A remarkable week for Slovenian cycling in Italy ended in a fairytale way – with the victory of Tadej Pogačar on his debut at the autumn classic, Tour of Lombardy. The decisive move of the race was Pogačar’s powerful attack on the ascent, far in front of the finish line, which paved the way to yet another great success.
At the beginning of 2021, a cycling monument, Tour of Lombardy, was already marked as Tadej’s main goal for Autumn. The plan of training and races in the last few weeks was subordinated to this autumn classic. Despite the inconsistent form in the autumn part of the season, participation at Giro dell’Emilia on Saturday, Tre Valli Varesine on Tuesday, and Milano – Torino on Wednesday, proved to be the right choice, as Tadej’s form was improving day by day. Of course, it is difficult to predict what will happen on the 239 km long classic with 4,700 altitude meters, but if the legs are right and the cyclist has a good day, then the goals and expectations are usually very high. Tadej’s motivation is always at a high level, so on a good day he always belongs amongst the favorites to win the race, and this was once again the case today.
About an hour into the race breakaway riders formed a group and gained more than 7 minutes of advantage until they were caught on the descent about 50 km before the finish. All the main favorites for the victory were now together in the very front of the race. Ahead of them was a 10km flat section along the valley and then the last and consequently decisive 9km ascent on Passo di Ganda. When approaching the decisive ascent, there was already a battle for positions where Tadej was safely led by his UAE Team Emirates teammates. Tiesj Benoot set a very high pace for his captain Romain Bardet, and some of the favorites immediately found themselves in trouble. When Benoot was done, Tao Geoghegan of Ineos Grenadiers took over setting up an even higher pace. The first attack was carried out by Vincenzo Nibali, but Tadej’s teammate Rafal Maika managed to cover the attack. Nibali then tried again with an attack to which Tadej himself responded.
Shortly afterward, about 35 km before the finish, Tadej decided to launch a powerful attack. No one was able to follow or cover his attack, so the advantage over the pursuers grew bigger and bigger. The solo escape seemed to be well on the way, even though it was still more than 30km left to the finish line. The “local” rider from Bergamo, Fausto Masnada, went after the reigning Tour de France champion and caught Tadej before the end of a fast and technical descent. The Italian rider clearly did not want to help Pogačar by giving turns, as his team also had their captain Alaphilippe in the pursuing group. Therefore all the hard work in the foreground had to be done by Tadej on his own. This action left many people in fear that rested Masnada would overtake Tadej in the final sprint for the finish.
On the last, short ascent just before the finish, Tadej attacked once again, trying to shake off the opponent, but Masnada did not break. Quite the opposite, a few moments later Masnada even launched an attack, but Tadej luckily had good legs and quickly neutralized the attack. They approached the last kilometer of the race together. Tadej, who is considered a better sprinter, was positioned in front and Masnada in his leeward. In theory, when it comes to a sprint, it is better to be in the leeward of the opponent. Tadej was aware that Masnada was in a better position so he kept a close eye on Italian’s every move. The two-time Tour de France Champion did not allow any surprises and initiated an extreme sprint for the line. Pogačar outsprinted Masnada and conquered his second cycling Monument in an extraordinary fashion.
“It’s crazy. After all the season it’s crazy to finish the season like this. I’m without words.
“First I thought when I attacked that somebody would come with me but it was such a hard race before that everyone was still thinking about the final. I knew Masnada knows this road pretty well so he’d be coming back in the technical part of the descent because it’s my first time here. But I didn’t know he was not going to work with me. Luckily we had enough of an advantage for the final climb and the finish.
I think after this second part of the season I was one day good, one day not. Today was a good day.
“For me every victory is important. Especially this one because I’ve been dreaming to start Lombardia and to race with the best here in Italy for a long time. Now I’m here and I took the victory, it’s just crazy” were the first impressions of Tadej Pogačar.