Report: Tour of Lombardy

Oliver Zaugg of Leopard Trek won his first pro race in eight years and what a race to win, the classic “race of the Falling leaves” or the Tour of Lombardy.

Credit: Leopard Trek Website

The Tour of Lombardy introduced a new finale in the 105th edition of the race that saw riders ascend the Villa Vergana nine kilometers before the finish. Zaugg made his move as the main peloton, reduced to around 40 riders, approached the climb’s summit.

“I have always been a helper during my career,” said an ecstatic Zaugg. “Ever since I started racing, my job has been to help my captains. The team believed that my condition was good, and they gave me a chance today. They designated Jakob [Fuglsang] and me as captains together. I am incredibly grateful that the team gave me a shot in a race like Lombardy.”

A six man break dominated the first half of the race. Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo), Omar Bertazzo (Androni Giocattoli), Andrea Pasqualon (Colnago-CSF Inox), Claudio Corioni (Acqua & Sapone), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) and Mikel Astarloza (Eusktaltel-Euskadi) broke away from the bunch ahead of the Valcava after 40 kilometers of racing.

A flurry of activity in the peloton over the Colma di Sormano served to whittle down the peloton and peg back the break’s advantage. Luca Paolini (Katusha) set a rapid tempo on the descent that saw the front end of the peloton further splinter. Fuglsang made the selection along with Paolini, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Pablo Lastras (Movistar).

“I was calm when Jakob went away,” said Zaugg. “I knew that I needed to stay calm, focused and wait for my chance. I had a plan to time my attack on the final climb like I did. I knew this was my best hope for victory. When Jakob went, that was his chance, and I would wait for mine.”

Sixty kilometers from the finish, Fuglsang and Gilbert would briefly lead the race until Nibali launched an attack from behind on the Madonna del Ghisallo. Nibali bridged up and then passed the leading duo. By the time Nibali had reached the summit of the penultimate climb, he had a 1:20 advantage over his chasers.

Behind, Gilbert and Fuglsang gave chase with Paolini until they were joined by the third group on the road. The seven riders were caught by the main bunch less than a kilometer from the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo.

“I knew that I was in good shape,” commented Zaugg. “I remained calm with Nibali off the front. I proved at Beghelli that I had the form. A tactical error cost me the result. It happens often for me that my best form comes at the end of the season. I always come out of the Vuelta really fresh. I knew I could do something here today. I had my attack in mind all week. I simply had to bide my time.”

Nibali retained his advantage as he sped down the descent while Sky led the chase. The gap held steady around the 1:30 mark as the peloton charged towards Vergana. Suddenly, around kilometer 20, the gap began to tumble quickly. Within a single kilometer, the field had halved Nibali’s lead. Nibali rejoined the bunch 16.6 kilometers from Lecco.

Seven kilometers later, on the upper slopes of Vergana, Zaugg launched his attack.

“It worked out very well,” noted Zaugg. “I got a gap right away. My hope had been that I would attack solo and hold off the others all the way to the finish. I don’t have a sprint. I’m not a big guy. What I did was the only scenario in which I could win the race. The way things played out was exactly what I had planned.”

All went as planned with one exception.

“My radio didn’t work, so after my attack I had no clear view on the gap,” Zaugg explained. “I knew I could only go full gas and hope they wouldn’t catch me back, so that’s what I did. I controlled my bike on the six kilometers downhill and then I went all out on the three kilometers of flat road to the finish. I had no idea what my gap was as I headed to the line.”

Zaugg’s gap was small. The peloton had exploded in the wake of his attack, and Domenico Pozzovivo (Colgano CSF-Inox), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Daniel Martin (Garmin Cervelo) were the first to give chase. The trio was joined by Ivan Basso (Liquigas Cannondale) and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-ISD) who worked together in an attempt to bring back Zaugg. Despite the shared effort, the chasers were unable to catch Zaugg who soloed across the finish line in Lecco eight seconds ahead of Martin in second and Rodriguez in third.

“I have had many colleagues and friends believe that I had a big win in my legs,” said Zaugg. “I need to thank them for their support. This is a huge, happy day for me.”

Daniel Martin, a former British Junior Road Race Champion won the sprint for second ahead of Katusha’s  Joaquin Rodriguez and Ivan Basso.

1. Oliver Zaugg, Leopard Trek     6:20:02
2. Daniel Martin, Garmin Cervelo  @ 8 secs
3. Joaquin Rodriguez, Katusha
4. Ivan Basso, Liquigas-Cannondale
5. Przemyslaw Niemiec, Lampre-ISD
6. Domenico Pozzovivo, Colnago CSF-Inox
7. Giovanni Visconti, Farnese Vini @15 secs
8. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma Lotto
9. Carlos Gomez, Acqua & Sapone
10. Riccardo Chiarini, Androni Giaocattoli