Vincenzo Nibali used his aggression on the climbs of the Lombardy hills and his bike skills on the twisting descents overlooking Lake Como to win his second Il Lombardia, declaring that he felt stronger than in 2015 when he also attacked his rivals on the Civiglio climb and soloed to victory.
The Bahrain-Merida rider knew he had to pull off a similar tactic if he wanted to be sure of success in Il Lombardia. He could not wait for the easier final climb of San Fermo della Battaglia or an eventual sprint.
Known more as a Grand Tour contender and stage winner, Nibali's two wins here are his only major Classic victories, although he was on the podium in Milan-San Remo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2012. This season, he won stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia in Bormio, and stage 3 of the Vuelta a España in Andorra, but celebrated far more exuberantly on Saturday in Como.
"I've won races this season but I'd never raised my arms in celebrations. I really wanted to do it this time and that's why I enjoyed celebrating with the crowd," Nibali explained in the post-race press conference.
"My stage wins over the Stelvio at the Giro d'Italia and in Andorra at the Vuelta are special but winning a Monument Classic is even more special. It's a great way to end the season."
"I knew I could do something because I've felt good this week. I know the route and love Il Lombardia and so I was confident of getting a result. The hardest part was staying focused and on form after the Vuelta so that I'd be at my best for Il Lombardia."
He promised to take his race jersey to the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel to remember former teammate Michele Scarponi who was killed in the spring while training at home.
Attack on the Civiglio
In 2015 Nibali attacked over the top of the Civiglio, this time he went a kilometre from the summit. The Sicilian races on instinct rather than looking at his power meter and knew it was the time to make his move.
"The summit of the Civiglio is the most important moment and I knew I had to go for it. I also knew that everyone was marking me because I'd see Quintana go after me when I made an earlier move. When the others didn't respond to [Thibaut] Pinot's attack, I knew it was the right moment. After that, I did the descent safely."
In truth, Nibali hurtled down the descent of the Civiglio and managed to gradually distance and then crack Pinot (FDJ). He was extended his lead on the San Fermo della Battaglia climb and went on to win by 28 seconds ahead of lone chaser Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) who won the sprint from a select group at 38 seconds.
Nibali said he did not know the descent in 2015 but had studied it carefully in recent weeks.
"My first Il Lombardia win was obviously special and it was harder; I'd never won it. This time it all seemed easier. Compared to two years ago I was on better form, I felt better in the finale. I knew the climb and the descent better than two years ago and so went for it but without taking too many risks."
Nibali has been a notable descender, using his skills to great effect for years, but a crash on the descent in the finale of the Rio Olympic Games seemed to have put a damper on his risk-taking.
He wasn't worried about crashing on Saturday, however, despite several riders going over the guardrail on the descent of the Muro di Sormano.
"When I was young and turned pro, Stefano Zanatta the DS at Liquigas said I could use my descending skills as an advantage, as a weapon and use it to defend myself. I like to use it for both," he said.
"When I'm focused I don't think about my crashes in Florence in 2013 or at the Rio Olympics. Sometimes I do think about them and perhaps I want to touch my brakes but it depends on how you feel at that moment. Today I felt good."
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