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Unheralded Oliver Zaugg (Leopard-Trek) stunned a host of favorites to claim the first win of his professional career at the Tour of Lombardy on Saturday.
Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) finished second in the season-ending classic, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) third place, eight seconds in arrears after six hours and 20 minutes of racing.
Zaugg, who finished 11th overall in the 2008 Vuelta a España, had been largely considered a domestique.
But after Leopard team bosses nominated him and teammate Jakob Fuglsang, who finished fourth last year, as their road captains for the day, the 30-year-old seized his chance.
“I have always been a helper during my career,” said an ecstatic Zaugg. “Ever since I started racing, my job has been to help my captains. The team believed that my condition was good, and they gave me a chance today.
“They designated Jakob and me as captains together. I am incredibly grateful that the team gave me a shot in a race like Lombardy.”
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), winner of the previous two editions, was one of several favorites for the “Race of the Falling Leaves” who struggled to keep pace in a tough finale where Zaugg made all the difference.
Gilbert eventually finished eighth, pipped at the line by Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli).
“What can I say? The result was logical and, as expected, it came down to the last climb,” said Gilbert, who has won five of the season’s 13 classics but admitted he was on his limit during Lombardy
“I was bordering on cramping up,” he added.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), the 2010 Vuelta champion, had come into this year’s race determined to make amends for crashing out last year, when Gilbert tamed wet and windy conditions to claim his second consecutive win.
Nibali made his intentions clear with an acceleration early on the Madonna del Ghisallo climb, which caused a first selection in the peloton.
He crested the summit, 53km from the finish, with a lead of 1:20 on Gilbert and Fuglsang.
But once back on flat terrain around the shores of Lake Como, climbing specialist Nibali struggled to ward off a 34-man peloton being driven mainly by Team Sky, with Michael Rogers leading the chase on the way to the day’s final climb at Villa Vergano.
Nibali was caught 16.5 km from the finish, where he trailed home over seven minutes off the pace, and left lamenting changes to this year’s course.
“When I had a gap of 1:40 I really thought I could win. I gave it everything, but the road from the Ghisallo to the next climb was too flat for my liking,” he said.
It was on the steep pitches towards the summit that Zaugg pulled ahead to leave a dwindling group of frontrunners in his wake, coming over the summit with a 15sec lead.
On the 9km stretch to the finish in Lecco, two chase groups organized behind him, but they ultimately failed to reel the Swiss in.
“It worked out very well,” added Zaugg. “My hope had been that I would attack solo and hold off the others all the way to the finish.
“I don’t have a sprint. I’m not a big guy. What I did was the only scenario in which I could win the race. The way things played out was exactly what I had planned.”
He becomes the fourth Swiss to win the race — one of cycling’s five classic monuments with Milan-SanRemo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — and the first since Oscar Camenzind in 1998.
Zaugg’s victory also gave Team Leopard, for whom countryman Fabian Cancellara failed to fire in the cobbled spring classics, a first major classics win of the season.
- 1. Oliver Zaugg (Sui), Leopard-Trek, 6:20:02
- 2. Daniel Martin (Irl), Garmin-Cervélo, at 0:08
- 3. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Esp), Team Katusha, at 0:08
- 4. Ivan Basso (Ita), Liquigas-Cannondale, at 0:08
- 5. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol), Lampre-ISD, at 0:08