Joaquim Rodríguez solos to a rainy Lombardia victory and grabs WorldTour lead
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Joaquim Rodríguez solos to a rainy Lombardia victory and grabs WorldTour lead

by Ben Atkins at 11:43 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Giro di Lombardia
 
Catalan escapes in a downpour on the final to win alone in Lecco and secure season-long prize

joaquim rodriguezJoaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) escaped the peloton on the final climb of the Giro di Lombardia, as a torrential downpour fell on the latter stages of the race, to take a solo victory on the Lecco waterfront. The Catalan managed to hold off a highly select group of chasers on the wet descent to the finish to cross the line nine seconds clear of compatriot Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who outsprinted Rigoberto Urán (Team Sky) in the race for second place.

Victory in the race, which was the first ever for a Spanish rider, was enough to secure Rodríguez victory in the season-long International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour. The Spanish rider overtook Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), who had led the classification since July and the title was wrapped up with the Tour of Beijing still to race.

"This is the most important triumph of my whole career,” said Rodriguez. “Obviously I have to thank all Katusha Team for this victory.

“Today I was feeling in great shape,” he added. “In fact I made my teammates work during all the crucial moments of the race. When I saw that all my rivals were tired and I felt so great, I realised I had a great chance to win.

“The Villa Vergano climb suited me well,” the Catalan explained. “I managed to make the difference. To tell the truth I thought that somebody could join me in that attack, but instead nobody could answer and that makes this victory even greater. I think I was one of the favourite riders from the beginning; I was fighting for a double goal, to win this prestigious competition and to take the lead of UCI World Tour Ranking, and I managed to, so I'm really happy."

The 251km race, which had started in the nearby city of Bergamo in honour of the 70th birthday of two-time winning Italian legend Felice Gimondi, took place under rainy skies throughout; conditions steadily worsened, and the final 25km were raced under a torrential downpour.

An eleven-man group escaped in the first half of the race, consisting of: Federico Rocchetti (Utensilnord-Named), Emanule Sella (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Romain Bardet and Julien Berard (both AG2R La Mondiale), Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas-Cannondale), Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes), Nicky Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Stefano Locatelli (Colnago-CSF Inox).

The breakaway was able to open up a lead of 4’30” as they entered the final 100km of the race but, unsurprisingly, the group disintegrated on the precipitously steep climb of the Muro di Sormano with 83km to go. Berard was alone over the top, pursued by a small group made up of Rodríguez, Urán with Sky teammate Sergio Henao, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

The peloton began to reform on the descent however, although a crash saw former and current World champions Alessandro Ballan and Philippe Gilbert (both BMC Racing) forced to abandon. Bardet’s lead was more than a minute as he arrived at the foot of the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo, but the peloton - led by Losada - steadily pulled him back and he was caught with just over 50km to go.

This led to an immediate attack from Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who was 43 seconds ahead over the top. On the technical descent another crash brought down Nibali, Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), and Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), but De Weert himself came down and he was caught with just over 30km left.

There was an immediate attack from Rui Costa (Movistar) but, although the Portuguese rider managed to get more than 30 seconds clear, he was caught before he reached the foot of the final climb to Villa Vergano.

There was an attack from Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) on the early slopes of the climb, but Rodríguez launched his own move as the race neared the top, and he was alone as he began the wet 9.5km descent to the finish.

The broken bunch gradually reformed in the final kilometres, but Rodríguez actually managed to eke out a few more seconds in the torrential rain, and had plenty of time to celebrate as he crossed the line.

The splintered chase group came in just nine seconds later, with Sánchez making it a one-two for Spain as he just pipped Urán on the line.

No falling leaves, but plenty of falling rain

With a date more than two weeks earlier than its usual spot in the calendar, the Giro di Lombardia took place among the green leaves of later summer, rather than the dead ones that earned it its “falling leaves” soubriquet. The inclement weather passing across northern Italy meant that it would be falling rain that would dominate the race however, as overcast skies worsened as the afternoon went on.

After a number of early attempts to escape the peloton, the group of Rocchetti, Sella, Bardet, Berard, Salerno, Chaves, Sørensen, Morabito, Losada, Grivko and Locatelli got away after 61km. Over the big climb to Valico di Valcava, and the small pimple of the Colle Brianza it managed to open up a lead of 4’30”, but this began to come down as the race entered its final hundred kilometres.

Garmin-Sharp was leading the chase on the approach to the Colma di Sormano, with Rabobank moving alongside and, with 90km to go, the gap was down to just 1’10”. Salerno accelerated, which left Sørensen behind, and the Liquigas-Cannondale rider kept pushing on; only Bardet, Morabito and Losada could go with him, and the four riders struck out for the top.

BMC Racing leading the peloton now, as it caught and passed Sørensen, with Gilbert sitting in second wheel. Having sat in the wheels for some time Morabito moved to the front of the breakaway group and began to lift the pace further, despite the fact his own teammates were leading the chase behind him.

