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The WorldTour came to a spectacular close at Il Lombardia this weekend.
Tadej Pogačar continued his incredible momentum with another marquee victory, Remco Evenepoel bettered his demons by returning to the roads of his horror crash, Fausto Masnada nearly stole the show, and Alejandro Valverde just kept on doing his thing.
Here’s what the stars said after Saturday’s “race of the falling leaves:”
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 19th
All eyes were on Remco Evenepoel on Saturday, riding into the race on red-hot form and forming just a part of a multi-prong Deceuninck-Quick-Step attack. It wasn’t to be for the young Belgian however, who was popped out the back of the group of favorites when the attacks started flying on the final climb of the day.
But there was more to Remco’s race than fighting for victory. After crashing over a wall and into a ravine at last summer’s Il Lombardia, the 21-year-old was returning to the roads that nearly cost him his life and forced him out of competition for some eight months.
“It was a strange feeling to race here again, on nervous roads. A little bit of what happened last year was on my mind. My body was shaking a bit the whole morning but during the race, but it got better and better. On the first descent, I didn’t feel really comfortable but after that, I never got into trouble on a descent.
“I had bad legs for five minutes [when I was dropped]. I chose my own pace, because it was going too fast. I saw the first group surge, but they just rode faster in front. I’m glad I just finished in the top-20. I’m not too disappointed – everything revolves around the legs. If you don’t have it at such a moment, then you have to accept it. But that’s life and cycling. You have to be 100 percent all day and I wasn’t for a few minutes.”
Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 2nd
Bergamo-resident Fausto Masnada scored the biggest result of his career on home roads Saturday.
Masnada launched a daredevil pursuit after Tadej Pogačar down the sinuous final climb of the day, latched onto the Slovenian’s wheel, and doggedly hung on for the final sprint. The Italian didn’t have the legs in the final kick for the line, but after starting the race fourth in the pecking order at Deceuninck-Quick-Step behind Julian Alaphilippe, Remco Evenepoel and João Almeida, Masnada wasn’t complaining about his result.
“I was second, but I’m satisfied with my race. It was a hard one. The whole team worked very well and we arrived into the final with a good place for me. I was up front with Tadej, but I didn’t push because Alaphilippe was behind. For a moment I thought that Alaphilippe could get across to our group, but Tadej was really strong. He pulled and on the last climb he tried to drop me, so I could do no better than second.
“It’s a dream for me, I know that it’s second place, but I live here, I grew up on this road, so it’s really great to be on the podium.”
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma): 4th
Primož Roglič didn’t get the dream ending to his storming late-summer on Saturday.
After winning the Olympic TT, his third Vuelta a España title and a brace of Italian one-day races, Roglič lost his legs at Il Lombardia. Roglič was never distanced from the group of favorites after his countryman Tadej Pogačar launched his move, but the Jumbo-Visma captain rarely looked threatening. Roglič was typically stoical after losing out on one final trip to the podium for the year when Adam Yates beat him in the sprint for third.
“I have to be happy with this fourth place. I really gave it my all. I just didn’t have the legs today. If I could, I would certainly have gone with Pogačar when he attacked. It was very hard all day. Of course, I would have loved to put this monument on my palmarès, but it was not meant to be today.
“This season was another one with peaks and troughs. We will take the good memories with us to next season.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): 5th
41 years young.
Alejandro Valverde sure isn’t slowing down as he heads toward his third decade in the pro peloton. The Spanish veteran hung tough in the lead group through the final phase of action Saturday and clocked his sixth top-6 finish in his past seven appearances at Il Lombardia by finishing in fifth.
Valverde had been a shade from his best last year and through the start of this season after struggling with the confines of the COVID lockdown. However, Saturday showed he’s still got the legs as he rides toward yet another season with Movistar in 2022.
“I’ve enjoyed today’s effort on the bike. Maybe not so much early on [laughs], I struggled a lot in the beginning of the season, but then, near the end, seeing myself there, with the strongest guys in this era – I’m still there, and I can only feel happy about it.
“At that climb, Alaphilippe’s teammates started pushing hard and kept the group under control, but then again, Pogacar’s attack was incredible. He knew how to keep the pace high after such an explosive move, and even if we started taking some turns to chase him and Masnada down after the downhill, it was going to be really difficult to bring them back.
“Fifth for me – as I said, I must remain happy because the level was so high today.”