The Moment The Race Was Won: Il Lombardia

Bergamo Alta Lombardia

Il Lombardia is one of the world’s longest bike races but the new course, much like the old course, concentrates the action on the final climb just minutes before the finish. The race sped through the citadel of Bergamo Alta where a select group of nine formed but it wasn’t until the final 500 metres that Dan Martin put in a late attack, quickly distancing his rivals.

A satisfactory start to the day with the sight of Michał Kwiatkowski in a rainbow jersey and complimentary black shorts and a poignant note with Cadel Evans standing on the podium, with his son, for the last time in Europe. The Australian’s house is just up the road; does it have a sign outside saying Ca’Del Evans?

The race started fast, it often does in Lombardia. The early move is doomed but better to get clear for one last chance than end the season invisible. The early break contained Astana’s Francesco Gavazzi, first over the Colle dell Ghisallo and winner of the Pier Luigi Todisco prize, awarded in memory of a journalist at La Gazzetta Dello Sport.

Onwards and little changed by the time the TV coverage had started. The Colle Gallo hadn’t thinned the field much and nor did the Passo di Ganda but it did split up the lead group from which Tinkoff-Saxo’s Sergio Paulinho and Neri Sottoli’s Andrea Fedi proved the strongest. Paulinho was helping team mate Contador’s plans but his insistence on going solo suggested he wasn’t aiming to stay out for too long because alone after 200km he was going to crack.

The next serious move saw Ben Hermans (BMC Racing), Pieter Weening (Orica-Greedge), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Mikaël Cherel (Ag2r La Mondiale) slip the bunch with 45km to go. Mollema vanished and in time Cherel dropped off leaving Weening to tow Hermans with the BMC rider playing policeman on behalf of Philippe Gilbert.

Onto the Berbenno climb and Weening’s group had a minute on the bunch as they caught and passed the remnants of the early break. But suddenly the time gaps shrank. First Katusha’s Alexandr Kolobnev attacked with Bardiani-CSF’s Enrico Zardini on his wheel but this only made the bunch chase harder, a real selection was happening in the bunch. Weening was doing all the work himself and given the pair were always going to be caught you wondered if Hermans should have been sharing the load in order to force other teams to chase harder.

Pieter Weening Ben Hermans Lombardia 2014

Then came the flat section. Wiening and Hermans led but they were sure to be caught. Lacklustre on TV but watch a replay and see just how tightly packed the bunch was, a sign of the tension with riders scrapping for position. But who was there? It’s 2014 and TV had no means of telling us who was in the main peloton other than spotting race numbers or pedalling styles. All it takes is a mat on the ground to capture the riders’ timing chips, they do it in the Worlds. We did see Leopold König and Jean-Christope Péraud take their chances, good for them but this was a sure-fire way to burn up energy before the finish. There were crashes and cramps, notably Michał Kwiatkowski.

It was late in the day as the race sped into Bergamo, the riders casting long shadows across the road. Tim Wellens was the first to attack on the climb to the old town, it gave him the choice of line across the cobbles and he pulled out a lead. It looked too early but it meant he had an option going over the top of the hill as Fabio Aru led the chase followed by all the other team leaders.

Gilbert put in a trademark big attack over the top of the hill, stretching out the group and when the elastic broke a group of nine riders snapped together with a blue Argyle jersey visible at the back. Rui Costa looked strong, Valverde was lurking while Samuel Sanchez led the charge for BMC, sacrificing himself on the front with several efforts to keep the pace up. But into the final kilometre and Sanchez sat up. Dan Martin was at the back and with 500m to go he launched his move. Gilbert looked back and saw him… but didn’t respond. His back hunched, he wound up his top gear and sped away, rounded the final corner while the others were still hesitating. Martin had flown away.

Dan Martin Lombardy Bergamo

The Verdict
The pale sunlight, the long shadows, that end of season feeling all make Il Lombardia a melancholic affair, the peloton raging against the dying of the season. Some are retiring, others won’t find work again while jerseys get retired and team mates switch camps. The End. But the 2015 Il Lombardia might be worth looking forward to already.

