After the chaos of one week ago in Roubaix it was nice to go back to a more relaxed race in Northern Italy. I could actually make myself an espresso during this race. I could even understand what was going on at any given time. Even though I enjoyed Il Lombardia 2021 edition I must admit that after such a long, atypical season, it was clear that the riders were very tired, and couldn’t put all their abilities on the road. Paradoxically, it felt like watching a football match after the players come back from vacation: the game is very slow and nobody is in form to put 100% of their abilities into the competition.
|1||Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates||6:01:39|
|2||Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|3||Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers||51s|
|4||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Jumbo-Visma|
|5||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team|
|6||Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep|
|7||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ|
|8||Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM|
|9||Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-up Nation|
|10||Sergio Higuita Garcia (Col) EF Education-Nippo||2m25s|
How it happened
Despite this, the race was entertaining with a lot of tactics coming into play especially in the last third of the race. Israel Start Up Nation with, among others, Chris Froome, did some work in the beginning of the Dossena climb with around 85km to go, and soon after he was done a group including eventual second place finisher Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck QuickStep) and San Sebastian classic winner Neilson Powless (EF Education Nippo) tried to leave the peloton but UAE Team Emirates closed the gap to this group. Former Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) also tried to escape but suffered the same fate.
At the Zambla Alta climb the attacks came again this with the usual suspects Masnada and Powless, but this time the others favorites’ teams were attentive and these two riders were joined by Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma). This group didn’t go far having been caught by the peloton around the 60km to go mark.
The race would be decided in the Passo di Ganda climb. Former winner Vicenzo Nibali (Trek Segafredo) attacked and spent a few minutes in front after being caught, joined, and passed by Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Nobody was able to follow the Slovenian who led by 35 seconds at the summit of the Passo di Ganda, with around 30km to the finish. In a courageous, albeit risky move, Deceuninck Quick Step decided to tell Masnada to attack from the group of favorites to try and catch up to Pogacar on the descend. The Italian managed this, and caught Pogacar with 16km left in the race. The duo now had around 45 seconds to the group of favorites.
During the next few kilometers the gap would come down due to the excellent cooperation behind the leader, in the group of favorites, but since the world champion, Julian Alaphilippe had his team-mate, Masnada, up front and thus was not helping the chase, the remaining favorites all but abandoned their pursuit with around 10km to go and began attacking each other: it was now clear the win would come from the duo in front. In the meantime the Quick Step car had pulled up to Masnada to tell him not to pull in front with Pogacar. It is a sad state of affairs when this happens so often nowadays even though at least in this situation it’s more understandable: Masnada had already worked in the group of favorites during the previous climbs and exerted an herculean effort to catch up to Pogacar in the descent. Anyway, the Italian eventually lost the final sprint to the Tour winner which showed that more than taking advantage of Pogacar’s work he really had very little left in the tank. Il Lombardia spoke Slovenian for the first time in history.
Tadej Pogacar – the Slovenian is a sensation. In my opinion he is already one of the best riders of all time and he is only 23. The adjectives in the English language start to seem insufficient to describe this rider. If Pogacar retired and there was a cycling hall of fame operated in the same way as the basketball or American football halls of fame, this rider would be a first ballot inductee. Right now. At 23.
Fausto Masnada – at the start line of Il Lombardia 2021 race the Italian did not have a contract lined up for next year. I don’t think a rider of his quality ever needed to worry about getting a contract for next year but his supreme performance yesterday certainly added a lot of extra euros to his next contract.
UAE Team Emirates – tactically the team did very well monitoring the developments in the front of the peloton and sending Marc Hirschi in front when they had to. Clearly team tactics become very easy to write down when you have a rider with the quality of Pogacar but still, the team did their part. Il Lombardia goes back to UAE Team Emirates’ structure for the first time after Damiano Cunego’s 2008 win under Lampre, the team’s structure former name.
Deceuninck Quick Step – with João Almeida, Remco Evenepoel, and Julian Alaphilippe it was Fausto Masnada who saved the race for the Belgian team. Unlike last weekend in Paris Roubaix, the team was not unlucky, their riders simply did not have the legs. Remco was a non-factor, and Almeida worked in the front of the peloton for a bit for Alaphilippe but was quickly dropped as well. In the final sprint for 3rd place Alaphilippe was beaten by Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), Primoz Roglic (Team Jumbo Visma), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), which shows that even if Alaphilippe had been Quick Step’s man for the day instead of Masnada they would have still lost. A second place is not bad, but for a team with such an embarrassment of riches it is not enough in my opinion.
Alejandro Valverde – it seems unfair to put the Spanish rider in this list but when you’ve come second in this race three times and are 41 years old, you won’t have many more chances to win this Italian monument. Il Lombardia 2021 was a great opportunity, Valverde raced very well all day but his group ultimately failed to cooperate to reach the front denying him of a chance at victory. It would be fantastic for the Spanish to add a second monument to his palmarès that, although extensive, only has one Monument on it (Liége-Bastogne-Liége).
Dan Martin – the Irishman will retire at he end of the season and a 38th place doesn’t seem right for a former winner of this race (2014). He was not the team leader (Michael Woods – Israel Start Up Nation finished 9th) but this doesn’t mean that a 38th place, 5m36s behind the winner is a fitting result for a former champion of this race.