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Live coverage of the Tour of Lombardy
Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the Tour of Lombardy, the final classic of the season and probably the most beautiful race on the calendar.
As we pick up the action, six riders are clear of the peloton. Tony Gallopin (Cofidis), Gianluca Mirenda (ISD-Neri), Diego Caccia (ISD-Neri), Mauro Da Dalto (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Kjeil Carlström (Team Sky) and Michael Albasini (HTC-Columbia) escaped just 15km into the race. They slipped clear soon after the peloton had exited the city of Milan and soon built up a healthy lead. The last time check at Bellano places the sextet 8:28 clear of the bunch.
195 riders took the start in Milan this morning, in the shadow of the Palazzo Lombardia, but there have already been a number of abandons. The most notable was that of Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), who climbed off as the race passed through Como for the first time. The world number 1 was suffering from intestinal trouble, and wisely decided to call it a day before the race hit the shores of Lake Como.
By Taceno, 144km into the race, the lead of the six in front had tumbled to 5:50, under impetus from Philippe Gilbert's Omega Pharma-Lotto team.
The break's lead has been fluctuating all day. After 48km, their lead was 8:38 but that fell to 6:36 after the second hour of racing. In the intervening period, Carlström had taken a tumble but managed to rejoin the group and with his help, they managed to stretch their lead back out towards the nine-minute mark.
Since then, Gilbert's men have started to take things in hand, as things start to get a little more difficult as we circle Lake Como.
Coming through Lecco, the gap to the leaders is down to just 3:40 and they are beginning to look a little ragged.
The passage through Lecco marks the beginning of the business end of the Tour of Lombardy.
First up is the iconic climb to the church of the Madonna del Ghisallo and that leads on to the greatest addition to this year’s route, the Colma di Sormano. Standing 1124m and coming after 219km, the climb is sure to be a major factor in this year’s event.
Thereafter, the race hugs the shore of Lake Como and then tackles the tricky climb of San Fermo, just 5km from the finish in Como.
This particular corner of Lombardy is famous not just for cycling, of course. Alessandro Manzoni's nineteenth-century novel I promessi sposi begins on the shores of the lake at Lecco with the famous description of the landscape that every Italian school child ends up knowing by heart.
"That branch of the lake of Como, which extends towards the south, is enclosed by two unbroken chains of mountains, which, as they advance and recede, diversify its shores with numerous bays and inlets..." Manzoni begins, showing skills that would surely have seen him snapped up as a colour writer for Gazzetta dello Sport if it had been around back then...
Of more relevance to today's race is Stephen Farrand's race preview, which you can read here.
The rain is falling steadily on the shores of the lake this afternoon. Hopefully that won't have dampened the spirits of the tifosi on the road side. For Cadel Evans' sake, we also hope that it hasn't curtailed the barbeque that his friends and family have planned on the slopes of the Madonna del Ghisallo.
Speaking of which, the peloton is now negotiating the flat run-in to that mythical climb and that's where the real fireworks will start at this Tour of Lombardy.
It's a miserable day on in Lombardy now and the roads could be treacherous on the run-in, especially on the descents.
Meanwhile, Omega Pharma-Lotto are still driving hard on the front of the peloton. Gilbert is clearly in fantastic form.
Gilbert took the win at the Giro del Piemonte on Thursday and is looking to make it back to back wins at the Giro di Lombardia. As the bunch closes in on the Madonna del Ghisallo, the gap to the six in front is continuing to fall.
The Giro del Piemonte took the bunch through the hills of the Langhe, some of the finest wine country in Italy. The town of Alba is also home to Ferrero chocolate, so this climb of the Ghisallo will give us a good indication of whether anybody cracked and indulged themselves on Thursday night.
In a completely unrelated train of thought, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) is in the race today, and together with his brother Frank he will be looking to finish his Saxo Bank career on a high.
The six up front are still working hard together in spite of the miserable conditions.
It's a shame that the weather is so grim today. We can catch tantalising glimpses of Lake Como over the riders' right shoulders, but in the misty conditions it's hard to get a proper idea of just what an aesthetically beautiful route the Tour of Lombardy follows.
Albasini (HTC-Columbia) has put the pressure on at the front of the break as the road pitches upwards, and only Carlström (Sky) and Da Dalto (Lampre) seem able to follow him.
Correction, Da Dalto has been left behind, and it's Gianluca Mirenda (ISD-Neri) who has managed to resist Albasini's acceleration.
Mirenda is wearing leg warmers and full-fingered gloves. Albasini and Carlström are toughing it out, arm-warmers their only concession to the conditions.