The new course is a lot like the old course and if there’s plenty of climbing, the flat 15km portion ahead of the final steep ramp of the day gives you plenty to lament. This level section scares riders from attacking, they don’t want to flounder on the flat. So everyone saves themselves for the final climb to Bergamo Alta was the decisive point. But it was all worth waiting for with the crowds, scenery and atmosphere, a thrilling show and all RCS need to do – easier typed than done – is deviate via a hill or two before Bergamo to ensure total suspense.

A fine win for Dan Martin even if it wasn’t what the Italians call a capolavoro, a masterpiece. We hardly saw Dan Martin all day, sitting behind the invaluable Ryder Hesjedal is partly to blame. But we can’t accuse him of wheelsucking because he attacked and left the others marking each other as they dropped into Bergamo. Valverde was second yet again, muttering about UCI ranking points in the post-race press conference.

If you’re glass half-full kind of person then Dan Martin wins big when it matters. More pessimistic minds will say he’s inconsistent. His season had been dominated by crashes, whether the final bender in Ans, the manhole massacre in Belfast for the Giro or the Worlds. Now that’s all swept aside with a prestigious win.

Dan Martin Lombardia

If Martin was a fisherman or a hunter he’d be a specimen hunter, travelling far and wide to catch the biggest beasts. Not for him a brace of salmon nor a freezer full of wild game, he collects trophies and only the biggest: one win this year but it’s a Monument and he can add the trophy to his Liège-Bastogne-Liège silverware. He gave Valverde the kind of stuffing normally reserved for taxidermists.


64 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: Il Lombardia”

  1. For the next four years they will switch start and finish towns: today’s course will be more or less replicated in 2016, while next year and in 2017 Il Lombardia will start in Bergamo and end in Como (as announced by Silvio Martinello during the RAI live transmission).

      • They already do this for the U23 race held the same day the last few years. I think the suspense of the climb and technical descent has been a feature of the race for the last years whether the finish has been in Como, Lecco, or this year’s Bergamo. I like the formula, keep you on the edge of your seat. However, I had to cringe when they went through that narrow tunnel w/ around 3km to go on a curve (through the old town wall I think?). That one could’ve ended very badly!

        • Yes, it was quite impressive, but it’s more than everything a TV effect. Pro races have passed there many times and nothing ever happened, nor *nearly happened*. I think that’s because they are a lot slower, there, than they appear to be on TV. All this, if you’re speaking of the uphill passage with about 3.5km to go… I consider more dangerous the downhill passage through “Porta S. Agostino” with 1.7km to go (that bend is nasty), which at least had good protections.

      • It would be way too far from the finish line, if they are to arrive at Como-city, as it looks like; my guess is that they’ll throw in again Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia after the Ghisallo, as it was in the finale of the “old” (2004-2009) Como course, where Cunego had his hattrick and Bettini won a couple of time, most notably with the rainbow jersey on after his brother’s death. Maybe they could change a couple of things to make it slightly harder, like climbing “SuperGhisallo”. It was very appreciated by the audience… on TV, at least, because one of the problem of that route, compared with Bergamo, was the relative lack of tifosi on the roadside in the last two climbs.
        It would be consistent with the choice they made with the Bergamo course, conservative with a little change to try to spice it up… but not too much: I suspect that Zomegnan would have taken advantage of the many options which the area around Bergamo offers to make up some gruelling route.
        Another option for Como would be the 2010 course, but I feel it proved itself way too selective and a bit dangerous (bad weather affected the race that year, anyway), reducing the option of tactical elements in the ending kms, which, IMHO, wouldn’t be totally appropriate for most one-day races and Lombardia in particular.

  2. One is forced to wonder if Dan Martin should not concentrate on one day events and forget three week tours. I understand he prefers the one day events.

    SKY conspicuous by their absence from the top forty again. Not much return for the investment !

  3. As a risk-taking and aggressive rider, Dan Martin’s results will never be super consistent. He just isn’t the sort of rider who can simply power away from the group at will. That’s part of the reason I find myself rooting for him. He’s never the outright favorite but he’s going to be tactical and aggressive and he will reward his fans with some thrills and big wins.

