Vincenzo Nibali follows his own template for victory
Today, the Bahrain-Merida rider again used the Civiglio as his launch-pad, again put time into everyone on the descent, and again held on to a lead of over 20 seconds to win the race for a second time.
Nibali has clearly worked out a template for winning Il Lombardia when it finishes in Como, and nobody could no anything to stop him despite the predictability of his tactics.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who had been one of the chasers left in his wake at the 2015 edition, tried to pre-empt any attack by making his own move on the Civiglio, but bridged up to him before the summit, then distanced him on the technical downhill.
The result is another high point in Nibali’s career, which now includes two Monument victories to go alongside his four Grand Tour triumphs. Still only 32, the Italian’s status as one of the all-time greats continues to grow.
Julian Alaphilippe still a nearly man
There will surely come a time when Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) will win the very biggest races, but for now he remains a perennial nearly man.
Hi attack today with around five kilometres to go was among the most explosive of the race, and was enough to drop every rider in the chasing group. The only problem was that Nibali was already far out ahead up the road, meaning the Frenchman had to settle for the familiar finishing position of runner-up.
Already this season he has come close to winning the biggest one-day races, having been out-sprinted into third at Milan-San Remo, and being caught with just a handful of kilometres to go at the World Championships road race having broken clear of the bunch.
Look further back, and you’ll remember how close he has come to winning an Ardennes classic, having finished second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2015, and La Flèche Wallonne in both 2015 and 2016.
Today’s performance was further confirmation of his considerable talent, and he becomes one of just a select number of riders to have finished on the podium in three different Monuments. It can’t be long before the 25-year old reaches the top step in one.
Sky’s main men not at their best
Despite bringing a star-studded team to Il Lombardia, Team Sky were unable to have as big an impact on the race as might have been expected.
Their two previous monument winners, Michal Kwiatkowski and Wout Poels, were both pretty much anonymous (the former abandoning), indicating a lack of form for both after tiring seasons. Diego Rosa fared better, with an attack in pursuit of Nibali during the closing stages, but that quickly faded.
Instead it was up to the on-form Gianni Moscon to deliver the goods, and the Italian was indeed active in the finale, animating the chase group with accelerations of his own, and winning the sprint for third.
In what is becoming an alarmingly familiar trend, however, he was again caught up in controversy as Alexis Vuillermoz expressed anger at the way he sprinted for the line. As always seems to be the case with Moscon, watch this space for further developments.
British and Irish hopes fail to deliver
Kwiatkowski and Poels weren’t the only big names unable to get involved in the business end of the race – Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) were also conspicuous by their absence.
As a former winner of this race, Martin seemed to be among the riders best equipped to win the race, despite a lack of form. His legs let him down, however, and instead Quick-Step Floors relied on Philippe Gilbert and Alaphilippe to animate the finale.
Better things had been expected of Yates, following his second-place finish at Milano-Torino on Thursday, but he too was lacking in form, and was spotted being shelled out of the peloton on the Civiglio.
In hindsight, perhaps too much should not have been expected of Yates, considering that the young man has had such a challenging season, including competing in and finishing two Grand Tours in a season for the first time in his career. Like much of the peloton, he’ll be relishing the chance to rest during the upcoming off-season.
Worrying crashes cause concern
Two horrible crashes on the same corner of the Muro di Sormano descent caused a shockwave of worry across the peloton and television viewers.
First Laurens De Plus (Quick-Step Floors) misjudged a corner, and toppled over the barrier in what looked like a potentially deadly drop. Fortunately, although the medics spent some time with him before taking him to hospital, he has reportedly suffered no serious injuries.
Off-camera, Jan Bakelants (Ag2r-La Mondiale) also crashed on the same corner, and has also been taken to hospital.
The sight of a rider falling over such a steep slope is a harrowing one, and two separate incidents on the same stretch of road will surely bring into question the safety of this particular descent.