Carlström is dropped under the impetus of Albasini. The Swiss rider showed decent form at the Tour of Britain and he clearly felt hindered by the remainder of the break. Mirenda is hanging on to his wheel as they climb out of Bellagio and up towards the Madonna del Ghisallo.
Saxo Bank and BMC have come to the front of the peloton and are lending a hand to Omega Pharma-Lotto's pursuit.
Da Dalto is swallowed up by the peloton now, which is beginning to tap out a decent rhythm on the Ghisallo, but the pace is by no means searing.
Up front, Albasini is setting the tempo and Mirenda is grinding away on his wheel.
On the toughest slopes of the Ghisallo, Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) attacks and he quickly opens up a decent gap over the main bunch. He's now picking off the remnants of the early breaks and pedalling very fluidly indeed.
"Nibali could be the favourite, but it's very hard to pick names after a long journey from Australia," two-time Tour of Lombardy winner Michele Bartoli told Gazzetta dello Sport, sitting resolutely on the fence.
Gusev, meanwhile is closing in on the duo in front. He is 2:25 behind now.
Gusev is riding with leg-warmers but has ditched his leg warmers. He'll get nul points for style but he might well succeed in getting across to the break.
Behind, Giovanni Visconti (ISD-Neri) puts in a dig on the Ghisallo, but the move is soon countered by Gilbert, Schleck and the other favourites.
Gusev has ditched his arm-warmers, that should have read.
Visconti is continuing to be aggressive behind.
Angel Madrazo (Caisse d'Epargne) has attacked from the man group, with Italian champion Visconti on his wheel. Behind them the pack is beginning to break up.
Caccia and Albasini have 55 seconds over Gusev now and the ISD-Neri man has come to the front.
After a brief false flat, the Ghisallo kicks up again on the final push up towards the church and Albasini has dropped Caccia, seemingly definitively. Meanwhile, Gusev is eating up the road a little further behind.
It's an interesting move from Visconti and Madrazo. Indeed, Visconti seems to be struggling to stay on the Spaniard's wheel. The main bunch doesn't seem overly concerned so far, although there's an Euskaltel-Euskadi rider trying to get across.
Albasini enters Magreglio and reaches the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo. The crowds are out in force in spite of the rain.
Behind, Gusev has caught Caccia and they pass the church at the summit just a handful of seconds behind Albasini.
Madrazo and Visconti also seem to have made it across to Gusev and Caccia, while the main field passes over the top of the climb and past the iconic church, 55 seconds behind.
As far as we can make out through the mist, Cadel Evans (BMC) didn't climb off to join the barbeque on the slopes of the Ghisallo, so the Australia will be in the thick of the action in the finale.
Albasini has no interest in sitting up and waiting for the pursuers. The Swiss rider is trying to push out his advantage again on the descent from the Ghisallo.
Caccia is riding on the front of the chase group for his leader Visconti and the gap is sliding down to just 16 seconds.
Three Omega Pharma-Lotto riders are on the front of the main field, trying to shut down the Visconti move.
Albasini starts the climb of the Colma di Sormano with Visconti, Gusev and Madrazo on his wheel. Meanwhile, Caccia has been forced to sit up. The Italian gave it his all in the break with Albasini and his final act was to ride for his leader Visconti on the descent of the Ghisallo.
Albasini is dropped under pressure from Gusev. Visconti is looking stronger on the Colma di Sormano than he was on the Ghisallo. He's wrapped up tightly against the cold, like his ISD-Neri teammate Caccia.
The trio in front have 28 seconds over the main field.
Visconti goes to the front and immediately the pace rises and Gusev is under pressure.
Omega Pharma-Lotto continue to press hard at the head of the main for Philippe Gilbert.
Chris Horner (RadioShack) has a go off the front of the main group and opens up a decent gap even if the effort already seems to be telling. He'll need to settle in and find a suitable rhythm is he wants to get anywhere.
Visconti is looking strong now on the Colma di Sormano. He looks to have found his legs after being temporarily distanced by Madrazo on the Ghisallo.
Indeed, his latest spell on the front has seen off Madrazo. It's just Gusev and Visconti left ahead now.
Gusev's shorts are scuffed and torn in places, he clearly must have fallen earlier in the day. It's certainly not showing in his riding, however, he's looking very strong indeed.
The duo are 25 seconds clear of the group of favourites.
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) has launched a great attack out of the main group and immediately opened a sizable gap.
Great riding from Mollema. The flying Dutchman has almost caught up to the two leaders Visconti and Gusev.
