LOMBARDIA’21 BREAKDOWN: Pogačar Undisputed Superstar!
Ten Falling Leaves Takeaways
Ten Takeaways from Lombardia: The curtain has dropped on the 2021 season with Il Lombardia… And it dropped with a loud thud. Tadej Pogačar added to his Tour de France and Liège-Bastogne-Liège wins to put his name up with the top men in cycling history. Spencer Martin breaks down the ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ to give us ‘Ten Takeaways’ for the end of the season.
The ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ across the stunning landscapes surrounding Lake Como in the Lombardy region of Italy pitted some of the world’s best riders against each other on extremely challenging terrain and ultimately delivered Tadej Pogačar to yet another major victory. Pogačar’s flashy breakaway win over Fausto Masnada and Adam Yates in the chasing group behind was the exclamation point on an incredible season and saw him become only the fourth rider of all time to win Liège – Bastogne – Liège, the Tour de France, and Il Lombardia in the same season. Pogačar, despite being one the quickest riders in the race, wasn’t content to sit and wait and went on a bombastic solo mission after counterattacking Vincenzo Nibali with nearly 40kms left in the race. He was eventually joined by Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Masnada and while only having a tenuous gap the entire time, was able to hold off a star-studded chase group, who seemed more concerned with pulling each other to a victory than pegging back the world’s best rider. Besides confirming Pogačar’s now undisputed superstar status, Lombardia underlined that we are truly in a golden age of cycling where the best riders in the sport are duking it out for late-season Monuments.
Happy Tadej Pogačar and fiancé Urska Zigart
1) Pogačar gets an incredible win and polishes off a historic season that included victories at two Monuments, the Tour de France, and an Olympic medal. He is the ultimate big-game hunter in modern cycling and proved that when the chips are down at the biggest races, he is the most dangerous rider on a start line packed with world-class racers.
- Before the race, one could have made a flimsy argument that Pogačar was a flash in the pan, but afterward, it is becoming difficult to see him as anything other than the world’s most dominant rider. And the scary thing for anyone else is that due to his age of 23, he is potentially only going to get better from here.
- He becomes the race’s youngest winner (23y18d) since 1969 when Jean-Pierre Monseré (21y33d) took the title.
- After Pogačar, only three other riders (Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault) have ever won Lombardia and the Tour in the same season and he becomes the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1972 to win Liège – Bastogne – Liège, the Tour, and Lombardia in the same season.
- The fact that Pogačar is now in the same conversation as these legends of the sport illustrates just how dominant the young Slovenian has become in just a few seasons.
Coppi, Merckx… and Pogačar
2) His winning move was extremely bold, but in retrospect, it was a very clever tactic. It forced the others, who were either isolated or with limited teammates, to make a difficult, and in many ways impossible, decision to either work to pull back the lone leader at the expense of their own chances or sit in while the win rides up the road.
- His willingness and ability to risk it with these long-bomb moves make him able to win nearly every race he enters.
- Strangely, despite winning a good chunk of every major race he has entered, he still holds surprisingly good betting value since he is often underrated by oddsmakers.
- And equally, if not more, strangely, this underestimation seems to be shared by his competitors, who, in retrospect, had no business giving him an inch, let alone 100 meters, on a sustained climb 40kms from the finish line.
Solo attack from Pogačar
3) As we’ve seen numerous times already in 2021, the early attacker wins after the chase group argues about who will work.
- It’s amazing it’s taken this long, but at this point, it seems like this long-bomb strategy of attacking far from the finish once the number of teammates in a group is diminished is a trend.
- And this makes sense. The attack immediately gives the advantage to the rider out front and puts everyone on the back foot, and I expect we will continue to see it used even more in seasons to come.
Historic win for Pogačar – The best place possible for Masnada
4) Fausto Masnada gets second place, but in reality, couldn’t have done anything to overcome Pogačar. After expertly bridging up when he realized the hesitation in the chase group was lethal, he sat on Pogačar all the way to the line and was even bold enough to test the Tour champion with an attack towards the top of the final punch with 3km-to-go.
- On one hand, second place behind the strongest rider in the world in a Monument that finished in his hometown of Bergamo is perhaps his best career result so far.
- But on the other hand, his initial decision to attack from the chase group and work with Pogačar once he made the juncture, potentially sunk his DQS team’s chances of winning.
