Daredevil descender: Nibali drops rivals, solos to victory at Il Lombardia

by Neal Rogers


To the delight of a home crowd, Italian Vincenzo Nibali won Il Lombardia Saturday for the second time in three years.

The Bahrain-Merida leader rode away from a small group of contenders inside the final 20 kilometres, catching Frenchman Thibault Pinot (FDJ) on the penultimate climb, the Civiglio, and then dropping him on the descent.

Nibali then soloed up and over the final climb in San Fermo della Battaglia, crossing the finish 28 seconds ahead of Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors).

“The team supported me greatly, giving me great conditions in which to conclude this season,” said Nibali. “Finally, I bagged a great victory, I couldn’t ask for more. It wasn’t easy to reproduce what I did two years ago. It was even more difficult this time around because everyone identified me as the favourite.”

Italy’s Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) won the bunch sprint for third ahead of Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r La Mondiale). Pinot, who launched the decisive move and rode solo for much of the final 20km, finished fifth.

“I raced to win,” said Pinot, who finished third at Lombardia in 2015, a race also won by Nibali. “I wasn’t interested in the podium. I hope to win this race one day.”

The victory was Nibali’s 50th professional win across a career that includes four Grand Tour wins, and now, two Monuments.

“To win a Monument is always a huge achievement,” Nibali said. “I wanted this race to cap off a season with a lot of good results, I’m delighted I managed to do it.”

Six go clear as FDJ, Bahrain-Merida control the peloton

The last of the five Monuments, Il Lombardia began under sunny skies in Bergamo and ended 247km — and 4,000 metres of climbing — later, in Como.

The beautiful, challenging route, featuring 4,000m of total elevation, culminates with a final section that places a series of steep climbs between the riders and final victory.

A six-man breakaway formed early, and as expected, settled into a rhythm until the final hour of racing as the course reached Bellagio, where the Madonna del Ghisallo climb begins.

Jacques Janse van Rensberg (Dimesnion Data) and Davide Ballerini (Adroni Sidermec) were the first to attack, joined quickly by Lorezno Rota (Bardiani CSF), Lennard Hofstede (Sunweb), Mathias Le Turnier (Cofidis), and Pier Paolo De Negri (Nippo-Vini Fantini).

Inside the first 100km, the gap ballooned up to over 10 minutes, but with Bahrain-Merida driving the chase behind, the gap came down to six minutes with 100km remaining.

As the day’s most critical climbs approached — Madonna del Ghisallo and Colma di Sormano climb — a chase group formed from the peloton containing Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Laurens de Plus (Quick-Step Floors), Jan Polanc (UAE Emirates), Rodolfo Torres (Androni-Sidermec), Mikael Chérel (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing).

With 65km remaining, two riders, Le Turnier and Ballerini, were clear at the base of the Ghisallo. The climb, which summits near the famous Museo del Ciclismo, reaches a maximum 14% gradient, on a wide road, with several hairpins.

Le Turnier quickly attacked and dropped Ballerini, while Chérel (Ag2r) and De Plus (Quick-Step) closed in behind. They made the catch over the top of the Ghisallo, making three at the front.

Next up was the “Wall of Sormano,” the toughest climb on course, a tight road averaging almost 16%, with narrow hairpins and sharp gradients exceeding 25%.

With 55km to go and the gap at 32 seconds, Bahrain-Merida manned the front of the peloton. There was turnover in the chase group behind, with Winner Anacona (Movistar) bridging across and a few riders struggling to hold the pace.

Chérel attacked his companions on the steep slopes of the Sormano, opening a 28-second gap with 50km remaining. Behind, Anacona was distanced out of the chase group, while the favorites — Nibali, Pinot, Fabio Aru (Astana) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannodnale-Drapac) — marked each other at the front of the main peloton.

Over the top of the Sormano, Chérel led a chasing de Plus, with Roglic chasing alone further behind. Chérel had a few dicey moments on the descent, allowing de Plus to gain time. However de Plus locked up his back wheel and lost control on the descent and pitched over a guardrail, falling several metres. Several ambulances, and at least one Quick-Step teammate, immediately stopped to attend to the Belgian, who was fortunate to have no serious injuries.

Later, and not caught on camera, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) crashed in the same spot as de Plus, and also went over the guardrail; the team described the crash as “serious.”

With de Plus out of the race, Chérel’s gap stretched toward a minute. Behind, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) and De Marchi (BMC) jumped out of the bunch, eager to bridge across. Pello Bilbao (Astana) joined the chasers, and with 30km to go, there were four at the front holding a 30-second lead. Behind, FDJ led the chase for their man, Pinot.

