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LOMBARDIA’15: Victorious Vincenzo!

Race Report: Vincenzo Nibali cemented his place as the best descender in the sport and he used this to take a famous victory in Lombardy. His Attack with 17 kilometers to go was perfectly timed, but Katusha’s Dani Moreno escaped the small band of chasers and had the shark in his sights, but in the end Vincenzo was the man of the day.

It was the last WorldTour race of the season and it seemed like the riders were happy to spend the first 140km discussing holiday destinations for the off season. There wasn’t much racing done until the famous climb of the Madonna del Ghisallo, this split up the race and led to a break by Kwiatkowski and Tim Wellens which lasted until the penultimate climb. On the devilishly steep Muro di Sormano the Astana led peloton blew apart the race and Nibali, the shark of Messina, smelt blood. He made his move at the summit of the Civiglio and built up a 40 second lead on the descent. It looked to be game over with 10km to go but on the final climb Dani Moreno drove hard and get to within 12 seconds of the Italian but it wasn’t close enough and Nibali took a famous win on the streets of Como to cap off an incredible season for his Astana team.

The final UCI WorldTour race of the season and, despite a number of smaller races continuing after this, the Giro di Lombardia marks the finish of the serious cycling season. On the menu today is 245km of beautiful Italian terrain starting in the stunning city of Bergamo and finishing in the even more stunning town of Como on the coastline of the famous Lake Como. The initial 145km are not too taxing with flat roads interrupted by the Colle Gallo (7.4km @ 6%) and the Colle Brianza (4.5km @6.3%). The real racing will begin with 75km to go, that’s the start of the Madonna del Ghisallo (8.6km @ 6.2%) which will be followed by Muro di Sormano (1.9km @ 15.8%), Civiglio (4.2km @ 9.7%) and finally, San Fermo della Battaglia (2.7km @ 7.2%). The final climb summits just 5km from the finish line and it’s then all downhill into the centre of Como.


The Beginning of the End
With 245km to race the peloton were content to let a breakaway group of 11 go, including Stefan Schumacher (CCC), Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida), Matteo Busato (Southeast), Dennis Van Winden (LottoNL-Jumbo), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Pier Paolo di Negri (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Marco Canolo (UnitedHealthcare), Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Jerome Coppell (IAM Cycling) and Oscar Gatto (Androni Giocattoli). As expected from an autumn race the weather was changeable with prolonged spells raced in rain. The break didn’t mind and forged ahead to gain an 8 minute advantage over the Astana led peloton.

Giro Il Lombardia 2015
Polanc and Schumacher

The break contained some serious firepower with Geschke and Polanc both Grand Tour stage winners from a break this year, Geschke took the Pra Loup stage at the Tour and Polanc was a winner in the first week of the Giro. The break didn’t seem too concerned however and at the top of the second climb of the day, the Colle Brianza, they had a 8:24 lead.

With 100km left to ride the gap to the break was beginning to melt away as Movistar now joined the ever present Astana team on the front. With 25km to go until the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb the gap was just 5:30.

Giro Il Lombardia 2015
The early break of the day

The End of the Beginning
The Madonna del Ghisallo proved to be the launch pad that we expected it would be and with the break dangling just 2:30 ahead, a counter attack group containing Tom Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin), Michal Kwiatkowski, Zdenek Stybar, Matteo Trentin, Carlos Verona and Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx – Quick-Step), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Jon Izaguirre (Movistar), Robert Gesink, Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Giacomolo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) jumped ahead to a 30 second lead. Trentin had done a lot of work to create the break and he was the first to head backwards into the peloton.

The Kwiatkowski group hadn’t got a definitive and the crested the climb with just 20 seconds. Ahead of them the leading group had split up and now the duo of Benedetti and Canola were going alone. The Kwiatkowski group was a further two men lighter and Stybar and Nizzolo drifted backwards to the peloton. The race had been obliterated with groups splitting and reforming. Benedetti and Canola still led but they were being chased by Barbin, Polanc and Van Winden with De Negri a little further back. All the other former breakaway riders had been swallowed up by the chasing group. Just before the Muro di Sormano De Negri’s charge was ended when he was caught by the chasing group. The trio of Barbin, Polanc and Van Winden were closing on the leading duo but they were all under pressure from the Astana led peloton who were riding faster than the fastest predicted speed.

Giro Il Lombardia 2015
Astana were in control most of the day

The chase group were packed with talent and they were working hard to bring back the five man leading group, formed when the leaders and chasers joined. This group began the Sormano with less than 30 seconds of a lead and Benedetti and Canola immediately showed that they were the strongest by pushing on ahead. The gradient was brutal though and soon Canola was put into trouble by Benedetti’s consistent pace.

