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For some reason, there were few that marked Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) as the favorite to win Il Lombardia on Sunday. The “Race of the Falling Leaves,” was the final men’s WorldTour race of the 2021 season. Il Lombardia has a special place in cycling history and this past weekend, Pogačar joined the likes of Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx as the only riders to win two monuments and the Tour de France in the same season.
Pogačar won the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Slovenia, the Tour de France, and Il Lombardia this year; and he added the bronze medal at the Olympic road race. Oh, and he’s only 23 years old. Arguably the most talented rider of this generation, it’s astounding that no one followed Pogačar when he attacked with 35 kilometers to go at Il Lombardia. Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was the only rider to catch the Slovenian, but Pogačar easily won the sprint in Bergamo.
This is the final WorldTour race of the 2021 season, Il Lombardia, by the numbers.
The 2021 edition of Il Lombardia featured a new route from Como to Bergamo, coincidentally the home of Italian rider Fausto Masnada. Featuring six major climbs and a total of 4,500 meters (14,760 ft.) of climbing over the 239km route, the autumn classic was one of the toughest races of the year. Few riders overlapped with Paris-Roubaix, raced just a week before in an unusual October slot. Sonny Colbrelli (Team Bahrain-Victorious) didn’t feature at Il Lombardia, but a host of major players in professional cycling did, including Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), Mike Woods and Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), and others.
With so many stacked teams and race favorites, the action might have kicked off with over 100km to go as it had in the European championships, world championships, and Paris-Roubaix. Instead, the race was relatively calm through the first climb of the day, the Madonna del Ghisallo. There, the breakaway went which included Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Trek-Segafredo), Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-NextHash), and five others.
Masnada – Madonna del Ghisallo
Average Power: 302w (4.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 330w (5.1w/kg)
First 3km: 382w NP (5.9w/kg) for 5:13
In post-race reports, there were few, if any, mentions of the Roncola Alta climb that came less than halfway through Il Lombardia. This is what makes professional cycling so hard: before we tuned in, and before the TV cameras focused on the action, riders were putting out close to 6w/kg for 20 minutes, with more than 150km to go at this late-season monument.
Masnada – Roncola Alta
Average Power: 364w (5.6w/kg)
Peak 20-min: 379w NP (5.8w/kg)
Israel Start-Up Nation, Jumbo-Visma, and Deceuninck-Quick-Step kept the break in check until the Dossena climb with around 90km to go. It was there that the race truly kicked off, with Eddie Dunbar (Ineos Grenadiers) going first, followed by Masnada, Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo), and a few others. When watching a replay of this race, note how much work Masnada did before the crux of the race, and Pogačar’s attack.
Masnada – Dossena
Average Power: 356w (5.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 367w (5.7w/kg)
Following attacks in the first 4.5km: 396w NP (6.1w/kg) for 9:35
This group was hauled back in by Ineos and UAE-Team Emirates, but it wasn’t long before Powless attacked again, with Masnada following. Pogačar saved loads of energy on this climb compared to Masnada who, at the time, seemed to be burning his matches for race favorite and world champion Julian Alaphilippe.
Masnada – attacking on the Zambla Alta
Average Power: 319w (4.9w/kg)
First attack: 447w (6.9w/kg) for 2:53
Second attack: 377w (5.8w/kg) for 6:45
Over the top of the Zambla Alta a few kilometers later, the peloton was together with Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Masnada leading down the tricky descent. This was the first display of Masnada’s descending form that would put him in a race-winning position later in the day.
By that point, the break of the day was caught and the race came down to the final major climb of the day: the Passo di Ganda. At 9.2km long with an average of 7.3 percent, the Passo di Ganda isn’t the most difficult climb in the world, but it had a number of 10 – 12 percent ramps that served as the perfect launching pads for attacks.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Nibali the first to attack on the Passo di Ganda, and he was quickly joined by Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), and Pogačar. The break gained a handful of seconds with little reaction from the chase group, and within moments Pogačar attacked again, going solo with over 30km to go.
The chase group thinned to nine as Pogačar extended his advantage to 30 seconds by the summit of the climb, capping off one of the most impressive climbing performances we’ve seen this season. On a draft-heavy climb, we can only estimate Pogačar’s power-to-weight ratio given his time up the climb. But with Woods, Roglič, Yates, and more pushing over 6.1w/kg behind, we knew for certain that Pogačar was riding at a different level.
Masnada – Passo di Ganda
Average Power: 396w (6.1w/kg)
Attack over the crest: 380w (5.8w/kg) for 2:01
Pogačar – Passo di Ganda
Estimated Average Power: ~425w (~6.4w/kg)
On a rolling and narrow road just past the summit of the Passo di Ganda, Masnada – who had already attacked, been dropped, and caught back on – attacked again out of the chase group, going solo in search of Pogačar. The group hesitated, and as they began the descent, Pogačar had a 30 second lead on Masnada, while the Italian had just 15 seconds over the chase group. Incredibly, Masnada began closing the gap to Pogačar second by second, and by the end of the 19 hairpins, the Italian had joined Pogačar with 15km to go.
Even after attacking on the Passo di Ganda, and attacking on the previous climbs, and working for Alaphilippe, and attacking on the previous descent, Masnada was able to hit every corner of the descent with tons of speed, and sprint out of them at nearly 800w. In the 13 minutes that it took to descend the Passo di Ganda and catch Pogačar, I count 21 spikes of over 600w (9.5w/kg) in Masnada’s power file.
The Italian only traded a few, soft pulls with Pogačar who was the clear favorite to win the sprint. The double Tour de France champion drove the pace as the chase group floundered. When Woods, Roglič, Valverde, and co. started looking at each other with 10km to go, it was all over. This is how easy is can be to sit on someone’s wheel, even when they’re the reigning Tour de France champion.
Masnada – sitting on Pogačar’s wheel on the road to Bergamo
Average Power: 243w (3.7w/kg)
Average Speed: 46.9kph (29.1mph)
On the final climb into Bergamo, Masnada tried once to drop Pogačar, but the Slovenian closed the gap in the saddle much to the homeboy’s dismay. Pogačar led from the front in the final few hundred meters and easily triumphed in the sprint to claim his second monument of the year. Having done so much work throughout the race, Masnada more than earned his place on the podium ahead of Adam Yates who led home the chase group 51 seconds later. Surprisingly, Masnada is currently out of contract for 2022, but that could easily change after his incredible performance at Il Lombardia.
Masnada – final 5km of Il Lombardia
Average Power: 258w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 365w (5.6w/kg)
Final climb to Bergamo city entrance: 440w (6.8w/kg) for 3:15
Final sprint: 917w (14.1w/kg) for 8 seconds
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