Recollections are often biased to recent events. A list of the best albums of all time can often be disproportionately weighted with music that was riding high in the charts just the other day. So picking the Tour of Lombardy can seem a recent recollection but hopefully it stands the test of time.
As ever the course keeps changing. There are lessons good and bad here, on the positive side the alterations keep the peloton guessing as they stops the self-reinforcing phenomenon of riders waiting for particular parts of the course to deploy their tactical schemes. Conversely it leaves the race with an unsettled feel, as if it struggles to find the right formula but this is comforted by the regular big crowds, this region of Italy is one of the sport’s heartlands ranking alongside Flanders, Brittany or the Basque Country and always something to celebrate in the light of the sterile scenes in Qatar in the same month.
This year’s route was hilly bordering on mountainous and included the staples of the Madonna del Ghisallo or the Valcava. But there was this flat section of 15km, all on big roads, before the finish in Bergamo and the worry was this would let the strong teams reel in any breakaways and set up their riders for the finish.
Plenty of climbs did plenty of damage and with 60km to go roughly 75% of the peloton was out of contention and many of those visibly in contention were bound to crack. A flurry of attacks were being launched. Movistar were on manoeuvres as Giovanni Visconti tried a move to soften the field for his leader Alejandro Valverde. Esteban Chaves and Rigoberto Uran jumped, Romain Bardet gave chase. Robert Gesink launched a move too that teased apart more climbers from the rest.
At the Selvino climb and Esteban Chaves launched his move with 35km to go. The previous week he’d won the GP dell’Emilia, reportedly taming the slopes to the San Luca basilica in the big ring to beat Romain Bardet. Now Chaves was away again with Bardet and Rigoberto Uran joined them.
Fabio Aru but it soon became apparent the apprentice was better than his master and having narrowed the gap to the lead trio he jumped across to form a quartet.
Knowing the dreaded flat run to Bergamo meant watching the action but worrying all these early moves were in vain because a few stick-legged climbers could be reeled in like minnows by the substantial chase group. Only if there were teams with numerical superiority in the finish but this included Ag2r La Mondiale who had Pierre Latour, Cannondale who had Davide Villella and of course Astana with Aru, all of these riders were policemen tasked with dampening the chase. Ahead the quartet pressed on as a unit but their lead was slender which added to the tension as Movistar gave chase.
Someone had to win but the calculation was not obvious in the moment. Rosa had done so much work and would surely be delighted with a podium finish, plus he was not an obvious winner for such a big race. Chaves was the local given he’s lived nearby since turning pro after winning the Tour de l’Avenir but he’s is a climber but could he sprint? Bardet’s gone up a gear this year. Perhaps on paper Rigoberto Uran was the best sprinter but he’s not looked the same all year. Rosa was the first to attack and from the comfort of a keyboard this was a rookie mistake and then Chaves went which made you fear he’d blown his chances for the sprint but the acceleration blew away Bardet. Rosa tried again but couldn’t get away. It was advantage Uran over the top of the climb and a gripping finish for neutrals, Colombian supporters must have been going wild. As they came into the finish Rosa looked set for the win but Chaves wound up a long sprint to win by centimetres.
With hindsight: a big one day win for Chaves and the first Colombian winner of a Monument classic and the first non-European to win Lombardia and the result helped Colombia top the UCI’s nations rankings, something few care for but indicative of this nation’s status. Was Rosa the stronger rider? Perhaps but he wasn’t the cleverest although he had to use up a lot of energy on team duties. Rosa’s signed for Team Sky and will be another precious climbing domestique.
Among the results Davide Villella was fifth and finally coming good, he’d go on to win the Japan Cup and should improve in 2017. Pierre Latour was 22 on the day and made the top-10 after a very active day at the front of the race and fellow Frenchman Warren Barguil, aged 24, was back after his accident in the top-10 too.
Why the highlight? it’s hard to pick one moment over another as there were many great moments in the year. This one got picked to celebrate stage racers taking long range risks, the sight of them going for the win a long way out, getting the rewards and proving a thrill along the way. This applies to the breakaway and the winner in Chaves who attacked several times and still won as opposed a cagey win by someone else and if it was late in the season the race had a stellar startlist and a ratpack of top riders trading attacks from far out. Yes recent events can crowd out older memories but it’s also true that the longer the season goes on the greater the race needs to be to grab our attention and this was captivating for the final two hours.