Back in the peloton and Nibali looked comfortable behind his two remaining team mates. No sooner had Benedetti broken Canola than he was caught by Tim Wellens and Kwiatkowski. The former World Champion was the strongest though and he distanced them both to lead with 50km left to ride. The Pole had gone too soon and although he led over the top of the climb he was in view of the Astana led peloton. The descent was hazardous and Wellens and Kwiatkowski threw caution to the wind and increased their lead to 30 seconds.

The selection had been made in the chase group and Astana still had Nibali, Diego Rosa and Mikel Landa. The other notable inclusions were Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE), Woult Poels (Sky), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo).

One of the casualties of the day was Philipe Gilbert (BMC), the Belgian had been a favourite for the race but he had been dropped on the hellish Sormano climb and was now being leaned on to bring back the Astana chasers. Wellens and Kwiatkowski’s break attempt was brave but the Astana firepower was greater and they’d closed to within 20 seconds.

Giro Il Lombardia 2015
Not a great day for Luca Wackermann (Southeast) as he slid-out on one of the wet corners

At the foot of the Civiglio Kwiatkowski dropped Wellens immediately but his lead was less than 10 seconds. Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) was the first to be unhitched but he was soon joined by Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx – Quick-Step).

Nibali was the first to attack but he was easily followed by Esteban Chaves, Dani Moreno (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Thibault Pinot (FDJ.fr). Diego Rosa (Astana) eased back when his team captain attacked but once it was clear that Nibali had no decisive advantage he jumped back into the lead and pushed on with Mike Nieve (Sky). They were brought back as well and Nibali once again tried to go clear, once again he was brought back by Chaves and it was all together again.

Pinot was the next to show his hand, he was joined by Nieve and Rosa and there was no instant response from the chase. Moreno eventually brought it back and it was clear that the winner would come from one of these 7 leaders. Rosa and Pinot were the next to go clear but again, the gap was minimal and they were brought back. Nibali and Pinot were the next duo to try their luck and this attack looked fully committed.

Como and get it
Moreno took on the pace making duties and he was able to bring it all back together although Nieve had gone backwards. Rosa was still there and whenever the pace decreased he would move to the front and increase it for his leader. Over the top of the climb Nibali decided to rely on his superior descending and he launched a lone attack with 17km to go.

It was make or break time for the chasers and they knew that if they didn’t close this 8 second gap then most likely it would never come back. Valverde took up the chasing responsibilities but he wasn’t able to eat into the gap and Rosa was making a nuisance of himself.

With exactly 10km to go Nibali had a 25 second lead as he hit the flat section of the finale. Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Brambilla and Henao (Sky) had rejoined and they added their firepower to the chase but Nibali had a 41 second lead and was looking excellent.

On the final climb Pinot tried to bring back Nibali single handedly but he was joined by a strong ally in Dani Moreno and the gap was now just 25 seconds. The Spaniard was on fire though and he barely even glanced at his young French companion before he blasted past him. Moreno was absolutely flying, he had closed the gap to just 12 seconds but the Italian would still be favourite if he went onto the descent by himself.

Moreno hadn’t got back to the Italian before the descent and the Spaniard was visibly slower on the wet downhill.

Just 2km left and Nibali was going to take a famous victory for Italy. He’d come so close to losing it on the penultimate climb but Moreno hadn’t quite got close enough. The Spaniard took a well deserved second place and Thibault Pinot had descended fantastically and he crossed alone in 3rd.

Giro Il Lombardia 2015
Has Vincenzo Nibali saved his 2015 season?

Race winner, Vincenzo Nibali said after the finish: “What a fantastic day. My team was perfect all day and I really wanted to reward them with the win. I tried to get away twice on the climbs, but I was too closely marked and I realised that I would have to try something different, so I had another go on the descent from the Civiglio. My team-mates were exceptional, starting with Vanotti and Agnoli early on, all the way to Landa, who was brilliant, and Rosa, who was still strong in the closing kilometres. It was not easy, but we did not relent all race, and I am truly happy now.”

Giro di Lombardia Result:
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 6:16:28
2. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha at 0:21
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 0:32
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 0:46
5. Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana
6. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Sky
7. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal at 0:56
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEDGE
9. Sergio Luis Henao (Col) Sky
10. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx – Quick-Step at 1:10
11. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 3:06
12. Wouter Poels (Ned) Sky at 4:10
13. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Cannondale-Garmin at 4:23
14. Cesare Benedetti (Ita) Bora-Argon 18
15. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
16. Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Etixx – Quick-Step
17. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:25
18. Simon Yates (GB) Orica-GreenEDGE
19. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:58
20. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin
21. Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R-La Mondiale at 5:25
22. Edoardo Zardini (Ita) Bardiani-CSF at 5:44
23. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini
24. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar
25. Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha.

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