Il Lombardia was the final race of the 2016 WorldTour, and for several riders, it was the final race of their careers. The champagne corks were popping at the Trek-Segafredo bus in Bergamo as both Fränk Schleck and Ryder Hesjedal hung up their wheels and reflected on the past 15 or so years.
"Everyone told me that I need to enjoy the last kilometers because it's going to be something special, and I was waiting to feel this special moment, but nothing really happened. I just felt really tired like I normally do at the end of a race," Schleck of the moment he crossed the line.
"But then when I came to the bus there was a nice reception from the boys, the team, the fan club, and some family, my kids, my wife, and they reminded me that this is it! I realized it's not just a switch that you turn on or off. I think it will come in the next days that then I will realize that it is finished."
Hesjedal wasn’t able to soak up the emotions on the run to the finish line as he climbed off his bike and abandoned during an especially tough and selective edition of the 'race of the falling leaves'.
"I really wanted to finish it today, but realistically I know how things work on the road. I don’t know how many guys finished in the end [61 – ed], but you definitely had to have good legs, and I didn't so it was impossible. I still enjoyed every moment out there," he said in an interview with the Trek-Segafredo team's website.
Hesjedal began his career in mountain biking, before switching to the road in 2004, riding alongside Lance Armstrong at US Postal and then moving to Phonak in 2006. He spent the bulk of his career at Jonathan Vaughters Slipstream set-up, winning the Giro d'Italia in 2012, but admitted to doping earlier in his career before he joined the clean-ethos team. He moved to Trek for the final year of his career and one more crack at the Giro, but he was forced to abandon.
"To win the Giro is still the highlight for sure, and I will always cherish that victory and that race," said Hesjedal.
"The first long, hard climb today was in a stage of that Giro and I didn’t realize it, but remembered once I was on that climb. Although, I was suffering more today! But that's what it's all about to come here, to do these final classic races in Italy. People asked me why I didn't stop after Montreal, and sure that would have been nice to be in Canada and finish like that, but for me, cycling is more global, and Italy is special in cycling and special to me. I wanted to come here and suffer on Italian roads one more time, and I certainly did that today. I am complete with that."
No regrets for Schleck
For Schleck, the race marked the end of a 15-year career, with highlights including the 2006 Amstel Gold Race title, overall wins at the Tour de Suisse, Tour de Luxembourg, and Critérium International, and third place overall at the 2011 Tour de France.
The Luxembourg rider turned pro in 2003 with CSC and spent two seasons with Saxo Bank before joining the nascent Leopard Trek set-up, which has become the Trek-Segafredo of today.
"I have done 15 years, it was a long journey, and now I felt it was the time to call it. I am happy with the decision I made," he said. "I have had many highlights and some nice results. Of course, I was not the type of guy that was winning every weekend, but I can look back and say I had some really nice moments.
"I had some bad periods also, but that's where you build character," he added, perhaps referring to the one-year doping ban he served after testing positive for Xipamide at the 2012 Tour – though it was stated that he didn’t ingest the substance intentionally.
"In the team we have had some tough times, and you have to get over these moments, and you fight back, and you keep going, and I am proud of that. I am proud of my career, and I have nothing to regret."