Mollema has caught Visconti and Gusev. Meanwhile, Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) has jumped clear of the chasing group.
That was impressive. Mollema took one long turn on the front and Visconti was almost immediately dropped. Gusev is also struggling to keep up with the Dutchman, who's putting in a great climb of the Colma di Sormano.
Mollema is free and clear up front. Gusev is chasing behind, while Visconti has been caught by Zubeldia and is going backwards at this point. He was struggling on the Ghisallo but looked to have found his climbing legs on the Colma di Sormano but it was merely an illusion it seems.
Zubeldia has caught Gusev, but the duo are 18 seconds behind Mollema, who is really isn't hanging around.
Visconti is caught by the main group. As they catch him, Michele Scarponi (Androni) puts in a big acceleration and the bunch begins to be whittled down a little more.
Zubeldia has dropped Gusev and is chasing Mollema alone.
The action is hotting up in the main group. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) has gone to the front and is causing serious problems.
Strong move from Nibali. Only a select few are able to follow. Scarponi is up there, as is Gilbert.
Gilbert is marking Nibali closely. These are the two favourites and they know it. Scarponi is also looking strong, and there is a solid group forming around these three.
Mollema approaches the top of the Colmo di Sormano and zips up his gilet against the elements. The temperature is just 6 degrees at the summit of the climb.
The descent of the Colmo di Sormano is treacherous at the best of times, but when you factor in rain and falling leaves, this could be carnage...
Gilbert and Nibali both almost ride in to the back of one of the motorbikes on the first bend but manage to stay up.
Gilbert isn't hanging around on this descent. He knows that Evans and the Schlecks were struggling to maintain contact near the top of the climb, and he'll want to open up a gap. Nibali is up there with him.
Evans seems to have been dropped and he'll be hard pressed to get back on now with Gilbert putting the pressure on down this descent.
Mollema is still out in front, but the chase group is quite stretched on this descent and significant gaps could open up here.
This descent is very technical now, and Mollema sensibly takes a sharp lefthand bend at walking pace.
Gilbert and Nibali have closed the gap to just 9 seconds. Scarponi is still there with them, as is a Caisse d'Epargne rider, possibly Pablo Lastras.
Scarponi is no longer with the Gilbert and Nibali, who have caught Mollema on the descent.
Mollema has been dropped by the lead group, while Michele Scarponi is catching them.
Crash for Vincenzo Nibali!
Nibali came down on a tight lefthand bend, just as Scarponi caught the leaders.
He got back up straight away and seems to be uninjured, but now he must chase the trio in front.
The leaves and rain were always liable to take a high-profile victim on this descent.
Gilbert is pressing hard on the front now and opening out the gap over Nibali. In fairness, Gilbert has been pushing the pace all the way down this descent, he can hardly be accused of taking advantage of Nibali's fall.
It was an interesting tactic from Gilbert, and one that may have paid off royally. He knew that Nibali is a strong descender, so he opted to go to the front and set the tempo rather than have to follow Nibali down the climb.
Gilbert is alone in front now, he's opened out the gap over Scarponi and Lastras. A magnificent descent from the Belgian, he couldn't asked for more than this.
Nibali throws his race cape to the side of the road as he is caught by a decent-sized group including Mollema and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank).
Scarponi has discarded his race cape now. Gilbert didn't bother with any rain gear on the way down, and that may have made the difference. Certainly, it was a clear sign that the Walloon meant business on the way down.
Gilbert has 4 seconds over Scarponi, 26 seconds over Lastras and 40 over the Nibali group.
Gilbert isn't waiting for Scarponi. He's putting his head down and clearly doesn't want any company until he's on the podium in Como. It's a bold move, there are still 22km to go.
Gilbert has reached the shores of Lake Como again, and is following the spectacular finale of the Tour of Lombardy. There's barely a metre of flat from here to Como, the road climbs and dips with the contours of the landscape.
Nibali is desperately looking for help from his chase group, but it's hard to organise any kind of concerted pursuit on roads like these.
Nibali's obvious strength is another complicating factor, he'll find it hard to find collaborators willing to drag him back into contention.
Gilbert and Nibali seem to be clearly the strongest men in the race. It's a shame Nibali fell, it would make for a gripping final 20km if those two men together were in front, especially with the climb of the San Fermo to come.
Scarponi is riding a brave race. He's closed back to within 10 seconds of Gilbert, who is still pedalling with wonderful fluidity.
Fuglsang has attacked out of the Nibali group, which won't help them work together to reel in Gilbert.