    PS “He gave Valverde the kind of stuffing normally reserved for taxidermists.” Priceless!

  4. Indeed Martin should focus his efforts on the one-day races. He’s wining the races Gilbert used to win – you can make a handy living doing that.

    • Indeed, he definitely has had way more success at one day races. He could still target mountain stages in the tour, as that seems more suited to his abilities than a consistent three-week campaign, but he should concentrate on the classics. Maybe a KOM jersey as well, but that would also demand consistency, which he seems to lack.

  5. I know Martin timed his jump brilliantly and was a worthy winner, but all the hesitation in the lead group was puzzling. Did they collectively just decide, “Martin made the winning move, now it’s a race for second,” or what? The hesitation seemed interminable – no one bothered to dig until Martin was in his celebratory pose. Odd.

    • It seems difficult to gauge what’s going on in the final stretch from the front-on view provided by the tv, sometimes, but they did seem hesitant. Valverde has a motive for just getting home–first in UCI rankings isn’t bad as consolation prizes go. Not sure what everyone else was thinking. Maybe they didn’t want to get tangled up on the final corner if Martin was still jinxed? 😛

      (Has anyone else noticed the unusually apt randomly-generated URL for the gif of the manhole crash?)

      I loved Sanchez’ risky riding towards the end, it’s a shame not more came of it. I imagine BMC will fade from the Aussie collective consciousness when Cadel retires, but I’ll keep watching them.

  6. Safe to say DM has had this race in his sights for weeks.
    I don’t think stage races are not in the scope of what he can tackle in future race safaris.
    He is a high caliber rider.
    Great read as usual Inrng.

  7. Martin’s attack was brilliant, yet again. The Rouleur interview he did not too long ago was fantastic. I too think he should concentrate on one-day races and the weeklong stage races, those are right up his alley.

    He never would have had the chance today with Hesjimbedal pulling like a grunt on the front on that flat bit, he brought back the excape just about all by himself coming into the final climb.

    Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war should be Garmin’s official motto.

  8. Great looking race route and a great win by Martin. Another example (along with Martin’s win in LBL last year and Talansky’s victory at the Criterium du Dauhphine this year) of what a fantastic teammate Ryder Hesjedal is. I know many dislike him because of his flirtation with EPO when still a mountain biker, but he exemplifies how sacrifice and teamwork allows a leader to win big races.

  9. Speaking of concentrating on one day races… Does anyone else think that might be a good plan for Valverde? Could he have slipped onto Martin’s wheel and come around him if he didn’t have two grand tours in the legs? Getting long in the tooth, he might think about trying to add some big one day titles (maybe in the spring) to his unbelievable collection of almosts at the GTs.

    • Valverde is an astonishing phenomenon to me. And I have to say that I assess him as a neutral observer not as a fan. But his stricking combination of talents, especially the rare combination of sprinting and climbing both on a very high level marks him as very special. And he is always not only good but very good throughout the whole season. Kind of a Sean Kelly but with a much nicer position on the bike ;-). Guys who know him better report that he trains nearly as much as two of your regular professionals. So that may be the reason for him being so consistent but also the reason why he seems to be often kind of over-trained.
      From a fitter’s point of view it’s also a joy to see him on his bike. He rides like a cat, very smooth. But the one point where he is definitely lacking – not only compared to Sean – is coolness and mental speed in decision making in the heat of a race finale. I think that he lost ten times more races despite being the strongest rider in the finale than he actually won.
      So if you’re a competitor of him in a race finale and you are not super fast like Gerro then the best thing to do is a surprise move like Dan did yesterday. There’s no risk in it because if you wait for the sprint you will most certainly loose against Valverde and most likely he will not follow your surprise move because … well, that’s the $100,000-question. I suppose he would have won yesterday’s race as “easy” as he won the sprint for second place if he had launched a first sprint to get onto Dan’s wheel.

