The Moment Il Lombardia Was Won

A sprint among three climbers? After 240km this could never be a dragstrip contest but Esteban Chaves still had the jump in the closing metres to surge past Diego Rosa and win the Tour of Lombardy.

A fast start and it took some time for a breakaway to go. Sonny Colbrelli had a go, as if to mark his presence in the race but the course was too hilly. Instead a move of more climbing lieutenants went clear with Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing), Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling), Mikaël Cherel (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and enjoyed the privilege of riding past the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel as its bells rang out.

Stefan Denifl Ghisallo

The Valcava is a full Alpine climb and was enough to separate the four homogenous breakaway riders with Denifl and Cherel getting dropped. There was still 100km to go but the race had the feel of a pot that was starting to boil even most of the action was happening at the back of the bunch. On TV RAI’s Andrea de Luca was riding behind the group and rattling off the names of those dropped on the small Berbenno climb and then abandoning hope, appropriately enough, on the road to Sant’Antonio Abbandonato. By now the pot was boiling so much that close to three quarters of the starting field earlier in Como had evaporated from contention.

A flurry of attacks followed with Movistar 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. This was a fluid moment in the race as the composition of the peloton group was constantly changing on this climb and the next of the Miragolo San Salvatore where sole survivor Damiano Caruso was finally reeled in. Someone would attack, others would chase and more rest would slowly winch back only each time minus a few riders.

Onto the climb to Selvino, notionally the easiest of the five successive climbs but its place as the final climb meant most were tired and any climbers with energy left had to use it now or get stomped on in the sprint. Here Chaves attacked so hard few could follow. He’d won the GP dell’Emilia the previous weekend, reportedly taming the slopes to the San Luca basilica in the big ring, a feat not seen since 90s wunderkind Jan Ullrich bench-pressed his way up. Just as Chaves beat Bardet the previous weekend the Frenchman was again in close attendence, his bamboo-shoot legs whipping the pedals as he got across with Rigoberto Uran, his face crumpling with the effort.

This was a bold move with 35km to go: three climbers trying to ride away from a larger group of 15 riders. But it was the selection of the day, at least until Diego Rosa bridged across. The Astana rider had tried to close the gap for his leader Fabio Aru switched tactics and went solo. Lèse-majesté? Probably but Aru has been playing catch-up all year and the corners of his large mouth were bending into a frown. Meanwhile Rosa’s stock has been rising making him a recruitment target for several big teams with Team Sky cited most often.

Rosa eventually got across. In straight of arithmetic this meant one of the lead trio was likely to fall off the podium but the calculus was more complex. Now with an Astana leader in the move there would be no chase from them, by absorbing Rosa the leaders would not have to worry about him being tasked with the chasing them to try and set up Fabio Aru. Similarly Ag2r’s Pierre Latour and Cannondale’s Davide Vilella were able to sit on in the chase group behind too.

The quartet had a lead over the top of the final climb but weren’t settling in to work together. Bardet was happy to push the pace to help stay away and Uran briefly seemed to struggle to stay with them. With the descent out of the way Chaves was the only rider without a team mate behind but all knew this was their chance and that soft-pedalling in the name of a team mate behind was risky if not ruinous. Aru was not a strong card for Rosa to play, ditto Vilella for Uran and Latour for Bardet. So all cooperated. The TV time check said the gap was below 20 seconds but manual timings suggested it was still a comfortable fifty seconds. Enough to know that sharing the work would bring a reward.

As they took the ancient road up to Bergamo’s citadel Rosa was the first to attack. It was lively but what was it going to deliver? Did Rosa think he could simply ride away from the trio or did he think he stood no chance in the sprint? He was reeled in and countered by Chaves.

At this point Bardet cramped up meaning the lead trio were guaranteed a podium finish, the win was the goal but failure became that bit less costly. But who would win? Uran seemed to be the rider happiest to play the sprint card; or was it the only card left as he was too tired to launch attacks? Rosa had another dig but with hindsight this only buried his chances. As they rounded the final bend Rosa again launched the sprint but there was a long way to go and Chaves sat tight behind until a late surge saw him pip Rosa on the line.

The Verdict
A good race with long range attacks and a result that wasn’t certain until Chaves lit up the fading light of an autumnal day with his beaming smile. The course worked, the fear was that the flat run to Bergamo would scare the climbers from launching their moves but the five climb arpeggio was so selective that a winning four rider breakaway could be made with 35km to go.

