Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) put on a descending demonstration to win the final Monument of the season, completing a hat-trick of victories at Il Lombardia with a downhill attack and solo move 31km from the finish in Bergamo on the descent of the Passo di Ganda.
Andrea Bagioli (Soudal-QuickStep) took a brilliant second-place finish with Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in third after he let his Slovenian compatriot’s wheel go on the descent and struggled in the final 10 kilometres.
A strong leading group had formed on the Passo di Ganda, with Roglič, Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) among them, but the Slovenian Champion was allowed to slip away on the descent and would never be brought back on the run into Bergamo, reaffirming again that at Il Lombardia he is second to none.
Pogačar survived a late battle with a cramp in the final 10km, being forced to bang his thigh as he tried to prolong his effort at the end of a long, testing season with hydration and feeding so important on a 238km route, but his gap was simply too big.
The Slovenian closed in on Bergamo just as he did in the 2021 edition, this time alone, and attacked the Colle Aperto through the Virage Pinot with the roars of French applause as they simultaneously welcomed the rider of a generation and said goodbye to their hero Thibaut Pinot.
Pogačar adds Il Lombardia to one-day race victories in 2023 at the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallone at still only 25 years old and becomes only the third rider to win the combination of De Ronde and Lombardia after Rik Van Looy (1959) and Hennie Kuiper (1981).
“I tried to attack on the climb but actually Vlasov was, I think one of the strongest on the climb, but I knew the climb really well and I didn't give up till the top," said Pogačar after the finish. “I was hoping that me and Aleksandr [Vlasov] could go one one-on-one to the finish, but they came from behind.”
“In the moment that I got a little gap, I knew the descent a little better than two years ago when it was a bit of a disaster for me, but today I gave it my all and it was tough to go so far to the finish.”
The Slovenian superstar also confirmed it was a cramp that had affected him in the final 10km, but that he was just able to hang on, spurred by the fans that lined the streets of Bergamo.
“Oh yeah I had first on my right leg cramp then on the left one,” Pogačar said. “I was thinking that was it, but I pushed through and I lowered down the power and focused on being as aero as possible to save myself for the final kick and hoped that behind would not be such a good collaboration.
“To win the third time at my third participation, second here in Bergamo, it’s a dream to come solo and today it was fantastic. I was enjoying the last few kilometres even though it was so painful. It’s incredible.”
How it unfolded
The final Monument of the season followed a similar pattern to much of the racing in 2023, with attacks flying straight from the flag and those hopeful to get into the breakaway showing their hand, led by escapee specialist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Dstny).
After a flurry of attacks, a group of ten riders got away initially, eventually being joined by six more riders and leaving 16 up the road to try and build an advantage, Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroën), Tobias Bayer, Nicola Conci (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstan), Nicolò Buratti (Bahrain Victorious), Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Mattia Bais (Eolo-Kometa), Martin Marcellusi, Alex Tolio (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè), Ben Swift (Ineos Grenadiers), Asbjørn Hellemose (Lidl-Trek), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Dstny), Kamil Małecki (Q36.5), Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies), Nils Brun and Jacob Eriksson (Tudor).
Things certainly weren’t calm in the peloton however, as Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) went down in an innocuous crash 217km from the finish, going down with Sjoerd Bax (UAE Team Emirates) and Giovanni Aleotti (Bora-Hansgrohe) also feeling the effects.
The Belgian Champion did get back on his bike, albeit gingerly, but it was far from the ideal start for the 23-year-old. Bax was forced to abandon the race which lessened the firepower of UAE Team Emirates and Pogačar’s support.
Things calmed once Evenepoel returned to the peloton following some treatment at the doctor’s car for his bloodied elbow and knee, with the 16 riders being allowed as large an advantage of up to 4:00.
EF Education-EasyPost and Jumbo-Visma took up the mantle of chasing back the break for the majority of the opening 100 kilometres until the peloton hit the base of the Berbenno climb (6.9km at 5%) where Soudal-QuickStep and Evenepoel showed clear signs of the Belgian’s recovery.
They started to set an intense pace 113km from Bergamo, lining out the whole group and putting Enric Mas (Movistar) into trouble as the Spaniard, who finished as runner-up in the 2022 edition of this race, was dropped off the back with an unknown issue and eventually abandoned the race.
Once the race hit Passo della Crocetta (11km at 6%), both the break and the peloton began to splinter with those lacking the legs to follow faltering after nearly four hours in the saddle.
Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) got on the move 83km from the finish line as he responded to an Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich) attack, prompting a response from the favourites’ teams’ with UAE, Jumbo and QuickStep all sending one rider after the Scot and Irishman.
The duo were allowed some breathing room after the initial response and made contact with what remained of the day’s early break 10 kilometres after they had attacked, but with only a gap of 50 seconds, they were forced to immediately set the pace if they wanted any chance of staying away.
Chaos continued to ensure in the peloton as Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) were involved in a curious crash that would hinder their chances going forward.
Healy distanced everyone on the descent of the Zambla Alta alongside Marcellusi before dropping him on the penultimate climb of the day, but the Irishman’s time out in front was limited with the race behind beginning to bubble over.
Yates was the first to attack, forcing Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep) into a response while exposing Evenepoel’s clear struggle following his early crash, as the Belgian Champion was quickly distanced, ending any challenge for the victory.
Pogačar and Roglič had begun to play games as the two clear favourites remaining with Evenepoel clearly not at 100% capacity, with the Slovenian allowing the Yates-led group to get a gap before snap closing to his teammate's wheel and surprising his compatriot.
The UAE duo drove on the pace before Pogačar hit the group with a stinging attack that only Vlasov could follow. Roglič had started to close them down as the Passo di Ganda neared its conclusion and he made one last big effort to bridge to the two leaders before the descent.
Roglič must’ve redlined past his threshold too much as he closed the gap, however, he looked tired in Pogačar’s wheel and allowed him to gain a small advantage on the downhill section with just over 30km of racing left in the day.
Pogačar kicked on once he knew he had found separation in stark contrast to the 2021 edition where he came very close to crashing in front of Fausto Masnada and lacked confidence going into the corners.
His gap was growing and growing as the climax approached, coming into the flat section before the final climb with over a 40-second lead on the peloton. Not even a late bout with cramp could overcome the Slovenian and he flew up the Colle Aperto, able to hold his lead all the way to the line in Bergamo.
Pogačar even had enough of an advantage to roar to the TV camera bike as he went under the flamme rouge and neared a historic third Il Lombardia victory, taking his tally of Monument wins to five and joining the likes of Sean Kelly and Gino Bartoli on three wins at Lombardia.
Roglič led out the sprint behind for the remaining podium spots after struggling to hold the wheel in the run-in but was passed by Bagioli in the final 50 metres for second in what was a career-best Monument performance by the young Italian.
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