With 20km to go, Chérel, Gilbert, De Marchi, and Bilbao began the climb to Civiglio nursing a 33-second lead. Chérel was first to be dropped on the Civiglio and was soon picked up by the peloton, which closed in on the breakaway, led by FDJ.

Also dropped from the pace on the Civiglio was former Lombardia winner Dan Martin (Quick-Step), as well as pre-race favorite Adam Yates (Orica-Scott).

Next to jump on the Civiglio was Gianni Moscon (Sky), attacking from the bunch and taking Sam Oomen (Sunweb) and Pinot (FDJ) with him.

Sensing danger, Nibali leapt out of the main bunch, taking Uran and Quintana. The group of favorites caught and passed the four leaders, resetting the race with 16km left.

Pinot was next to attack, and after a pause, Nibali jumped across. The two men, who finished on the podium together behind Alexandre Geniez at Tre Valli Varesine just four days earlier, went clear.

Nibali rides away

Nibali led the descent off the Civiglio down the narrow roads into Como, putting Pinot into difficulty as they headed for the final climb in San Fermo della Battaglia.

Behind, Uran jumped from the chase group, attempting to bridge up to the two leaders.

With 10km remaining, Nibali held a seven-second gap over Pinot. That lead stretched to 10 seconds at the bottom of the final cimb to San Fermo della Battaglia, however that gap stretched to 30 seconds before the top.

Behind, a small group chased, with Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) attacking at 6km to go, and catching his compatriot 1km later.

Alaphilippe dropped Pinot and chased alone, but there was no catching Nibali, who soloed across the line with plenty of time to celebrate.

“I was in a better condition today than I was two years ago; I knew the downhill better,” Nibali said. “I had more confidence, too. A win in a Monument has a higher value than a stage in a Grand Tour, as I got this year at the Giro with the Stelvio and at Andorra in the Vuelta. The most difficult thing for me was to maintain my condition after the Vuelta. Il Lombardia kept me focused.

“The first win was harder to win because there was the fear that I hadn’t won a Monument yet. Today everyone was controlling me, Quintana and Uran in particular, so I had to redistribute the cards. When Pinot attacked, I let him go and I went after him 1km before the summit. Then I thought of nothing. I just went straight on and flat out. When I turned pro, [sport director Stefano] Zanatta told me I had downhill skills that I could use either for attacking or defending. It’s still the case now. I’m 32, not 33 yet, but I feel young and strong.”

Alaphilippe finished second, 28 second back, with Moscon in third.

“It’s incredible. I didn’t expect to finish on the podium today,” Alaphilippe said. “I had a strange feeling after the World Championships, but I kept focused and my team did a really good job. I did my best but I couldn’t follow Nibali when he attacked. I’m not disappointed, it’s already something special to finish on the podium of a Monument. My thoughts also go to my teammate who crashed during the race while he was at the front. I want to thank my team for their work in my favour today, and I will return to the Italian monuments with the aim of doing even better than third in Milan-Sanremo and second at Il Lombardia.”

The controversy that seems to swirl around Moscon continued, as Vuillermoz was visibly angry with the Italian in the sprint for the final podium position. The results sheet briefly showed that Vuillermoz had been disqualified from the race, though that was not the final decision, meaning he finished fourth.

“A Monument is so special, so to make the podium today is amazing,” Moscon said. “Even if I didn’t win a race this year, a podium here in Como is fantastic and worth a victory, it’s the best way to close my season. Nibali was the strongest on the last climb. I tried to attack on Civiglio but everybody was tired after 200km or more of racing pretty hard. After the Sormano wall, your legs feel stiff. Even if I went with Nibali I’d have been dropped in the next climb like Pinot was. I’m happy with third place. After this, I can take more responsibilities in the team. My condition is on the up after the Vuelta. This increases my ambitions for next season. I want to be at the top of my condition for the Spring Classics.”

Vuillermoz ultimately acknowledged that he was at fault for the sprint dynamic. “A sprint is always pretty random, and I should have gone to the right,” he said. “Moscon closed the door a little, as often happens in this kind of situation.”

Il Lombardia (1.UWT) Bergamo → Como

NIBALI Vincenzo
1
NIBALI Vincenzo Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team
2
ALAPHILIPPE Julian Quick-Step Floors
3
MOSCON Gianni Team Sky

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