There was an attack from Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and the BMC Racing riders watched him go; refusing to change the pace they were setting. Salerno was leading the group up ahead once more, and the Basque rider began to close the gap to the foursome.

Txurruka was just 31 seconds behind the lead group as it turned onto the super-steep Muro di Sormano part of the climb. Bardet pushed on, with Losado in his wheel, but Morbito and Salerno were having trouble holding on.

Nibali was leading the peloton, with Contador on his wheel, and they caught and passed Txurruka before he could make it up to the leaders. Contador himself came past the Italian, as they passed the struggling Salerno, and suddenly the main group was down to just seven big names.

With Contador were Nibali, Rodríguez, Rigoberto Urán, Henao, Mollema and Quintana. They passed Morabito, leaving just Bardet and Losada up ahead; the Frenchman finally left Losada behind though as they neared the top, as the Spanish rider looked back to his teammate Rodríguez, who was leading the chasing group.

Bardet goes alone as crashes disrupt the peloton’s chase

The rest of the peloton was strung out behind the seven-man group, with Basso and Gilbert not far behind and, over the top of the Colma di Sormano, began to reform. Bardet was descending alone up front, as the rain continued to fall, and more and more riders began to join the group behind him on the steep, twisting road. Suddenly though, Gilbert’s race came to an end, as he was involved in a crash with teammate Alessandro Ballan and Katusha’ Luca Paolini, which appeared to involve some of the team cars.

The three riders were forced to abandon but, as Paolini’s Katusha teammate Dani Moreno came off in a low speed fall on the inside of a wet hairpin, he was able to remount and chase hack on.

As the riders reached the lake side, the pace began to ease up, with Liquigas-Cannondale and Katusha starting to set the pace. Bardet was still alone up the road with 65km to go, and the Frenchman’s lead was back up to 1’07”.

With 60km to go Losada unsuccessfully attacked the peloton and, following the feedzone shorlty afterwards, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) tried to break clear. As he began the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo Bardet’s lead was down to 43 seconds as the main group reformed on the Canadian Giro d’Italia winner’s wheel.

The group began to ease up though, and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) attacked. Katusha took up the chase again, pulled back the Belgian, and gradually closed in on Bardet; with 53km to go, on the first hard part of the climb, the main group had the Frenchman in sight and, with just over 52.5km to go, he was caught.

De Weert attacked again almost immediately and managed to escape this time; he was 40 seconds clear as he hit the second steep section of the climb, and this had grown to 43 seconds as he passed the iconic chapel over the top.

Losada was still leading the chase, and closed the lone Belgian’s lead down to 30 seconds with 39km to go. More riders were joining the rear of the peloton however, including 2011 race winner Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack-Nissan).

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) joined Losada at the front of the peloton and, with 35km to go, they had cut De Weert’s lead to just ten seconds. As he descended to the shores of the Lago di Lecco though, the Belgian was holding his own however, as the peloton was having to take more care on the slippery hairpins.

Tiralongo then crashed as the peloton negotiated a slow corner, which brought down Nibali and Ten Dam; all three were up relatively quickly, but faced a big chase back through the cars. With just over 30km to go De Weert crashed himself, as he put the power down too early on the exit of a wide hairpin and his rear wheel slid from under him. The front of the peloton was almost on him as he remounted and the Belgian was soon passed by a fast descending Basso.

The late attacks begin and Rodríguez makes his stick

Rui Costa (Movistar) then attacked and immediately opened up a lead. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) tried to follow the Portuguese rider with 25km to go, but was pulled back as he passed through a tunnel shortly afterwards. With 17km to go Costa was 31 seconds clear, as Team Sky and Lampre-ISD began to chase; this lead now began to fall rapidly and he was back in the fold with 13.5km to go, as the climb to Villa Vergano began.

Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked almost immediately, and was joined by Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) jumped across to the two leaders, with a number of others trying to follow but, as Marcato was dropped, Verdugo and Kolobnev were the only ones able to stay clear.

As the rain began to fall even more heavily Team Sky was keeping the two leaders in sight though and, as the two riders were pulled back, Rodríguez launched his attack. The Ka managed to escape the rest of the favourites, and crested the top of the climb alone.

Chasing the Catalan rider were and Henao, Urán, Contador, Santambrogio, Quintana and Hesjedal and, with 6.5km to go, they were joined by Zaugg. Rodríguez had just seven seconds lead however, as the two Sky riders led the group on the soaking wet descent.

Italian champion Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Sánchez and Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) joined the chasers with just over three kilometres to go, but Rodríguez was holding them off.

There was little cohesion in the chase group as Rodríguez was entering the final kilometre and, tiptoeing around the final corners, he was able to take his time as he sat up to celebrate his victory - hurling a drink bottle in the air in his euphoria - in both the race, and very likely the 2012 WorldTour.

Result Il Lombardia 2012
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 9s
3. Rigoberto Urán (Col) Team Sky
4. Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing Team
5. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky
6. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank
8. Oliver Zaugg (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan
9. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
10. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Team Astana

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