With Chaves it meant the first Colombian winner of a Monument classic and the first non-European to win Lombardia; his win helped Colombia top the UCI World Tour when ranked by nations. But Chaves is also a local too, when he joined the Colombia-Coldeportes team he along with many other team mates were housed in and around Bergamo and he speaks fluent Italian.

Rosa was potentially the strongest in the race but rather than keeping this sub rosa he showed again and again. He spent some time working for Aru by leading the chase. Soon after he decided to bridge across the the Chaves-Uran-Bardet group and managed it. He then launched a big move in Bergamo but got pulled in and if was in tears at the finish Astana team manager Guiseppe Martinelli was raging at Rosa’s generosity. Meanwhile Uran was close and we can only imagine the tension in the team car given Cannondale have not won a World Tour race all year but were in with a chance of one and a Monument no less.

The leaves have yet to fall in Lombardy but the race ends with the feeling of a season that’s beginning to end. The remaining events are for the sprinters, whether Paris-Tours next weekend or the World Championships the weekend after, making this the last hurrah for the climbers.

47 thoughts on “The Moment Il Lombardia Was Won”

  1. Chavez and OBE got their tactics spot on. He did the least work apart from the crucial moments.

    Martinelli should be raging at himself – it’s his job to pick the strongest rider as the team’s leader in the race, not simply to go with the biggest name. Was Rosa’s work for Aru, including staying with Aru when the trio attacked then having to bridge to them alone, the primary reason he lost the race?

    A great race (and I think it’s good that one of the Monuments is for climbers – but only one) and it showed certain other classics (particularly LBL) how a race is often better if it doesn’t end on a summit (true in all races – grand tours included).

    At Sky, Rosa will perhaps get even fewer chances to race for himself.

    • I think they had the balance just right when they had the Bergamo finish a couple of years ago. It was won by Dan Martin, who is probably just about bracketed as a climber, but there were punchuers like Wellens and Gilbert in the mix too. I don’t know what the elevation gain was that day but 4400 was too like a high mountain stage in a grand tour to me. Still it was a pretty good finish so it wasn’t the end of the world.

    • +1 J.
      Maybe, this thought just crossed my mind, Diego Rosa is not the super strong but tactically rather underdevelopped racer he might look like after yesterday. Maybe his ride was rather the intended display of how good he actually is to a) make sure he gets a better contract if he has not yet signed but still deals with more than one team OR b) underline his claims to become a leader for certain races for his new team.
      I can’t really figure that at his age he lacks the experience and was so over-excited that he made those tactical errors when all he really wanted was to win this race. Which he most probably could have done with only one less mistake. Only Chavez seemed to be a maybe equal competition to him yesterday but only beat him just.

      • It might be a lazy assumption to make but Rosa is an ex-MTB rider who switched quite late (2013) to the road and so lacks a bit of tactical wisdom? Or as you say his contractual situation could have added to the nerves.

        • Thanks! I didn’t know that he came to the road so late in his career and supposed he has been racing on the road for half of his life.
          Having made a similar development during my time as a racer I think that explains it very well.

        • Yep, my wife, who has far more bike racing smarts (and success) than yours truly called Rosa’s moves in the finale truly dumb. But of course it’s also easier for Martinelli to criticize since the guy’s leaving the team. I wonder how successful Nibali’s new team will be without the experienced and wily Martinelli calling the shots?

        • Yes, he does have a point.
          But he could also be asked why Rosa, who was the only one who followed the Chavez/Uran/Bardet when they moved, got ordered back midway to help Aru, only to see that Aru had nothing left and then had to go again to bridge to the break.
          It was obvious that Aru didn’t have the legs, so it made no sense to stop him. These should have been dealt over radio and not by going back and ask Aru. I doubt that was Rosa’s idea.

          • So, by Rosa’s own account he didn’t have to stay with Aru. If that’s the case, his decision to do so is truly odd – which was why, in my first comment, I assumed it was Martinelli’s decision to hold him back.
            Rosa is also quoted as saying ‘In the final I’ve tried many times to attack because I wanted to win this race and cross the finish line in a solo victory.’
            So, it’s his own bad tactics: I’m not so certain that Rosa would have been beaten by Chaves in the sprint had he not conserved more energy and timed his sprint better (as it is, he lost by a very small margin).

        • Rosa said he would get beaten by Chaves in a sprint, so had to get rid of him before then. Sounds like Rosa knew his opponent better than Martinelli… Martinelli’s just mad he’s losing his rider.

  2. I was watching in Nembro at the very end of the Selvino descent, what amazed me was how relaxed the local police were. A local cyclist came cruising down the hill between the later groups, I couldn’t believe when he turned right and stayed on the course towards Bergamo, neither of the policemen at the intersection even reacted!

