. It was a pity we didn’t see the battles that we wanted, but the weather was terrible, true Flandrien conditions in Italy.

Season over, what to do now, lucky for us it is off to the Gent 6 Day.

TheDude September 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm

“Brown chamois cream.” A load in the shorts. Good stuff INRNG. :-)

Ablindeye September 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Great write up. Pleased that Purito landed this one after all the entertainment he’s provided this year, especially given the improved but ultimately disappointing results in the GT’s.

santiago benites September 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm

You have this absolutely fantastic way of writing a race report. Thank you.

Adam September 30, 2012 at 3:39 am

What? No cross write-ups? Bollocks, just pure bollocks. Congratulations to Purito, he definitely deserved a nice victory to end his season as Contador, Gilbert, and Wiggo have certainly taken their goods home for the year. Time to watch Nys and Albert battle it out for what is expected to be Nys’s last season!

Ben Z September 30, 2012 at 4:12 am

I only started following cycling this year, but I love staying up until 1.30am to watch the finales. It is a seriously exciting sport and this blog has been a go to place for me everyday. The amount I’ve learnt from inner ring about all aspects of the sport has reallyu enhanced my viewing experience and helped to get me hooked.

Just a question, when 6 riders from a single team (BMC) crash in one race is it put down to bad luck or is there a review of team processes such as tyre pressures and bike setups?

The Inner Ring September 30, 2012 at 11:19 am

It can be bad luck but yes, tyre pressure, rim choice and brake pads can be problematic too. Just don’t expect a team to admit this.

Ben Z October 1, 2012 at 2:03 am

Cheers for the reply. :)

Wataboutya September 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Great write….you know why?

Cuz there was no tv!

A bit like removing race radios, removing live tv made us all the more eager to find out what did happen and value the words that painted the scene for us.

Admittedly, I was peeved with Eurosport coming in after the feature climb on yet another classic race. I don’t expect TdF 5hr live coverage for every monument, I’d be happy with a lead in 30min highlights or ‘delayed live’ feature showing the key points before the actual live programme. It can’t be that difficult.

Great race, didn’t see a single fallen leaf but plenty of fallen bikes. Attacking racing, strategy by main contenders, opportunities taken by lesser ones and another superb early break that we willed to stay away longer and longer. The finish pics really do sum this up as a true classic…..just needs to go back a few weeks again.

The Ladder September 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Is there any explanation for why Eurosport coverage came in that late in the day? They were showing WC road race highlights from 2pm on British Eurosport, so it’s not like they can say there was other live sport clashing. It all seems a little bit of an afterthought at times – or is it something like rights issues?

Tovarishch October 1, 2012 at 8:23 am

I found a service providing local VPN links for most countries (including Italy) that allowed me to watch the Italian coverage (I actually wanted to watch the rugby later!). It costs just USD 5 per month. I don’t have the link here at work but if anyone is interested I will post it later.

Simon E September 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm

As Ben Z says, once again Inner Ring provides insightful previews and the most revealing dissection of such a fascinating race.

matthew September 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Maybe a dumb question but its been bugging me since the vuelta, on these extra steep climbs (particularly in the wet), does everyone manage to ride them or do people get to see pros pushiso
Didn’t see any of the race but thanks for the insight

Chris September 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Any chance of a year in review ? It has been one of the bigger years in pro cycling me thinks ..

StephenRides September 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm

True mastery of painting a picture with words. Absolutely Love your writing.

Lombardia even in dreary downpour is magical. Dream of one day visiting and spectating.

So happy for JRoc!! Such a deserving winner! Many others could learn from his perserverance. Cant express how awesome it is for him to come through w/ a Classics win especially to finish out the season.

Would love to read your write up of some old races. Revisiting some Cannibal triumphs. Maybe Puy de Dome (sp) Poullidor battle w Jacque. Also something about Bartali. Just finished Road to Valor so I see him as Much more than cycling great. You may have done some already so apologies if Ive overlooked.

Anyway thank you for yet another wonderful read!

jack October 1, 2012 at 1:40 am

Great entry, very insightful. You may have disclosed this already but you must be an old rider or a DS as your understanding of cycling is deep. Bravo Purito for putting the icing on the cake to a great season.

Rob October 1, 2012 at 8:51 am

> Finally Rodriguez had time to sit up and celebrate.
> He threw his water bottle high into the air as if to return a few drops back to the sky.

Priceless!

Salsiccia October 1, 2012 at 10:24 am

I did feel sorry for the Eurosport commentators (didn’t recognise who it was with Brian Smith) not knowing what was going on but they coped manfully.

I’m very happy to see Purito take the win after a great year. And a great celebration too!

Thanks for the great summary. Excellent article as always. Cheers Inner Ring!

The Ladder October 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm

“I did feel sorry for the Eurosport commentators (didn’t recognise who it was with Brian Smith) not knowing what was going on but they coped manfully.”

If I recall correctly, it was Rob Hatch in the box with Brian Smith. I prefer him or Ant McCrossan over Harmon and especially Kirby, who is dreadful for me.

Salsiccia October 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thanks for that. He was very good.

Jered Gruber October 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Some more images from Il Lombardia, here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smashred/sets/72157631667393171/

Salsiccia October 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Some outstanding stuff there. The finish line stuff is great – the tone on the colour shots is beautiful, especially the one with Mollema. Was that a natural effect?

Jered Gruber October 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Thanks a lot! There was almost no color to be had, especially at the finish line. I don’t think I did much to the Mollema shot. I feel bad when I get excited about rain, but it really does wonders for pictures. :)

spudgun October 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Your photos are amazing — thanks so much for sharing!!

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