Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) managed to raise a gallop as the finish line of Il Lombardia approached in Bergamo on Saturday afternoon, but his fatigue was evident at the end of a long, long campaign. So often the dispassionate dispenser of rivals in the closing metres, the Slovenian was beaten to third place here by Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers).
After winning the Giro dell’Emilia and Milano-Torino over the past week, Roglič lined up as the obvious favourite for Il Lombardia, but it was apparent from midway up the Passo di Ganda that this race would not fall ineluctably into his orbit like the others.
When Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) launched a searing acceleration with 36km remaining, Roglič quickly understood that his young compatriot was travelling at a rate of knots that he simply could not match. Nobody could, and Pogačar had half a minute in hand on a very select chasing group by the summit.
Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-QuickStep) made full use of his local knowledge to scramble down the descent and provide Pogačar with some company in the finale, even if the suspense remained marginal as the Tour de France winner dispatched him comfortably in the two-up sprint.
Behind, the collaboration was often hesitant in the chasing group, though Pogačar’s strength was such that the point was perhaps moot. Roglič, Yates, Julian Alaphilippe et al simply didn’t have the energy to reel in the youngster on the run-in, and they were resigned to fighting for the final podium sport by the time they hit the final climb to Bergamo Alta.
"It’s tough, and when you don’t really have the legs like I had today, it’s tougher," Roglič said after wheeling to a halt. "Still, at the end, there’s still some kind of result. For sure, we were aiming for the best, but at the end, we just weren’t good enough."
Three hours after the finish, Roglič was seated on a café terrace near the press room, sharing a pizza with friends and, perhaps, expressing quiet relief that the carousel had finally stopped, at least for a few weeks.
Earlier, as he stopped to speak to reporters past the finish line, Roglič had been asked to revisit a year where the disappointment of crash-interrupted Tour de France was tempered by an Olympic gold medal and a third successive Vuelta a España victory.
"Again a season with a lot of ups and downs, but we always take the best memories, so it was incredible," he said. "Now it’s time for holidays."
Next year’s Tour de France route will be presented on Thursday but, regardless of the parcours, it seems inevitable that the race will form the centrepiece of Roglič’s 2022 season. And, of course, the road to victory will run through his fellow countryman Pogačar, who completed a season for the ages by adding his second Monument victory at Il Lombardia on Saturday.
"He deserved it," Roglič said of Pogačar’s win. "If I could also have gone [on the Passo di Gandia], I would have gone. I didn’t have the legs, I was just hanging there and waiting for the finish."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.