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Tadej Pogačar outsprints Eric Mas to defend Il Lombardia title

Pogačar and Mas go to finish line together after lighting up final with series of attacks on Civiglio and Battaglia climbs.

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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) outsprinted Enric Mas (Movistar) and successfully defended his Il Lombardia title on Saturday.

Pogačar beat back Mas with a long sprint into Como to claim his third monument victory and end his season on a high after seeing the Tour de France wrestled from his grip in the summer.

Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) came across in third for his first trip to a monument podium.

“It’s really amazing to come back and to repeat the victory,” Pogačar said. “The teamwork today, I cannot say how grateful I am for the work they did. It was such an amazing job. To pull it off for the last race of the season for Lombardia – it’s amazing.”

Pogačar, Mas and Landa hit the final Battaglia climb at 7km to go with a 40-second lead after UAE Emirates put on the pain and set the tone ahead of an explosive final that had seen the final three pull clear.

Defending champion Pogačar looked coiled to pounce at any moment after his UAE Emirates team had set a crushing pace through the back half of the race.

However, it was Mas that went first, uncorking a surge at 6km to go that left Landa swinging and reduced the race to two.

The Movistar co-captain surged again toward the summit of the short slope only to see Pogačar counter and pull past in a statement of ruthless racing poise. The twosome roared into the final kilometers locked on each others’ wheels, and all was set for fast-finishing Pogačar to double up his 2021 victory with a long grinding sprint.

“The race went just how we wanted,” Pogačar explained. “I tried to attack on the Civiglio, but Mas was on the same level as me on the climbs so we tried to co-operate to the final.”

Pogačar closes out his season with a marquee win after missing out on his Liège defense in spring and seeing Jonas Vingegaard overturn his control of the Tour in summer. With headline victories at Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, GP Montréal and now Lombardia, the 24-year-old is content with his 2022.

“I would say almost perfect,” he said of how he rated his season.

Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde closed out their decades-long careers with one final turn at the Italian monument. The two illustrious veterans both lasted through to the decisive Civiglio climb before being dropped 20km out from the finish.

Breakaway given no room as Nieve, Pozzovivo crash out

The final monument of the season started per the script Saturday. A breakaway of 10 rolled away early doors and got a good gap, but unlike some of the marathon distance races, the group was given no room as leading teams Jumbo-Visma, UAE Emirates and Movistar suffocated the race.

The gap hovered at two to three minutes for the opening 150km of the race before being pulled back rapidly as the race rumbled toward the potentially decisive Madonna del Ghisallo climb.

The break was caught just ahead of the climb to the iconic church as the tempo skyrocketed to leave the race all together with some 70km still to race.

The hot pace through the early hours of the race saw several stinging crashes.

Mikel Nieve (Caja Rural) fell hard on his collarbone and abandoned in what was the final race of his 14-year-career. Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché Wanty – Gobert Matériaux) was the next veteran out of the race after a heavy fall saw him bloodied up across his legs and body.

UAE Emirates set up Pogačar with hot pace

Pogačar’s UAE Emirates team put the race on lockdown over the Ghisallo and the first of two ascents of the Battaglia.

João Almeida, Marc Hirschi and Davide Formolo all took long pulls that stretched out the bunch and left riders like Julian Alaphilippe yo yo-ing on and off the thinning peloton.

Pogačar finally attacked out of the UAE pain-train at 19km to go. Formolo stretched the bunch to its limit before the double Tour de France champion sprang out of the wheel, dropping all his rivals bar Mas.

Landa dangled just a handful of seconds back as Pogačar and Mas traded accelerations up the 10 percent kicker but finally caught across on the sinuous descent to set up the three-rider final on the second Battaglia ascent.

A chase group came together 40 seconds further back on the rampaging lead trio. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe), Romain Bardet (DSM) and a handful more tried to claw back the gap but never gained ground.

One last dance for Nibali, Valverde

Nibali and Valverde were at the center of the startline ceremonies Saturday.

Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde got heroes’ farewells Saturday. The two illustrious veterans closed their careers at the “race of the falling leaves” and shared a moment on the pre-race podium as Italian and Spanish cycling saw two of their champions race one last time.

Valverde’s Movistar team was at the fore throughout the race after the 42-year-old started as a five-star favorite.

Nibali was in the front group through to the final 22km circuit as massed home crowds cheered and waved banners for two-time Giro d’Italia champion and double Lombardia winner.

However, both the old timers’ hopes were done for when the race exploded on the Civiglio climb and Pogačar, Mas and Landa pulled clear.

Valverde latched onto the chase groups to win the sprint for sixth, 1:24 back. Nibali finished in the top-25, a further minute behind.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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