Dutchman attacked on the penultimate climb of the day and capitalized on the chase group's indecision to win last monument of the year.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) attacked on the Civiglio climb and rode the remaining 18 kilometers of the race alone to win Il Lombardia on Saturday.
The win is the biggest result in Mollema’s palmares after the team time trial world title he took in September, and his victory at Classica san Sebastian in 2016.
Behind the Dutchman, a strong chase group failed to collaborate and left it too late to bring back the 32-year-old. Mollema was able to gain as much as 50 seconds as he time trialed to the win, holding off a chase group led home by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Egan Bernal (Ineos).
“I wasn’t one of the biggest favorites for this race, but I felt really good in the last few weeks,” said Mollema. “I was just waiting for my moment, and luckily it was today.”
The Dutchman had put in a string of strong but under-the radar performances in the last week of racing in Italy, bagging three results in the top seven.
Bernal had been one of the riders that many were backing as the favorites for the day. However, the Colombian was more than content with his third place.
“To be on the podium is really big for me,” said the Tour de France winner. “It was my first monument, so I’m really happy. It is difficult for me to say in the front of this kind of race. But I really like [them], and I will try to improve. But I’m still only 22-years-old, this is really big for me”.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) had been another top favorite for the day. The Slovenian finished seventh after being the first rider to launch a committed chase of Mollema when the Trek-Segafredo rider started building a solid gap.
The super-steep Muro di Sormano saw the first selection of the race with around 70km to go. The 25 percent ramps of the narrow climb saw the peloton explode as the remnants of the eight-rider breakaway were caught.
Around 20 riders went clear over the summit of the Sormano and the group swelled to around 40 as they hit the flat lakeside road that led to the final pair of climbs of the race.
Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) attacked off the front, but the four remaining Jumbo-Visma riders kept the pair under control.
The attackers were caught on the Civiglio climb as Movistar accelerated and started to pile on the pressure, splitting the group down to around 15. Valverde was the first to make a serious move, with Roglic left to neutralize the threat. As the lead group fell apart under the changes of pace, Mollema sensed his moment.
“I knew I had to go because when the guys were attacking on the Civiglio, they were more explosive than me,” he said. “When they slowed down I knew it was my moment to go, as I can always keep going.”
Mollema had established a sizable gap by the top of the climb, and was able to use the full road to his advantage through the tricky descent.
“When I knew I had 20 seconds, I thought I had a really good chance,” he recalled. “I knew the descent really well and they wouldn’t go faster than me down there.”
The chase group started to swell on the descent of the Civiglio, and as they moved toward the final climb of the day, the size of the bunch was to its disadvantage. As they hesitated and looked at each other, waiting for one another to lead the chase, Mollema continued riding his own race, growing his gap to over 50 seconds.
Roglic’s patience snapped as the group failed to co-operate, and went off in solo pursuit. As the Slovenian hit the final climb of the day with just 10km to go, he was joined by Valverde, Bernal, Michael Woods (EF Education First), Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).
Mollema continued to look strong at the front of the race, and it seemed clear he was on course for the victory.
The new-formed chase group started attacking each other more than they concentrated on bringing back Mollema, and though they brought the gap down to around 20 seconds, the Dutchman’s win never was in doubt.
“To win this race, it’s unbelievable,” he said in his post-race interview.
Behind Mollema, Valverde won the sprint for second place by the narrowest of margins.