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.
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.
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.
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.