A lot of cycling fans tune out once world championships are over — but they shouldn’t. This year’s edition of Il Lombardia was a perfect example of the autumn action that the final monument of the season can offer. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) finally delivered the big win he’s been dreaming of, beating none other than Mr. Lombardia himself, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). Time for a roundtable about why this race is meaningful for these riders and fans like us.
What does this victory mean for Thibaut Pinot?
Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: It means he can finally ride technical descents! I owe Pinot and my colleague Fred Dreier a big apology for laughing at the suggestion that he could win Lombardia, but he proved up to the task. This win also means that it is time for Pinot to finally put to bed the notion that he should ride for grand tour GC. He’s clearly got a knack for hilly one-days or stage hunting. Commit to that plan, and give Valverde a run for his money in the Ardennes!
Dane Cash, @danecash: A rider who often contends for big wins but rarely pulls them off, Pinot proved this weekend in Italy that he does have what it takes to close the deal on a major result. Health issues and crashes have often derailed his aspirations over the past few seasons, and eventually, you start to wonder if a rider constantly battling those kinds of problems will ever put it all together. Pinot did on Saturday, which should be a huge morale boost for him after a tough year.
Chris Case, @chrisjustincase: I imagine this victory feels tremendous to a guy like Pinot. Earlier in his career, when he had some success at the Tour, immense pressure was immediately heaped on him – ‘The next great French cyclist, the man who will turn around French results at grand tours, has finally arrived!’ It hasn’t played out that way. That isn’t to say he isn’t a contender at grand tours, but his attacking style and climbing panache may suit him even better. And if there’s any race that fits someone of that profile, it’s Il Lombardia.
Surely Vincenzo Nibali wasn’t racing for second place, but he fought hard to earn that result. What was that all about?
Spencer: Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida team fully committed to his chances at Lombardia. I got to think that when he looked back and saw the chase group with several of his guys in the mix, he knew he’d have to give it one more push to pay off their efforts, even if it wasn’t a win. He likely also wanted to prove to himself that he’s still got the edge after his season went off the rails at the Tour.
Dane: For one, Nibali loves this race, and you have to assume he was hungry to do as well he could no matter the circumstances. After a tough, injury-marred summer, it’s possible Nibali was trying to show us what might have been had he not had his unfortunate run-in with a fan at the Tour de France.
Case: It seemed Nibali initially threw in that dig to set up one of his teammates, Ion Izagirre or Domenico Pozzovivo, both of whom had rejoined him along with the rest of the group. But in the ensuing hesitation, and with the aid of the descent, Nibali got a substantial gap. “The Shark” is a racer. He took advantage of a good situation to end his season on a high.
Rigoberto Urán looked like he had the legs to win this one. Evaluate EF Education-First Drapac’s tactics. What went wrong?
Spencer: Clearly Bahrain-Merida’s aforementioned tactics did not help matters for EF, but I was surprised none of the other teams were willing to pitch in when poor little Danny Martinez did all that chasing ahead of the Civiglio. Maybe instead they hold Martinez to mark a dangerous move (i.e., Nibali and Pinot)? He certainly looked to have good legs.
Dane: Hindsight is 20/20 but Urán and Co. should have been more aggressive on the Sormano climb — and more attentive to Thibaut Pinot. It was no secret the Frenchman was on sterling form. This year’s finale was not quite as hard as last year’s, and that made the Sormano a more attractive option for the attackers despite its distance from the line. If Urán had stuck with Pinot, this might have been a very different race.
Chris: The steep wall at Sormano proved to be the decisive moment of the race. One could be forgiven for not predicting this since it was so far from the finish. But given his recent results, Pinot was the man to watch. And given his racing smarts, Nibali can never be discounted. If you have the legs to go with that pair, you do it.
Il Lombardia is usually overshadowed by the other monument classics. How did this edition stack up, from a fan’s perspective?
Spencer: An exciting finale like this one goes a long way to giving Lombardia some much-needed hype. Sure, the timing on the calendar is tough, but if we keep seeing top riders focus on the race, I think it’ll pick up steam, especially as fans tire of the Tour’s predictability. The difficulty is that usually climbers aren’t so on-form in the fall. Having worlds in Innsbruck on a mountainous route gave Lombardia a boost.
Dane: Lombardia’s place on the calendar is the only reason this race gets overshadowed. It’s usually among the best one-days of the year from a racing perspective, with big stars attacking each other on tough climbs — and that was exactly what we got yet again this time around. It’s hard to ask for more out of a race than what Lombardia delivered this weekend, with everything from the always-excellent scenery to a long-range attack taking the day.
Chris: I thought it made for riveting TV. You had the defending champion launching an audacious attack. You had an on-form and hungry Pinot going with him. You had two of the most talented yet unproven racers in Egan Bernal and Primoz Roglic in the mix. And then you had the dynamic of Pinot being the better climber matched against Nibali the far superior descender. Not to mention Nibali’s crafty move to snatch second at the end.