Tour of Lombardy photo gallery by Graham Watson>>
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) beat his rivals and the elements to win the Tour of Lombardy today in Lecco, Italy. He timed his attack on the final Villa Vergano climb just as the skies opened up with rain. Behind, a chase group lacked organisation, leaving Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Rigoberto Uran (Sky) to pick up second and third place seconds later.
"It's been perfect year for me, I almost don't believe it," said Lombardy's first Spanish winner. "This is one of the big classics, and I felt I could do it today. I saw the others were tired. I kept going and going, just to have my chance."
The sun that allowed some of the favourites to train on the parcours in the last two days disappeared today. It hid behind clouds and let the rain get on with its work. It made for a difficult test and a hard day out, one better faced at the front than with the peloton's tyre spray.
After 40km, three men gained up to 35 seconds. After 70km, the group re-shuffled and grew to 11 riders. After the Valcava, with its steep pitches in the final three km, the group thinned. By the base of the Muro di Sormano, only four led: Cristiano Salerno (Liquigas-Cannondale), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing), Alberto Losada (Katusha) and Romain Bardet (AG2R).
The Muro di Sormano returned for the first time in 50 years. It featured for only three years from 1960 to 1962, but race director Vincenzo Torriani cut it because the fans were helping too much.
"It was different in those times. They had the big gears, 42, but now we have 38- and 39-tooth rings," new world champion, Philippe Gilbert said yesterday. The 'wall' climbs 304 metres, covers 1.92km at an average of 15.8% - Italian Ercole Baldini recorded the fastest time of 9-24 minutes in 1962. Organisers are still crunching today's numbers, but Rodriguez led the main group over with 9-02 minutes.
Neo-pro Bardet led at the top and onto the main road to start the descent. Nibali rode in an eight-man group on the climb, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Rodriguez, Sky's Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao, Movistar's Rui Costa, and Nairo Quintana and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank).
Gilbert crashed and abandoned in his first race as a World Champion. On the descent of Sormano, he hit the deck with team-mate Alessandro Ballan and Luca Paolini (Katusha). He finished the day in the passenger's seat of the BMC car.
On the Ghisallo, Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) replaced Bardet as the solo leader. A 30-man group topped about 42 seconds back. With around 30km to the final Villa Vergano climb, the favourites, like Ryder Hesjedal, planned their assault.
Nibali crashed on a wet corner leading to Lake Como. One minute later, De Weert went down and lost his lead. On the lakeside, Nibali re-joined and the group sped towards the final climb. Rodriguez kept one eye on the sky and prepared to launch. Team-mate Alexandr Kolobnev went on Villa Vergano, Rodriguez countered.
Rodriguez's Lombardy win means that he now overtakes Bradley Wiggins (Sky) to top the UCI WorldTour rankings.
Tour of Lombardy 2012
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha in 6-36-27
2. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 9 secs
3. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky
4. Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing
5. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky
6. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank
8. Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Radioshack-Nissan
9. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
10. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana all same time
Gilbert: Crash scuppered chances of a win
Joaquim Rodriguez takes a rainswept victory in Tour of Lombardy
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