Spain’s Joaquin Rodriguez of the Katusha team made up for his disappointing world championships defeat by defending his crown in the 107th edition of the Tour of Lombardy one-day cycling classic on Sunday.
Fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished second with Poland’s Rafael Majka of Saxo Bank in third after 242 km of racing in rainy conditions between Bergamo and Lecco on the shores of Lake Como.
It's a huge satisfaction, but it wasn't easy because everyone knew how much I wanted to win
Rodriguez, pipped on the finish line of the worlds’ road race last Sunday by Portugal’s Rui Costa, made his decisive move on the steepest section of the fifth and final climb, powering ahead of a select group of frontrunners.
The Spanish climbing specialist went on to build a small lead on Valverde and Irishman Dan Martin and maintained his advantage over the closing kilometres to cross the finish line solo.
Valverde, criticised by Rodriguez for failing to chase Costa down last week, battled to close the gap but eventually crossed the line 17secs in arrears.
Majka finished in third, at 23secs, and ahead of Martin after the Garmin rider, who was seen trying to fix a problem with his bike in the final 500 metres, appeared to suffer a setback in the closing kilometres.
“It’s a huge satisfaction, but it wasn’t easy because everyone knew how much I wanted to win,” said Rodriguez, who produced an almost identical attack on the race’s final climb as the one which led to his maiden win last year.
Rodriguez’s victory comes at the tail end of a season in which he finished runner-up at the Tour of Catalonia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, both times to Martin, and in Florence last week.
Having spent the past week lamenting what might have been, and questioning Valverde’s tactics, the Spaniard widely known as ‘Purito’ (Little Cigar) said it was time to move on.
“I spent a lot of this week thinking about what happened,” said Rodriguez.
“But we have to look ahead. Otherwise, you can’t move on.”
Earlier in the race Italian Vincenzo Nibali’s victory bid in the ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ ended when he was involved in a multiple pile-up, the Giro d’Italia champion suffering an apparent knee injury and pulling out.
Not long after, the battle to win one of the season’s five cycling ‘Monuments’ race moved up a gear.
Valverde’s Movistar team, including Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, helped set a searing pace on the steep Sormano climb, an effort which dropped several contenders, including Belgium’s former two-time winner Phillipe Gilbert.
The technical descent, during which Valverde and Quintana attacked, leading to the Madonna di Ghisallo climb exacted a further toll.
They were soon joined by three other riders, including Frenchman Thomas Voeckler who attacked solo to build a near three minute lead before seeing his audacious bid snuffed out with 11.5 km remaining.
On the Villa Vergano climb, a number of specialists moved to the front in anticipation of the crucial, final ramps.
Rodriguez waited for the steepest section before making a move which no one was able to follow.
“It was an incisive attack, I just couldn’t match it,” said Valverde.
“Purito deserved to win.”
With Britain’s Chris Froome pulling out with a back injury on Saturday, the win allowed Rodriguez – who was 80 points behind the Tour de France champion in the WorldTour standings – to retake the number one spot.
“This year I have been unlucky whereas last year everything went well for me,” said the Spaniard.
“I lost the Tour of Catalonia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege to Dan Martin, and I wasn’t 100 percent at the Tour de France.
“So when victory does come, it tastes all the more sweet. And taking the number one spot again shows how consistent I have been.”