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Joaquim Rodriguez defends Lombardia title

Despite foul weather the Katusha rider repeated his successful attack on the final climb and soloed in for the victory ahead of Valverde

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Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) soloed to a repeat victory in a rain-soaked, crash-filled Giro di Lombardia on Sunday.

Purito repeated his successful attack on the final ascent to open what would be his winning margin. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) launched a desperate chase with Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff), but they could not close the gap on the wet descent to the finish of the the 242km one-day classic from Bergamo to Lecco.

Valverde dropped the others on the run in to the finish, but he would not catch Rodriguez, who had enough advantage to ride carefully around the final corners and salute the crowd.

The Spaniard had to settle for second on the day, while Majka rounded out the podium in third.

“Honestly, I think this was a spectacular victory,” said Rodriguez. “Il Lombardia is one of the most important competitions of the season, a monument classic race, so I was very motivated and I wanted to encore the 2012 victory.

“I felt in great shape, so I attacked in the same place where I attacked last year. I was the favorite rider, I think everybody knew that was my strategy and waited for my action, but anyways nobody could follow me. …”

Movistar on the march

With 72km to race Valverde and Nairo Quintana were off the front on the rain-slick descent of the Colma di Somano.

Enrico Gasparatto (Astana) joined them, as did Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), Ivan Santaromita (BMC Racing) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)

Quintana had a go with 63km to go, but was quickly reeled in. Voeckler went next, almost immediately after joining the leaders, and he opened a gap.

Ten kilometers further on down the road Voeckler was still alone out front with a lead of more than two minutes, taking a feed from the team car and pulling the customary faces as he soldiered on through the rain.

Behind, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) dropped back from the bunch, apparently cramping. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) likewise lost contact, as did Damiano Cunego (Lampre).

Voeckler builds his lead

With 45km to race Voeckler had nearly three minutes on the peloton, which had reabsorbed Voeckler’s former companions and contained perhaps two dozen riders, among them world champion Rui Costa (Movistar), defending champion Rodriguez and Ivan Basso (Cannondale). The Frenchman swept past the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel and began the descent alone, with the Villa Vergano ascent between him and the finish.

With 35km to go the peloton seemed finally to organize itself, stretching out in a long line. Ahead, Voeckler was cornering carefully en route to the lakeside, unwilling to risk a spill.

The gap was uncertain with 20km to race, with a United Nations of squads on the front of the chase, among them Saxo-Tinkoff and Katusha and Voeckler showing signs of fatigue.

Sixteen kilometers out, Voeckler had only 1:15 on the pursuit. World champion Costa finally dropped out of the chase, the rainbow jersey having spent himself in the chase.

The gap began coming down fast then. His chin inexplicably bloodied, Voeckler had just over a half minute with 13km to go.

Caught at last

On the Salito del Ello, en route to Villa Vergano, the Frenchman’s gap was down to 27 seconds, and the chase could finally see him. He was caught with 11.5km to go and Ag2r took the front with a pair of Movistars behind.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) had a go on the hardest part of the climb, but was quickly marked. Pozzovivo pushed the pace next, trailed by Rodriguez and Valverde.

Then Rodriguez jumped, just as he did last year, surging up the left side of the road, leading onto the maximum 15 percent grade and driving through the cheering crowds lining the ascent. Valverde and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) were chasing, as was Rafal Majka (Saxo)

But Purito was already on the descent and racing toward the finish, 9km down the road.

With a half-dozen kilometers remaining Rodriguez had only eight seconds’ advantage over the three-man chase, led by Valverde, who opened a few bike lengths over his companions, apparently more willing than the others to take risks on the wet descent.

Two kilometers out Rodriguez had perhaps 12 seconds over Valverde, who had definitively shed Martin and Majka.

He could not catch Purito, though — Rodriguez won his second consecutive Lombardia, kissing his fingertips and saluting the crowd, ahead of Valverde with Majka third.

“It was an incisive attack, I just couldn’t match it,” said Valverde. “Purito deserved to win.”

The victory set Rodriguez atop the UCI WorldTour rankings, something Purito was very happy about, especially considering his narrow loss to Costa at the world championships road race.

“This incredible solo victory makes me really proud, also because now I’m first in the UCI WorldTour individual ranking, a special classification I really care about,” he said.

“Obviously it would have been even a more special triumph if I wore the rainbow jersey of the world champion. But in cycling, and sports in general, you need to ride every loss out and look ahead. This victory helps me to forget the disappointment I felt after Florence and start again in 2014 with great motivations to go on and take more prestigious results.”

Race notes

• Casualties in the “Race of the Falling Leaves” included Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who abandoned after being caught in a pileup around 92km from the finish of the 242km one-day classic from Bergamo to Lecco. The spill left the Giro d’Italia champion limping with what seemed to be a left-knee injury.

• Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) also abandoned, as did Peter Sagan (Cannondale) And Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) never started, citing back pain.

• Among those who crashed and continued were Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Marcel Wyss (IAM Cycling), who found himself on the floor three times.

• And Pozzovivo suffered the indignity of crashing at the finish line, sliding for meters along the rain-slick road.