- This decision shows how much Masnada believes in himself, but at times, this self-belief out-kicks reality and can hurt his team’s chances of victory.
Stunning ride from Masnada to catch Pogačar
5) The fact that Masnada, who was marking early breakaways for his Deceuninck – Quick-Step team, was the top finisher for the powerhouse squad, raises questions about their tactics. The aim for any team in any race should be to maximize their chances of producing their best-possible result with the talent they have at the race, and that clearly wasn’t achieved by pitting Masnada against Pogačar in a two-up sprint finish.
- It is somewhat inconceivable they didn’t have a rider mark Pogačar’s initial attack. This put them on the back foot immediately.
- But, if we zoom out, this rider should have been Alaphilippe or no one at all. Since even when Masnada made the junction, it was a bit of a false sense of security and potentially only hurt their chances of a win with Alaphilippe.
- At this point, their only real chance of a win, short of dropping Pogačar, would have been to take Alaphilippe to the finish line for a sprint, which would have required the team to stay intact and working together for as long as possible. The fact that they instead seemed happy with leaving Masnada upfront with Pogačar while the current world champion dangling only a few seconds behind is mind-boggling.
Masnada also covered the earlier moves
6) Julian Alaphilippe got over the race’s long climbs, only to lose the race the moment his teammate attacked with 29.8km-to-go. This must be particularly frustrating for the world champion, but in retrospect, if we wanted to win the race, the first plan of action should have been to not allow Pogačar to attack unchallenged.
- Had his DQS team pegged Pogačar back, Alaphilippe would have been forced to defend against attacks from Woods, Valverde, Gaudu, etc., but, the others in the group would have also had an incentive to mark those moves as well, which would have likely allowed Alaphilippe to take the race to a sprint, or at least a descending contest.
- It is worth noting that while it is difficult to imagine him losing in a sprint against Valverde and Pogačar, he was handily beaten by Pogačar from a similar front group earlier this year at Liege.
- But, even if the chances of Alaphilippe winning the sprint aren’t 100%, they traded that scenario for a near-zero percent chance with Masnada.
Team tactics played against the World champion
7) Remco Evenepoel was highly touted coming into the race but was dropping from the group surprisingly far from the finish line. This, of course, isn’t catastrophic, but it continues a trend of a lack of progression, and even slight regression, since his breakout 2019 season.
- While he will be given a pass due to his young age of 21, it is worth noting that he is only slightly over a year younger than the race winner Pogačar, roughly the same age as Florian Vermeersch, who just finished 2nd at Paris-Roubaix and facing an onslaught of young talent achieving incredible results. This is notable since cycling media and teams can turn effusive praise for youthful potential into criticisms of lack of results stunning quickly.
- While his DQS team will likely continue giving him the benefit of the doubt, his ability to win major races against the best competition still appears in doubt while his peers continue to improve.
Remco Evenepoel – Not the same form as the Worlds
8) Adam Yates gets one of the best results of his career and finishes off a week where he was on absolutely sparkling form.
- However, the fact that he was still soundly beaten by Pogačar shows the uphill battle facing the Briton when it comes to getting major race wins.
A very good and surprising 3rd by Adam Yates
9) Primoz Roglič’s form took a shocking dip since Wednesday at Milano-Torino and simply wasn’t putting out the same watts per kilogram that he had been the week prior to this race.
- We get a key data point about where Roglič stands in regards to an ever-improving Pogačar over long, difficult races, which could come into play when they face off again at the 2022 Tour de France.
- Yates and Roglič fought for the last podium spot and didn’t finish too far off the win, but, they were both dropped on the final pitch and quite the weakest of the riders were the weakest on the final climb. This helped them as they were able to come from behind and ambush the rest and easily blew by in the final straight.
Roglič not 100%
10) Alejandro Valverde gets 5th on the day, which means he has finished in the top five at two Monuments in 2021 at the age of 41-years-old.
- This is mind-blowing and a first for someone of his age, but his presence in the chase group, and refusal to work, was one of the main reasons for their failure to make any ground on the leading duo.
- It is worth noting that while this economical riding style can occasionally doom chase groups and allow breakaways to win, it has also delivered him countless victories throughout his career, and as we saw by his ability to beat Alaphilippe in the sprint for 5th, he may have been able to deliver a stunning result had the race come back together due to his decision to save energy while others chased.
Not bad for the ‘Old Man’
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #