LECCO, Italy (VN) — Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) used the final climb as a springboard to victory in a rain-soaked Giro di Lombardia on Saturday.
The 33-year-old Katusha rider became the first Spaniard to win Il Lombardia, and it was a very near thing indeed. Just nine seconds later a countryman finished second — Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) — with Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Sky Procycling) third.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) crossed sixth, also at 9 seconds.
“This is the victory of my life,” Rodriguez told Agence France Presse. “It caps a perfect year. I felt this morning that it would be a great day.
“I saw people getting tired during the race and I was feeling good. But I didn’t think I’d be going to the finish on my own. I thought I’d have to contend the sprint with (Alberto) Contador and (Vincenzo) Nibali.”
Uran, meanwhile, said he was content to make the podium in what he called “a very tough” race.
“We were waiting for Purito to attack, either him or Contador,” he added. “But it was impossible to follow.”
It was a damp, misty day that greeted the 10th “Race of the Falling Leaves,” and with 88km to race a four-man break — Steve Morabito (BMC Racing). Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas-Cannondale), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Alberto Losada (Katusha) — held just over a minute on the peloton, which included newly minted world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), both considered among the top favorites for the victory.
The break came apart on the brutal Muro di Sormano — a 2km climb averaging 15 percent with steeps approaching twice that — and Bardet was the last man standing, crossing the summit alone.
The twisting descent, meanwhile, ended Gilbert’s hopes for a third victory in Il Lombardia; he hit the deck and abandoned, finishing the race in the BMC team car. Others scattered along the road on the rain-slick descent included teammate Alessandro Ballan, Katusha mates Luca Paolini and Daniel Moreno, and a photographer’s motorcycle.
Bardet kept the rubber side down, but he would not keep his lead. The Ag2r rider was retrieved with 52km to go and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took his place at the front.
He, too, would be retrieved after sliding out in a slick right-hand bend with 30km remaining, and then it was Rui da Costa’s chance to shine. The Movistar rider stayed out front for perhaps 10km until the remnants of the peloton organized themselves on the approach to the final climb of the day, to Villa Vergano.
The skies blackened and poured down rain as Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked early on the climb, dogged by Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha). Hesjedal led the chase.
But it was Rodriguez who made the decisive strike on the ascent, with with 8km to go “Purito” was on his own, with just a handful of seconds for an advantage and a swelling pursuit behind on the final descent before the flat run into the finish.
The Katusha rider never faltered, though, and had plenty of time to celebrate as he won the final classic of the 2012 season, adding Il Lombardia to his victory at Fleche Wallone and podium finishes at the 2012 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
And there was a cherry on top — Rodriguez also displaced Sky’s Bradley Wiggins atop the UCI WorldTour rankings, with 692 points to the Briton’s 601.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Il Lombardia.