      • It seems as though if you’re in a small group near the finish with Valverde and someone else jumps, it’s just *never* a good idea to wait for Valverde to close the gap because he ain’t gonna do it. I feel like I’ve seen that same situation a few times in the last couple of years. Not a criticism, his tactics are his tactics, but if I were the jumper I might try to do it when he was on the front…

        • By many accounts, he’s not popular among other riders. I often wonder whether others would rather give up all hope of a win, by not chasing down the attack, than risk taking Valverde to the line for him to win.

    • Oh, and yes, I agree, he would probably be much more successful if he concentrated on one day races and worked on his mental weekness – or whatever it is – in the finale.

  10. Ryder is an integral part of Danno’s success. I’d rather he went stage hunting in the 3 week tours and beasted this race and L-B-L and the like

  11. My glass is mostly half empty but I still think DM is not inconsistent. He’s not particularly crash prone either. He had some really bad luck in the early part of the season. But so did Froome, Porte, Purito and many other riders. Yesterday DM was lucky so I guess it’s all back to normal again.

  12. Great race, and proper Lombardy weather. But Astana, really, i thought they had disqualified themselves from starting, still the rules don’t apply to them, when it doesn’t fit with there plans.See also race in Kazakstan

    • I still struggle with his complaints about “injustice” of being caught by the Italians over Operation Puerto but that’s my problem and a debate for another day.

      Now he could be rider of the year for his consistency. But it was more the way he was talking after the race about coming to Lombardia for points rather than winning, if so this can explain his high but conservative racing style.

  13. A superb move from Dan, timed perfecty with all the wheel watching and sucking going on in that final km. You can see Gilbert look at him as he comes up the outside and you have to wonder what they were thinking just ignoring it. The metres and road were running out so any attack would have merited chase from someone at that stage.

    That finish in Bergamo is really beautiful, climbing into the Citta Alta, the cobbles, the crowds, the golden light and that tiny bridge/gate (heart in mouth stuff!) made for a wonderful finish. I for one will be booking my flights for 2016!

  14. Great summary “as usual”.

    Take the following grammatical tip not as criticism, but as my tiny contribution toward bringing your superbly stylish English closer to perfection: complementary, not complimentary. (And – perhaps more importantly – I approve of the fashion sense being expressed.)

  15. Almost a replay of what occurred in the final few Km’s of Paris Roubaix, when Terpsta took off, the others looked at each other and reached for their gels and bottles, incredible! So Dan Martin takes a flyer, and the main protaganists just look at each other. They, of all people know how much ground they need to make up a given gap, yet they did not even attempt to chase until that gap was too big to close. They do know what they are doing, regardless they are tired etc. they know!

    I have a theory, there are about 180 pro’s in the top tier, out of the 180 there are only 30-40 max, that can expect to win anything of note. So, although not pre determined, it does look as if the big wins are shared out amongst the top group. A gentleman’s agreement of sorts. It did not look right or true to me. Maybe a touch cynical knowing the history of the ‘sport’.

    • Similar, if only superficially.
      Terpstra attacked from a long way out (6km), plenty of time to bridge or chase, unlike Dan who was 500m out. That was the winning move and it was now or never for everyone else. Terpstra had two (!) teammates in the group, one of which is named Boonen, the other is a legend at riding in courses where drop bars are inappropriate, and another teammate 30 seconds back. Chasing Dan will not be towing any of his teammates to the front. Sky had two in the group (Wigg and Thomas), you expect one of them to chase for the other at some point, unlike BMC’s riders who have already taken their dig and likely spent.

      It was a race winning move, only because the race winning moves from Gilbert, Costa, Sanchez, Aru, and Wellens didn’t work.

  16. no one relly wants to close the gap for to be fit at the sprint. you have to be ready to lose in order to win, and they all, except martin, have proven to be quite ready to lose yesterday.

  17. If you’re glass half-full kind of person then Dan Martin wins big when it matters. More pessimistic minds will say he’s inconsistent.

    A while ago Jonathan Vaughters was comparing Dan Martin with his cousin Nico Roche.
    He said something along the lines of Roche will always be consistent, regularly finishing in the top ten or fifteen, whereas Martin being the type of rider that he is will either win or be 131st.

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