Tadej Pogačar joins select group of same season Tour/Lombardia winners
Tadej Pogačar joins Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Fausto Coppi as the only riders to have won the Tour de France and Il Lombardia in the same season, which isn't the worst group to find yourself in, is it?
What's more, of that trio only Eddy Merckx also won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the same year, as Pogačar has in 2021, with Merckx doing it in 1971 and 1972. But, you know, Merckx is Merckx.
After his third in the Olympics road race post-Tour, Pogačar looked to be lacking some form at both the European and World Championships but found his legs on the road from Como to Bergamo, as an ambitious attack with 35km still to go turned into a winning one.
The chase behind, containing world champion Julian Alaphilippe and Primož Roglič, couldn't get organised while the arrival of Fausto Masnada at the front of the race didn't bother Pogačar as the Slovenian brushed him aside with ease to win the two-up sprint for the line.
It increasingly looks to be a case of what Pogačar decides to win next, no 'ifs' even entering the conversation.
Fausto Masnada plays it perfectly but doesn't have the finish to match Pogačar
It was a story almost too good to be true as Masnada sailed down the descent of the Passo di Ganda on his local roads and eventually closed a 45-second gap to the Tour de France champion. Had he pulled off the win, it would have been a performance that would have lived long in the memory.
When the Italian arrived in Pogačar's wheel he refused to take a turn, not helping to eek out the pair's advantage, much to the UAE Team Emirates rider's chagrin.
But it was the perfect tactic. Masnada was hardly going to drop the Slovenian on the final steep kick of the Colle Aperto, and with Julian Alaphilippe in the group behind it was best to just wait and try tire Pogačar out before the sprint, or trust his team leader, the world champion, if the race came back together.
In the end, Masnada's sprint couldn't hold a candle to Pogačar's, and while he may be disappointed with second there seemed to be nothing else he could have done to alter the outcome. While the tactics were perfect, his legs weren't as perfect as Pogačar's.
Adam Yates outsprints Roglič in what must be a world-first
As the chase group entered the final kilometre and Primož Roglič hit the front, it looked inevitable. How many sprints has Roglič won like this in the past?
But then, a blur of red and navy, and a most unexpected one, as Adam Yates came through, his persistent sprint breaking the determination of Roglič as the Brit sailed across the line to take the final third spot on the podium, in a week where he's also managed fourth at the Giro dell-Emilia and second at Milano-Torino.
This is Yates' first-ever Monument podium, coming close with fourth at Liège in 2019, and is a result that reflects his impressive first year at Ineos, where second overall at the UAE Tour and a Volta Ciclista a Catalunya title is a good return for the 29-year-old who will hope to kick on again in 2022.
Remco Evenepoel out of contention early as he puts demons to rest
It will likely have been an emotional day for Remco Evenepoel, returning to the roads where his life flashed before his eye a mere 14 months ago, falling off a bridge on a descent at this race, ending his season and taking a long, painstaking recovery.
The young Belgian says he's now back to his best, and his legs at the recent World Championships seemed to confirm that, yet he fell away with more than 30km to go after Pogačar had set off up the road.
Maybe a tad disappointing for one of the pre-race favourites, who eventually had to settle for 19th, more than three minutes down on the Slovenian. But all-in-all, compared to the position he was in this time last year, perspective will see him pleased with his recovery and return to winning ways. For his rivals, the worry will be what he does at bike races next year and for many years to come.
A final flourish to end the season. Now...how long until the WorldTour returns?
There's an argument to say we are currently being spoiled with the array talent on display. Alaphilippe, Pogačar, Roglič, Van Aert, Evenepoel, and that's choosing only the best of the best.
Il Lombardia was, it's safe to say, a slow burner, but the finale was another thrilling display of out-and-out bike racing from Tadej Pogačar, one of a number of returning cast members who always puts on a show no matter what start line they're on.
At the moment it's hard to know just how we'll look back on this current generation of riders who can tear it up in both Grand Tours and one-day Classics, riding every race like it's their last. What we do know is that the new season can't come soon enough.
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