MILAN, Oct 04, 2013 (AFP) – At least three of the world’s top one-day
classics riders could be forgiven for having a degree of revenge on their
minds when they line up for Tour of Lombardy on Sunday.
The Italian classic, one of five one-day ‘Monuments’ popularly known as the
‘Race of the Falling Leaves’, traditionally signals the end of the one-day
racing season in Europe ahead of the autumn months.
For Spaniards Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde and Italian Vincenzo
Nibali, however, it offers a chance to atone for missing out being crowned
world road race champion in Florence last week.
All three riders were in contention to win cycling’s coveted rainbow jersey
at the end of a hilly 272.2 kilometres, during which incessant rain wiped out
the entire British team and made for a truly epic race.
However a crash by Nibali, combined with confusing tactics by the
Spaniards, gave Rui Costa the chance to become Portugal’s first world road
champion and he took it with both hands, pipping Rodriguez at the line.
The glum faces worn by Rodriguez and Valverde on the podium mirrored the
depth of their feelings but the inquest into why Spain failed to come up
trumps is not over.
Rodriguez, widely known by his nickname ‘Purito’ (Little Cigar), is still
bitter after Valverde failed to counder Costa’s late attack which snuffed his
hopes out in stunning fashion.
“When the world title slips from your fingers like that, you can’t forget
it so easily,” Rodriguez told Marca.com earlier this week.
“We had the legs to win and were staring victory in the face, but even
though Alejandro and I were the strongest we still failed to win.”
Rodriguez last year became Spain’s first Lombardy champion and despite the
likelihood of being closely marked, he will saddle up as a favorite.
Lombardy’s prize does not come with the rainbow stripes associated with the
world champion but it could help Rodriguez, and others, get over last week’s
Starting in Bergamo, the 242 km race takes in five climbs, some of which
are formidably steep, while racing on narrow, twisting roads before ending on
a 120-metre long home straight.
Rodriguez could have extra motivation in that a victory or second place,
coupled with Britain’s Chris Froome scoring no points, would give him the lead
of the World Tour series.
But the Spaniard, currently with an 80-point deficit on the Tour de France
champion, seems more intent on erasing the memory of last week’s blow.
“Even if I didn’t win the World Tour, victory in Lombardy would help get
rid of this nasty taste,” Rodriguez added.
Among those left sore by seven hours of suffering in horrendous conditions
last week was Nibali, whose last came close to the Lombardy podium when he
finished fifth in 2010.
Nibali deserved more than a fourth-place finish last Sunday after battling
back into contention following a late crash and the Astana team leader is
expected to be among the contenders.
Another Italian, however, has his eye on a race the hosts won eight years
in succession before Belgium’s Phillipe Gilbert secured the first of his two
consecutive wins in 2009.
Michele Scarponi showed good form while supporting Nibali last week but
will look for teammate Diego Ulissi to do likewise on Sunday, four days after
his Lampre teammate showed his form by winning the Milan-Turin semi-classic.
All of them, meanwhile, may be keeping an eye on Costa. Amid emotions which
are still fresh post-worlds, he will put his new rainbow jersey on display for
the first time.
As if Rodriguez needed any further inspiration, the Portuguese will line up
alongside Movistar teammate Valverde.