Dan Martin closed out the year’s final Monument Classic with panache, jumping clear of a select bunch inside the last kilometer to deny some fast finishers in the group a chance to sprint for the win. New changes to Il Lombardia’s route certainly played their part in deciding the eventual winner of the race, with none of the many elite uphill specialists on the startlist able to get much separation on the climbs, but that didn’t deter the 27-year-old Irish star: he hung with the lead group and launched a brilliant late strike on the final flat to take the win while many of the of favorites simply watched him fly past. Martin may not have taken as many big results this season as he would have hoped, but his second Monument victory shouldn’t really come as a surprise, as he has flashed his great ability on numerous occasions throughout the year, only to be derailed several times by untimely crashes. After a great ride in La Fleche Wallonne, Martin looked to be in a great position to nab another Monument in the ensuing Liege-Bastogne-Liege and his first Grand Tour Top 10 in the Giro d’Italia. Crashes took him out of contention in both races, but he picked up his first Grand Tour Top 10 (in the Vuelta) and now he’s won that second Monument anyway. An explosive climber with a special talent for the one-day races and currently in his prime, Martin should be a major threat in the hilly classics for years to come.
Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde has been a major threat in the hilly classics for years already, but he followed a familiar script in Il Lombardia, hoping for a reduced sprint at the end of a tough day; that plan didn’t work in Ponferrada last week (where a lack of cohesion in a strong chasing group left Valverde and Simon Gerrans sprinting for the lower steps of the podium behind Michal Kwiatkowski), and it failed again here. As strong as Valverde has been in 2014, his results have included a whole lot of near misses, but I’m not sure he plans on changing his approach any time soon.
Rui Costa landed another big result in a season also filled with near misses, but it can’t be said that he hasn’t given 100% trying to turn those close calls into wins: just as was the case in Montreal, where he finished 2nd, he made the attempt to jump clear late here but was unable to get any space, and still managed to add a nice result to his palmares. In fact, this was his first ever podium in a Monument Classic.
Tim Wellens of Lotto Belisol has been a revelation this year, and his 4th place in Il Lombardia is a nice addition to his already impressive list of achievements in 2014. He has explosiveness and has performed well on difficult profiles throughout the season. He tried to escape from the lead group over the Bergamo Alta, and though he did not succeed, his Top 5 finish in the company of an Olympic champion, a World Champion, and multiple Monument winners is something to be proud of.
The parcours of the new route was not as favorable to Joaquim Rodriguez, who could only manage 8th place after dominating this race in back-to-back years. Fellow climbing specialist Fabio Aru was confident coming into this race and earned a lot of attention as a potential contender, but the last two climbs just weren’t hard enough to launch the pure climbers to victory, and the young Italian had to settle for 9th.
Another rider who will be disappointed with his day in Italy is newly crowned World Champ Michal Kwiatkowski. He spent much of the day very close to the front of the peloton, looking to be in good shape, and with the way the race played out, one might have expected a strong challenge for victory from Kwiatkowski, but he was badly affected by cramps in the last 10 kilometers of the race, suddenly cutting the power to his engine just as things started to heat up. It’s not the result he was hoping for, of course, but it’s been a long season for Kwiatkowski, and now he’ll at least have an opportunity to recharge the batteries before what’s sure to be an exciting 2015 in the rainbow jersey.
With Il Lombardia in the rearview mirror, only one race remains on the 2014 WorldTour calendar! Stay tuned for the preview of the Tour of Beijing, and plenty more analysis as the season comes to a close.
Photo by MorBCN.