    • Yet tge race was somehow not affected, so what’s the big deal? One of the (for me) great things about watching Italian races in person (as opposed to the French, at least at LeTour) is the generally relaxed attitude of the police and crowd control folks.

      • OK, got it. 🙂

        I’m riding the last part of the race in reverse today, looping back via Traficante later. The people, the weather, the scenery, the roads, the climbs, the cafe I’m currently having lunch at – all of it is special. I already want to plan my next trip back here and the Dolomitas.

        • If you’ve got other riding days around the area, don’t miss Val Taleggio (from S. Giovanni Bianco to the West, with various different options depending on your riding programmes and form). Also the Oltre il Colle-Zambla road is worth a try (possibly from Dossena, which you can reach from S. Pellegrino or S. Giovanni Bianco). There are also infinite courses on very small roads (zero traffic), but it’s a bit complicate to explain them… great memories, I think I rode every inch of asphalted road in those mountains.
          And if you need hints to eat somewhere, just feel free to ask… 😉

          • Thanks! I’m without a car, but will see which of your suggestions I can do. I am walking distance from the old town – any restaurant suggestions would be appreciated. I’ve been trying trip advisor for recommendations.

            I have 6 more days here in Bergamo, but I’ll be back in the spring for sure. The locals are really friendly, I asked some guys out on the road for directions to Lombardia race route. I ended up riding with them and they insisted on buying me a coffee because I am a guest and the next day I joined their club ride. What a wonderful experience this trip has been (OK Mortirolo+Gavia was grim for an old man!).

            Your country is beautiful.

          • “La Colombina” is in the Città Alta (old town), even if just outside one of the ancient “doors” of the city, in Borgo Canale; you’ll get wonderful typical food… I’d suggest trying the “brasato” (meat), the “polenta taragna” or the “casoncelli” (pasta similar to the “tortellini” or “ravioli” from other regions). If the terrace is open you might ask a table there, the views are beautiful. About 15-20 euros per person (well, depending on what you eat).
            In the main square of the old city a good brasserie is the historical “Caffè del Tasso”, it’s a bit expensive if you want to eat a lot but it’s also a coffee bar, which means that you can ask for (hot) food even “off-hours”.
            Great cakes nearby in the Pasticceria Cavour.
            You can have a *very* good fixed-price menu for 10 euros – only for lunch – in the historical centre of the *lower* city, namely in the “Il Vecchio Tagliere” (via S. Alessandro), where you can also pick from an excellent open menu without exceeding the 20 euros, or in the legendary “Da Giuliana”, also known as “Osteria d’Ambrosio”. Both can be easily reached walking or cycling from the high town. The latter is a very special place, be ready to share your table with other customers and to find it totally packed in the eating “rush hours”. The menu includes two dishes, plus limitless buffet of fresh vegetables, in addition to bread, water and wine at will.
            I don’t know if I’ll be able to connect back to the internet soon, but in that case I’ll try to send another couple of suggestions.

  3. It’s nice that with Purito stepping aside Chaves has stepped up to fill the likeable, smiling, punchy climber who can’t time trial position in the peloton. He’s not going to be short of supporters over the next few years.

    • The big difference, until now, is that Chaves hasn’t got the destructive final three minutes or so which Purito used to show, but, OTOH, the Colombian has proven to be able to go from far (and not in the sense of making a morning break).

  4. What a race. Man against man with 65 kms to go, but not totally without any tactic dimension, both because of the presence of several couples of riders from the same team, and thanks to the *easier* finale.

  5. Thank you very much, INRNG, for another great race report. Obviously you also enjoyed the race as many of us did. I agree that in hindsight the course inspired the way the protagonists raced it instead of inhibiting early fireworks which was an apprehension many fans shared before the race when looking closely at the profile with its 10 km flat section right before the finishing kms.
    Hopefully with those two courses, the one they had last year and this one, RCS will use them alternatingly for a couple of years without significant changes.

  6. Caruso had a flat while on the attack, I think I saw him getting a wheel from the cofidis temcar??
    I might haven made sense tactically but never the less is that legal(porte en the giro??)

    • His chain got stuck, he got off to sort it out, Cofidis car stopped to help (I was thinking the same thing as you), but then he fixed it himself.

      • Nah, really? But I hear so much from marketing mavens and fans of the electronic stuff most of the pros use now about it being fool-proof, you-never-miss-a-shift, etc. compared to antique, mechanical systems depending on tensioned cables.
        I usually respond with “Hmm, you must not watch much big-time bike racing on TV then? I see plenty of mis-shifts, chain-drops and other woes, despite the wonders of this expensive technology.”

