Pogačar still reigns, and farewell to Valverde and Nibali: Five talking points from Il Lombardia

The final WorldTour race of the season saw Enric Mas come close once again, and Julian Alaphilippe disappoint

Il Lombardia 2022
(Image credit: Getty Images)

 Pogačar reasserts status as world’s best

Il Lombardia 2022

(Image credit: Getty Images)

For the last couple of months, the cycling world has been ablaze with talk of the coming of age of one Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl). With the young Belgian having been crowned world champion just weeks after claiming a maiden Grand Tour title at the Vuelta a España, the question was being asked — is Evenepoel the best rider in the world?

Re-enter Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). As recently as three months ago, you’d struggle to find anyone willing to argue against the Slovenian as the world’s best, but his defeat at the Tour de France diluted the aura of invisibility he had established. 

By winning Il Lombardia on Saturday in such dominant fashion, however, Pogačar offered a timely reminder of just how peerlessly brilliant he is. He attacked to devastating effect on the Civiglio, with only Enric Mas (Movistar) able to follow, and could rely on his lethal finishing sprint to take victory over the Spaniard in the finale. 

Maybe Evenepoel has just about had the better season, but he hasn’t enjoyed the kind of prolonged period of success that Pogačar has. Since his first Tour success two years ago, never have several months gone by without him registering at least one huge result, whether it be his two Tour de France titles and one runner-up finish, or his three monument victories. Sure, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) got the better of him at the Tour this July, but Pogačar enjoyed revenge for that result in Lombardy, with the Dane floundering in 16th, demonstrating just how much more diverse the Slovenian's talents are. 

We can’t wait for him and Evenepoel to face-off in the future, in what’s likely to be a generation-defining rivalry. But for now, Pogačar remains the don of the peloton. 

Mas in danger of becoming cycling’s eternal bridesmaid

Il Lombardia 2022

(Image credit: Getty Images)

From Raymond Poulidor to Jan Ullrich, cycling history is full of exceptional athletes who are nevertheless better remembered for their defeats rather than their victories.

Is Enric Mas in danger of becoming the latest eternal bridesmaid? He was out-sprinted by Tadej Pogačar in the final of Il Lombardia to place second, to go alongside the three runner-up finishes at the Vuelta a España he’s already registered in his career.

To be fair to Mas, this was a seriously impressive ride. To be able to follow such a devastating Pogačar attack took very strong legs, and the pair were head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Like his defeat at the Vuelta to Remco Evenepoel, his failure to win was not down to his own shortcomings, but the brilliance of his opponent. 

But it’s true that Mas doesn’t win a lot — in fact, the Giro dell’Emilia last week was his first since April 2021. He still needs to develop more of a killer instinct to become one of the peloton’s very elite riders, but he’s improving all the time, and looks to be on the verge of his peak years. 

Nibali and Valverde bid quiet farewells

Il Lombardia 2022

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All eyes were on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) at Il Lombardia as they competed in the last races of their historic careers.

In this year of so many high-profile retirees from the peloton, which also includes Philippe Gilbert, Richie Porte and Tom Dumoulin, these two might just be the greatest of them all. It almost seemed unfair that they had to share the limelight at Lombardia and not have separate races each to bid farewell. 

Valverde had not won a race since February, and Nibali had been winless all year, but as such champions of the sport, you still sensed it was possible for them to find a way to give their careers the best possible send off.

Ultimately, however, both riders bowed out quietly. Given his aggressive instincts and love for putting on a show, a Nibali attack was highly anticipated, but the first and only time he was centre stage was when he was being dropped on the Civiglio climb. He went on to finish 24th.

Valverde was similarly anonymous, but more so because he was preserving energy. When the selections were made on the Civiglio, he was present in the small chase group that formed behind Pogačar, Mas and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious). Had he not had his teammate Mas up the road, maybe he could have attacked for a better result, but sixth-place was still a demonstration that the Spaniard was still able to be competitive right to the very end of his career. 

The new parcours harder than seemed

Il Lombardia 2022

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The removal of the Muro di Sormano from the finale of Il Lombardia led some to predict that this year’s edition would not be as difficult or selective as normal.

The climb was the hardest in the original route, always dropping many less capable riders out of contention, as well as making for a great spectacle with its passionate fans and colourful road graffiti. Its replacement by a second ascent of the much less difficult San Fermo della Battaglia appeared to play into the favour of the punchier riders, and brought into question the race’s status as the ‘climber’s classic’. 

However, this year’s race proved to be just as difficult as ever. The time gaps were as big as ever, with Landa the only rider to finish within 52 seconds of Pogačar and Mas, and the riders arrived at the finish in multiple small groups.

It appeared that the additional climbing added to the first half of this year’s route was enough to see the climbers come to the fore. Nobody was dropped on these early ascents, but the fatiguing effect of them became evident in the carriage that occurred on the Civiglio, where the riders were strewn all across the road.

Puncheurs like Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious) who might have fancied their chances this year were nowhere to be seen, while the top ten was full of pure climbers, from Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) in fourth and fifth to Romain Bardet (DSM) and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) in ninth and tenth. 

Even Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), who’s never been known as a rider for the classics, was right in the mix, placing third after he nearly managed to stick with Pogačar and Mas. This Lombardia was as much a climber’s edition as any in the past. 

No redemptive ending of season to forget for Julian Alaphilippe

Il Lombardia 2022

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There was to be no redemptive end to what has been Julian Alaphilippe’s annus horriblis.

It was clear as early as the Madonna del Ghisallo climb that he was not on a good day, as he hovered around the back of the peloton. He was dropped, and eventually finished 51st — exactly the same finishing position as he managed at the World Championships a fortnight ago. 

While he had shown no real form following his race-ending crash at the Vuelta a España in August, it still felt premature to write off a rider of Alaphilippe’s quality. 

The Frenchman therefore ends his crash and illness-marred 2022 with just the two wins, the leanest since 2016. For a rider who typically wins at least one of the world’s biggest races every season, that was some step down.

Alaphilippe wasn’t the only rider to leave Lombardy disappointed. Jonas Vingegaard didn’t have the legs to stay with the attacks on Civiglio despite putting his Jumbo-Visma team to work for much of the race, while Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux) was unable to capitalise on his good form as he crashed out. And Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) couldn’t rediscover the form that made him such a force during the spring, and finished down in 18th. 

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