100th Giro di Lombardia - ProT
Italy, October 14, 2006
Bettini takes Lombardia for brother
Italian Paolo Bettini (Quick-Step) took absolute control of the Giro di Lombardia to power away to his first victory since becoming World Champion in Salzburg three weeks ago. The Italian pushed the pace on Madonna del Ghisallo, dropped everyone on Civiglio and confirmed his win on San Fermo. Arriving in Como solo, Bettini is the first World Champion to win the 'race of the falling leaves' since Oscar Camenzind in 1998.
Bettini crossed the line to take the 100th edition of Lombardia in tears of pain and joy. It was a joyous occasion for Il Grillo to win Lombardia for a second year running, this year in the world championship colours, but the pain of losing his brother was very evident.
"Today I did not pedal alone," said Bettini after arriving to La Gazzetta dello Sport, referring to his late brother. "I will never forget this day."
Three weeks ago Bettini won the worlds in Salzburg but a little over a week later his rainbow was clouded by the death of his older bother Sauro. His brother died in an auto accident but Bettini, after a few days off, came back with a fighting spirit.
That spirit was on display today in one of cycling's five monuments, Lombardia. Crossing the line, Bettini fell into the arms of his grieving family. Dad, Mom, wife and daughter where on the shores of Lake Como to witness Bettini stomp the competition while taking an emotional win for Sauro. A suffering Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) could not hold on to Bettini's wheel over the final climb of San Fermo and finished third after being caught by Zurich winner Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
How it unfolded
196 riders assembled in the Swiss town of Mendrisio for the start of Italy's oldest grand classic, which traditionally closes the season for most professional riders. ProTour leader and final winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was at the start in the end, even though his team threatened to pull him out of the race as a consequence of the ongoing battle between the UCI and organisers RCS Sport over the ProTour. World champion Paolo Bettini was also on the start line, looking motivated to win his second Lombardia in a row.
Thierry Marichal (Cofidis) opened the attacking, but the first move of note came after 28 km when Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) escaped with Diego Caccia (Barloworld). The pair had 2'20 after 34 km, when a group of four riders started chasing: Andrea Pagoto (Panaria), James Perry (Barloworld), Yuri Metlushenko (Team L.P.R.), and Diego Nosotti (Selle Italia). After 40 km, the two in front had 2'06 on the chase group, and 4'55 on the peloton after averaging 45.6 km/h in the first hour.
The main group gradually fell back, allowing the leaders a chance to sit up and wait for the chasers. On the climb of S. Fedele d’Intelvi, Perry and Pagoto were the strongest and crossed the summit 2'18 behind the front pair, with Metlushenko and Nosotti both distanced, and the bunch at 12'10. At the bottom of the descent, the gap reached 13'05 and eventually Perry and Pagoto bridged up to Totschnig and Caccia after 82 km. Aside from Tour de France stage winner Totschnig, the breakaway contained relatively unheralded riders, but there's always a first time for some talent to show.
The break reached a maximum lead of 13'15 at km 106 as Rabobank, Milram, Cofidis and CSC took the responsibility to chase. The break was able to stay clear for most of the big circuit around lake Como, but once the crucial climb of Madonna del Ghisallo started at 52 km to go, they were within shooting range of the peloton at 3'44. Perry was the first to let go, followed by his teammate Caccia. Totschnig persisted, with Pagoto riding well to stay on the Austrian's wheel.
As expected, the action began in the peloton once the climb started to get nasty. Paolo Bettini, resplendent in his rainbow jersey, wasn't afraid to step up the tempo, and after a few kilometres of climbing had reduced the group to just himself, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Frank Schleck (CSC), Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and Ricardo Ricco (Saunier Duval). The group caught Totschnig and Pagoto just before the summit with 43 km to go, when Bettini put the hammer down again to cut it down to just five: Bettini, Rebellin, Schleck, Boogerd and Di Luca.
The five opened up a 20 second lead on the descent as a chasing group gradually formed behind with Sanchez, Pagoto, Ricco, Totschnig, Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Cristian Moreni (Cofidis) and Matteo Carrara (Lampre). The two groups came together at 28 km to go and now there were a dozen leaders, with Gerolsteiner the best represented with three riders. The next chasers consisted of Noè, Devolder, Sella and Gustov, but they were never able to close the gap.
The penultimate climb of Civiglio, with its summit at 15 km to go and its incredibly technical descent back into Como, proved to be the decisive point in the race. Bettini rode a hard enough tempo at the bottom to get rid of Totschnig, Ricco and Pagoto, then simply blasted off the front in response to a Di Luca attack with 17 km to go. At the top, Bettini had five seconds on Fabian Wegmann, who was dying a thousand deaths to close the gap to the world champ. Bettini flew down the narrow, twisty descent, but Wegmann was close behind and picked up the Quick.Step man just after the bottom. It had cost the German a lot of energy, but he was able to roll through for a few turns before the last climb of San Fermo di Battaglia.
The chasers now numbered six, with Sanchez, Boogerd, Rebellin, Schleck, Moreni and Carrara trailing Bettini and Wegmann by 28 seconds when they hit the last climb. Bettini slowly rode a pained Wegmann off his wheel on the steep climb, and crossed the summit with 15 seconds on the Gerolsteiner man, then another 12 seconds to the Sanchez-led chase group.
The final five kilometres were not easy for Bettini, but he was able to maintain his advantage to the finish in Como. Sanchez bridged up to Wegmann with 2 km to go and eventually beat the gritty German in the sprint for second, but up front it was all Bettini, the world champion crying for his lost brother Sauro as he crossed the finish line for a beautiful, emotional win.