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Damiano Cunego, 27, won the Giro di Lombardia for a career-third time...
Italians love a world champion, especially if it's one of their own
Damiano Cunego, 27, won the Giro di Lombardia for a career-third time thanks to a risky solo move. The Italian of Team Lampre went free with 15 kilometres to race on the technical descent of Civiglio and won alone along the famed waterfront of Como with 24 seconds over Slovenian Janez Brajkovic (Astana) and Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne).
"I am happy because it is my course and very demanding – It was a beautiful day and I gave it my all. I saw there was no one behind me," said Cunego at the finish.
The pressure was on Cunego as pre-race favourite and returning champion. His Italy-based team kept him protected all day and positioned him well for the day's final three climbs of Ghisallo, Civiglio and San Fermo.
"I knew that everyone was expecting a third win from me this morning. All the riders wanted to put me in danger and instead, I remained calm thanks to my teammates. There was great work from [Marco] Marzano, [Paolo] Tiralongo and [Alessandro] Ballan."
Cunego, victor of the 2008 Amstel Gold and the 2004 Giro d'Italia, also won the 'race of the falling leaves' in 2004 and 2007. He joins three other triple winners of Lombardia. Fausto Coppi holds the course record with five victories.
The 102nd Giro di Lombardia, one of only five Monuments, started in Varese and finished in Como. The riders covered 242 kilometres, which included the famed Madonna del Ghisallo.
The race started off in Varese at Villa Comunale, only a few metres from the point where Cunego's teammate Alessandro Ballan launched his winning move in the World Championships two weeks prior. The 168 riders rolled down Via Ledro at 10:59 and towards Como.
The riders covered the first kilometres at a blistering pace – 46.6 in the first hour. The group had splintered and 11 riders formed an escape once the race reached Como, and headed north along the western shores of Lago di Como.
Mauro Santambrogio (Lampre), Michael Rogers (Columbia), Pablo Lastras (Caisse d'Epargne), Chris Anker Sørensen (CSC Saxo Bank), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas), Luca Paolini (Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo), Francesco Bellotti and Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld), Matteo Bono and Davide Viganò (Quick Step) formed a move that was able to resist until the Madonna del Ghisallo.
They worked, over the top of Intelvi at kilometre 55.9, and had a maximum lead of 9:25 at one point. The gap was at 6:50 after 100 kilometres of racing. They kept their gap through Valsassina – 5'30" in Cortinova, kilometre 142.2 – before the decent to Lecco and the start of the technical run to the base of Ghisallo.
Teams Lampre and Quick Step led the main group in the early hours of the race. The former continued its muscle-work along twisty lakeside road to Bellagio and the start of Ghisallo.
The move of 11 narrowed down to four – Italians Santambrogio and Agnoli, Australian Rogers and Spaniard Lastras – before the 11.3-kilometre climb of Ghisallo. Gilberto Simoni of Team Diquigiovanni tore up the group behind with an attack on the early and stiff gradients of the climb. He faded, but his moved brought out Acqua Sapone Stefano Garzelli and Diquigiovanni teammate Michele Scarponi.
The front four topped Ghisallo and its sanctuary to cyclists 18 seconds over Sørensen and 46 seconds on the two Italians, Garzelli and Scarponi. Domenico Pozzovivo (CSF Group Navigare) crossed at one minute and the favourites passed at 1:25 back.
Team Lampre and CSC kept vigil for Cunego and Alexandr Kolobnev, respectively, leading into the Civiglio. Lampre, with the help of Ballan, pulled back the escapees before the base of the 2.5-kilometre climb.
Kroon lit a fire for Russian teammate Kolobnev on Civiglio. He faded, but Horner surged with Cunego and Francesco Failli of Team Acqua Sapone in tow. The three topped the climb with a slight margin on Daniel Moreno of Team Caisse d'Epargne. He chased and joined on the descent.
Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) led the chase behind on the technical run down. He broke free and made his way to the front-runners on the tight switchbacks as Cunego slipped clear. Off of Civiglio, 12 kilometres to race, the Cunego held nine seconds on the four and 20 second on the group behind.
Cunego started 2.85-kilometre San Fermo with 12 seconds over the chase. Matteo Tosatto of Team Quick Step joined the Sánchez chase and soon there were around six others. Failli and Horner were most active in the move behind, but Cunego was gaining time.
He held 24 seconds at the top of San Fermo with five kilometres to race. Brajkovic and Uran broke free from the chase behind. They disparately fought for the honour of runner-up behind the king of Lombardia. The duo reached the line and Brajkovic won the sprint and lifted his arms in victory.
Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) had a mechanical at the start of San Fermo and was delayed. He was a pre-race favourite.
Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti led the main chase home at 33 seconds back for fourth. The Italian, wearer of the maglia rosa in this year's Giro d'Italia, finished ahead of Kroon and CSF Group's Mauro Finetto. Horner, Garzelli, Morris Possoni (Columbia) and Failli took seventh through 10th, respectively.