In a day when sickness forced Simon Yates to change his plans and Rob Powers missed the start, Orica-BikeExchange’s team leader Esteban Chaves showed coolness behind his years to win Il Lombardia. After the selection above Bergamo, he drove through the famous high city and waited patiently to win the three-man sprint.
Italian Diego Rosa (Astana) tried early before the final curve at 250 metres, how Dan Martin won two years ago. Chaves and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale) responded. Chaves held the wheel until the last moment, shooting ahead just as he approached the finish line among the city’s shops.
“The final kick I’ve done many times and I previewed that pavé section a couple of times,” Chaves said. “Rigoberto and I created a gap on Diego, but he closed it.
“Then it all came down to a sprint and you can’t have it hot head, you have to keep your cool. You have to give your best after the curve and not before it. You have to wait, and that’s easier to say than do because there are a lot of emotions with a race like Lombardia.”
Chaves became the first Colombian to win Il Lombardia and the first non-European to do so in its 110 years. Urán added to the Colombian celebrations with his third place.
He started the favourite after placing third overall in the Vuelta a España behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Sky), and winning the Giro dell’Emilia last week. Il Lombardia, however, did not start as planned.
Yates previewed the parcours with Chaves and the team Thursday, but fell sick and could not start. At the last moment, the WorldTour team called Australian Rob Powers and told him to board the next flight from Spain.
Powers arrived and signed in this morning in Como, but came off the team bus too late and found the roads crowded already with fans and cars. Chaves was one man down before kilometre zero with thousands of metres of climbing ahead with the famous Ghisallo climb and the undulating roads through Bergamo’s valleys.
“This Lombardia was very hard, around 5000 metres of climbing and the first two or three hours you just have to save your legs and I have to thank my team-mates who made sure that happened,” he said.
“We made the selection on the Selvino climb and then four of us went away on the descent. [Chaves, Urán, Rosa and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale)] And that’s where the difference was made in the end.”
Around 35km to race in the 241km monument, they moved free for the eventual victory.
The victory capped off a season that included second place in the Giro d’Italia behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and third overall in the Vuelta.
“When I turned professional, I settled down here in Bergamo. To win in Italy is truly special, and for sure a Classic like this, a monument,” added Chaves, who now spends his time in Spain when in Europe.
“This year the objective was to do a good classification in the Giro and the Vuelta, and then afterwards I want to aim for Lombardia because this race it special for me. I have a special place in my heart for this one.”
Chaves’s season ended today in Bergamo. He will return to Colombia and not defend his Abu Dhabi Tour title from 2015.