Two-time defending champion Tadej Pogačar fought off his rivals and a late dose of leg cramp to emulate the great Fausto Coppi by securing a hat-trick of victories in Il Lombardia, the UAE Team Emirates leader soloing home after making his move on the descent of the Passo di Ganda 30 kilometres from the finish.
The Slovenian finished 51 seconds head of a seven-rider group that was led in by Andrea Bagioli (Soudal-QuickStep), who edged out Primož Roglič, making his final appearance in Jumbo-Visma colours, with Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) in fourth. Britain’s Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) and Adam Yates finished fifth and sixth, respectively, the latter playing a critical role in his UAE leader’s victory.
‘To win the third time on my third appearance, second time here in Bergamo… It’s a dream to finish solo. It was fantastic. I enjoyed the last few kilometres, even though it was so, so painful,’ said Pogačar.
Coming onto the Passo di Ganda, with 41km remaining, breakaway riders Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Martin Marcellusi (Green Project-Bardiani) held a 40-second lead. Irishman Healy dropped his Italian companion on the lower slopes of the climb, but couldn’t resist the UAE-led surge of pace within the peloton, closing quickly behind. Diego Ulissi was the initial instigator, before Adam Yates blew the peloton apart with an attack that saw Healy swallowed up and a number of favourites dropped, including Bagioli’s team leader Remco Evenepoel.
As Yates maintained the pressure, he had just 10 riders in his wake, including Pogačar, Roglič, Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers), Vlasov and Yates’s twin Simon. Pogačar and Roglič then played cat and mouse with each other, dropping off the back of this group until the steeper slopes arrived. Once on them, Pogačar began to chase across to the riders at the front. As he joined them, Adam Yates set the pace again, then Pogačar countered, with Vlasov the only rider able to go with him.
Roglič wasn’t done, though, and he steadily closed the gap on the leading pair, bridging up to them just before the summiut, followed by Simon Yates, Bagioli and Rodríguez. As the road dropped, Pogačar went to the front and took flight. The UAE leader gained time all of the way down the tightly snaking run downwards, reaching the foot of the Ganda with a lead of 35 seconds on his six pursuers, who were joined by Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) on the flat run-in to Bergamo.
It was on this section, with a dozen kilometres remaining, that Pogačar began to pound his right thigh. Clearly suffering, he kept glancing backwards, spoke on the radio a couple of times, then got some sustenance from his team car. However, the chasers didn’t make much of the opportunity. With Adam Yates doing all he could to hinder their collaboration, they kept losing ground.
With 5km remaining, Pogačar had a minute on the group behind as he went onto the final climb up to Bergamo’s old city, passing through the massed ranks of Thibaut Pinot fans who had come to pay tribute to the Frenchman, Lombardia’s winner in 2018, who was making his final racing appearance.
Pogačar’s lead had grown to more than a minute topping the final steep rise, and victory wasn’t far away. Unlike the last two years, when he had to see off Fausto Masnada and Enric Mas, respectively, in two-up sprints, Pogačar had plenty of time to celebrate his success, his fifth in a Monument, wins in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders sitting aside his Lombardy hat-trick.
‘I tried to attack on the climb but I think Vlasov was one of the strongest there,’ said Pogačar, who had set a Strava KoM on the Ganda during his pre-race recon. ‘I was hoping that me and Aleksandr would go together to the finish, that we’d collaborate, but the others came from behind,’ he continued, adding that he saw his chance on the descent.
‘It was just in a moment that I got a little gap. I knew the descent a lot better than two years ago, when this descent was a bit of a disaster for me. But today I gave it my all. It was tough to go from so far from the finish, today was a super hard race on every climb,’ he said, before confirming that he had struggled with cramp once he was out on his own.
‘I first had cramp in my right thigh, then I thought I was getting the same in the left, but I pushed through. I lowered my power a little bit and focused on being as aero as possible and to save myself for the final kick upwards. I was hoping the collaboration behind wouldn’t work so well. I gained time on them, but I wasn’t going so fast,’ he admitted.
Adam Yates explained that UAE had had to rethink their strategy when Sjoerd Bax crashed out in a crash early in the race, going down in an incident that also left Evenepoel on the floor. ‘That left us one man down and we had to reorganise a little bit, but in the final Tadej did what he does best. I tried to attack a few times to make it hard, and when he finds the right moment he knows what to do. It was a perfect day for us. Then, behind, I tried to flick everyone as usual. When you have numbers it’s much easier to control the race,’ said Yates.