After over six hours, the race came down to just two riders - the Slovenian and Enric Mas (Movistar) - with the latter unable match his opponent's fierce kick down the finishing straight.
The duo broke away from the peloton with 19km to go, before being joined by Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) at the front of the race. On the punchy final climb, the 32-year-old was dropped, but held on for third place - his first podium finish in a Monument.
With his victory, Pogačar added a third Monument to his palmarès and became the first rider to win back-to-back editions of Il Lombardia since Joaquim Rodríguez completed the feat in 2013.
"It's really amazing to come back and repeat the victory," Pogačar said after the race, before adding that he believes his season has been "almost perfect".
How it happened
The 116th edition of Il Lombardia offered the race’s longest parcours in eight years, stretching 253km from Bergamo to Como. With almost 5,000m of elevation gain to tackle, the race was billed as one for the peloton’s most astute climbers, particularly those willing to take risks on the descents in the finale.
A 10-rider breakaway formed shortly after the flag drop, gaining a five-minute gap up the road. The group, however, was kept on a tight leash. Having ticked off the first 100km, their advantage fell to just two and a half minutes.
With 148km to go, news emerged that Mikel Nieve (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) had abandoned the race. The Spaniard, a three-time Giro d’Italia stage winner, suffered a collarbone injury in a nasty crash and was forced to withdraw. Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) hit the tarmac not long after and, with his kit in tatters, chose to step into his team car.
Into the final 100km, a calmness took hold of the race as the riders wheeled towards the metaphoric storm. The breakaway was absorbed by the peloton with 71km remaining and the legendary Madonna del Ghisallo looming large.
Jumbo-Visma’s Chris Harper led the charge into the climb’s lower slopes, with UAE Team Emirates in tow. Behind, the bunch began to thin out and a host of riders, including the Italian road champion Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), dropped off the back.
João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) was the first to see the chapel at the Ghisallo’s summit. The Portuguese road champion crested the climb, before guiding his teammates down towards the punchy trio of ascents that would form the race’s finale. Race favourites Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Pogačar remained nestled in the front group.
The Slovenian’s teammates shared tempo-setting duties up the 2.7km-long San Fermo della Battaglia. The narrow road, lined with clamouring spectators, offered little room to attack, and so the race would have to wait a little longer for the first fireworks to go off.
The perfect launchpad came 20km from the line in the form of the Civiglio - a 4.2km climb pitched at a taxing 9.7%. For Alaphilippe, the slopes proved too much. The two-time world champion fell away from the leading group along with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan), who couldn’t hold the pace on the final outing of his career.
Pogačar fired the first shot with 19km to go, rising out of the saddle and kicking through the pedals. On his wheel, an in-form Mas swiftly followed, and the duo exchanged blows as the Civiglio ramped up.
On the descent, Landa made it three at the front of the race, and with the trio's advantage at 40 seconds, the podium looked all but decided. It would be up to them to determine who would take which step.
With 6km to go, sensing Pogačar was whirring up his engine, Mas launched an attack, and the two race leaders stormed away, leaving Landa in the dust.
The Movistar rider bided his time on Pogačar's wheel as they passed under the flamme rouge. With 200m to go, Mas catapulted himself into the wind, forcing his rival to open up his sprint.
The duo rifled towards the line on opposite sides of the road, and while the battle appeared close, it was never in doubt for Pogačar. This year's Tour de France runner-up was able to sit up in his saddle before he reached the line to celebrate his third Monument victory in just two years.
Landa rolled home for third, and as the bunch fought for minor places, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) crossed the finish line for the final time in his professional career.
Il Lombardia 2022: Bergamo to Como (253km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 6-21-22
2. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at same time
3. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 10s
4. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 52s
5. Carlos Rodríguez (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
6. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
8. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM, all at 1-24
10. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-26
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