Michele Scarpni has caught Philippe Gilbert. He held his concentration and stuck resolutely to his task, impressive stuff from the Italian. He knows now that he'll have to try and drop Gilbert on the San Fermo if he is to win this race.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is very active at the head of the Nibali group, as is Fuglsang.
The rain is pouring down now, there's an epic feel to the end of this race. The shoot-out on the San Fermo between Gilbert and Scarponi should decide the race, but they'll need to put their heads down first to stay clear of the chasers.
Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) is also present in the Nibali group. Now that his teammate Lastras has been caught, he is contributing to the work on the front. Barredo is still there too, along with Mollema, Fuglsang, Sanchez and, of course, Nibali.
Gilbert and Scarponi have a minute's lead over Nibali, Sanchez et al now and the game is surely up for the chasers. The leading pair are working well together, through driving rain, as the mist rolls in off Lake Como.
Gilbert's poker face is still in place at just over 10km from the line. Scarponi's expression is showing some signs of suffering, although he is nonetheless riding very solidly.
The Nibali group are still chasing hard but their hopes of bringing back the leading duo are gone up in smoke at this stage. Barring incident, this is a two-horse race now.
On to the climb of the San Fermo for the duo up front now, as they pass under the railway bridge that marks the start of the race's last climb.
Gilbert leads on the early slopes of the climb, with Scarponi rooted to his wheel. Scarponi surely needs to try and attack here if he wants to win the race.
Conditions are dantesque on this climb, the two leaders are emerging from the gloom, we can just about make out their two silhouettes against the headlights of the race car behind as they climb skywards.
The two are riding side by side now, but Gilbert looks far more comfortable.
Gilbert seems to be almost sizing up his prey as he looks repeatedly at Scarponi. It seems as though Gilbert is waiting for the steep final 600m of the climb to make his move.
Scarponi and Gilbert came elbow to elbow there for a moment and are now on the steepest part of the climb. It's surely now or never for Scarponi, he wouldn't fancy his chances in the sprint.
It doesn't look as though Scarponi has the legs to drop Gilbert here, however. If anything, the opposite might happen.
Gilbert and Scarponi are still side by side and setting a steady tempo.
Gilbert is out of the saddle and trying to open a gap now. It's not quite an attack but he is putting Scarponi under considerable pressure.
And he's gone!
Gilbert opens a slight gap with his exploratory move and Scarponi relents. Gilbert kicks again and opens the gap.
Gilbert begins the descent of the San Fermo, while Scarponi appears to be beaten. Scarponi sat down when Gilbert attacked and tried to push on in a bigger gear to close the gap, but found he simply didn't have the legs.
Meanwhile, Lastras has attacked from the Nibali group.
Gilbert is riding away with his second successive Tour of Lombardy here, although he'll have to be careful on the descent into Como. The roads are slippery and there are a lot of potentially treacherous zebra crossings.
10 seconds the lead for Gilbert over Scarponi.
Gilbert is already celebrating, pointing at the number 1 on his dossard.
Final kilometre for Gilbert. Huge crowds on the road side in spite of the rain as Gilbert enters Como after almost 7 hours in the saddel.
Philippe Gilbert wins his second successive Tour of Lombardy. He was clearly the strongest man and takes a deserved victory.
A fine display too from Scarponi, who crosses the line in second place.
Pablo Lastras crosses the line in 3rd place, having skipped clear of the Nibali group in the finale.
4th place for Fuglsang, 5th for Nibali.
Samuel Sanchez was dropped in the finale.
The road is coming down in sheets now over Como, Sanchez is none too pleased as he comes in just over 2 minutes down.
It would have been fascinating to have seen a Gilbert-Scarponi battle on the climb of San Fermo, but the Belgian was full value for his victory.
Like the greatest classics riders, he rode with the head as much as the legs. He knew there was only one place to be on the treacherous descent of the Colma di Sormano - in front.
Gilbert's display in the finale confirmed the wonderful form he showed at the world championships in Geelong and he'll be the man to watch in the classics next spring.
Meanwhile, the home country Italy has now gone two whole seasons without a classics win. Damiano Cunego's win here all of 24 months ago was the last win in a monument from an Italian.
That said, two of the Grand Tours went south of the Alps this season, with Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali taking the Giro and Vuelta respectively.
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 6:46:32
2 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Androni Giocattoli 0:00:12
3 Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:00:55
4 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:58
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo
Thanks for following the Tour of Lombardy live with us on Cyclingnews this afternoon. A full race report, extensive photo coverage and all the news from the shores of Lake Como will be online shortly.