  7. Well I thoroughly enjoyed that race coming on down here in Oz on tv at 55kms to go. I had taped it so didn’t know the winner which added to the thrill. Good to see some attacking racing and not all done in the last 10-20kms. Chaves is class and whenever I see him interviewed it’s like a boys’ own story with the local paper boy who somehow wins big. Great to see two southern hemisphere riders battling it out. Rosa was so strong so no wonder his manager paid out. Personally I wanted Uran to win and the scenery also deserves a plaudit, a lovely part of the world.

  8. Chavez’s victory tops off a vintage year for cycling. Rainbow jersey winning both tours of Flanders with the male wearer going on to take the tdf green jersey and overall world tour. Froome getting his hat trick and Nairo a deserved GT win, Nibali proving that if you dont give up you can still be in with a chance. Spartacus crowning a stellar career in Rio. Also great to see GVA winning the road race having also worn the yellow jersey – let’s celebrate Cav’s day in yellow while we’re at it (nudging ever closer to that tdf stage victory record) alongside that elusive Olympic medal. Veteran Matt Hayman’s Roubaix victory. Sky’s first monument. Adam Hamsen extending his record for consecutive grand tours. Team GB showing that the wheels on their new Cervelos are even rounder than the secret squirrel bikes.

    Here’s hoping Quatar lives up to the rest of the year!

  9. As he also showed in the Giro Chaves has a decent kick on the flat for a archetypal climber.

    So that’s four out of five monuments won for OBE, but Flanders might prove more of a challenge. Still, two monuments and two Grand Tour podiums (plus 5th and white jersey at the TDF) constitutes a great season by anyone’s reckoning. Chapeau.

    • Agreed, it has been an incredible year for OBE, my only concern is how they can manage to top it. A GT win has to be on the cards for next year, from Chaves or one of the Yateses. Beyond that it’s hard to see how all three of them can stay in one team.

      • Seems like Simon Yates and Chaves worked well together, not like Aru/Nibali or Wiggins/Froome. Chaves has not shown that much interest in the TDF and I think the team realise that while he probably cannot beat Froome at this point in his career, he could absolutely win the Giro or Vuleta, so will probably concentrate there leaving the Yates brothers to focus on July for the GC/white jersey/stage wins.

      • @SamA, easy there, the Yates’s have shown they can win stages – that’s all so far, just as Chaves did two seasons ago, they have much to learn and prove before this will become an issue. Chapeau to Orica they seem like a great team and I’m sure Chaves will deliver in 2017 but it won’t be in TDF, yet.

      • I think all 3 of them need to work on their TTing a little before they can think about the top step of a GT. Orica does have some decent TTer’s onboard so hopefully some of that expertise will filter through.

    • Indeed. It does make me wonder why they let Matthews go – he could (and I mean could, not should) win both MSR and Flanders (and possibly Amstel Gold). Query who else could do that in their squad now? Keukelaire and Cort Neilson have come a long way but I’m not sure either can win a major classic (yet). Power is many years away yet from fulfilling his potential.

        • Ewan? watching him getting pushed about and disappearing in various races this year (and stuggling when the route gets tough) it’s difficult to see him factoring in a classic/monument.
          Sure he’s young, and fast when he has a clear road, but he’s a long way from a decent bet in the big races currently.
          Chasing 1st week Giro/Vuelta wins plus the lesser stage races for a year or two is a more realistic expectation I think, and see how he develops with more experience.

          • My thoughts exactly – and Gerrans is now 36. I think if they had the money to hang on to Matthews they would have: he’s a far better bet than those two.

      • Aside from being too similar a rider to Gerrans, Matthews’ results over the last few years no doubt merit a pay rise and Orica are only a mid-budget team. Meanwhile Giant have a Degenkolb-sized gap in their lineup so Bling was a good fit.

  10. I feel sorry for Rosa, the moral winner of the race, let down by his team and, in the end, his lack of remaining energy. Maybe Team Sky will give him a better chance.


    • SKY may be the perfect place for Rosa – a nice paycheck and clear responsibility with no pressure to do any thinking for himself. Champions are as much in the head as in the heart and lungs – as so many ex-Sky lieutenant’s have gone on to prove once they’re team leaders elsewhere with the weight of expectations on their shoulders.

  11. OBE have now won every Monument bar one (RVV) – their stated goal for the first phase of the team’s existence. Not a bad return on that plan and a perfect time to segway into their second phase as a Grand Tour winning team. Bring on 2017.

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