The Tour of Lombardy, 241km from Milan to Lecco.
100km remaining from 241km
As we pick up the action with a shade under 100km to go, a six-man break has an advantage of four minutes over the peloton. Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo), Omar Bertazzo (Androni Giocattoli), Andrea Pasqualon (Colnago-CSF Inox), Claudio Corioni (Acqua & Sapone), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) are the men out front. They escaped 40km into the race, ahead of the first climb, the Valcava.
Back in the main peloton, Liquigas-Cannondale are doing the bulk of the pace-setting on the run-in to the foot of the Colma di Sormano. Vincenzo Nibali's men are looking to force a selection. They'll have their work cut out to distance Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) before the decisive climb of the Villa Vergano, but they can certainly isolate him - his team today is not as strong or as motivated as it was in April.
It's hard to believe, but Nibali has not won a race this season in spite of being a consistent presence at the business end of affairs since March. Indeed, Italian cycling in general is in need of a big win today - the last Italian to win a classic was Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), almost three years ago to the day at the 2008 Tour of Lombardy.
World champion Mark Cavendish yesterday opted out of showing off his rainbow jersey at the Tour of Lombardy, as he didn't want to start a race with the intention of pulling out. In the end, only six of his HTC-Highroad teammates took the start in Milan this morning and five of them have already pulled out. Kanstantin Siutou is the lone man left flying the Highroad flag in the team's final WorldTour race.
88km remaining from 241km
The escapees have passed through Sormano and are beginning the climb of the Colma di Sormano. Johan Van Summeren is setting the pace on the front.
Back in the main peloton, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) is on the front and tapping out a steady rhythm that is making its effects felt behind.
BMC's red and black jerseys have massed on the front of the peloton and the gap to the break is tumbling accordingly.
It's interesting to see BMC take over the pace-making here. While Greg Van Avermaet has been in fine form recently, his future BMC teammate Philippe Gilbert is another man who could be benefitting from their work.
Astarloza and Van Summeren are clearly the strongmen of the leading group. The Basque is at the front now, and Van Summeren apart, his companions look to be struggling.
The duo duly pull away from their fellow escapees. Astarloza has looked the strongest on this climb, but Van Summeren has now come through to help consolidate their advantage.
84km remaining from 241km
The finale of this Tour of Lombardy is surely too tough for Van Avermaet, but his BMC colleagues press on regardless, with 3km to go to the top of the climb.
Ivan Basso is also well-placed in the main peloton. The Lombard gave a demonstration of his late-season form with victory in contentious and sometimes farcical Giro di Padania, but the word out of the Liquigas-Cannondale camp this morning was that he would be working for Nibali in the finale.
84km remaining from 241km
Astarloza and Van Summeren have slowed slightly, and Yukiya Arashiro is grimly grinding his way back up to the them. They have 1:30 in hand over the peloton.
Arashiro has succeeded in closing the gap, but his leader Thomas Voeckler is having a rather more difficult afternoon. The Frenchman has been jettisoned out the back of the peloton on the Colma di Sormano.
82km remaining from 241km
Van Summeren brings the leading trio over the Colma di Sormano, with 1:10 in hand on the peloton, which is now led by Leopard Trek.
The descent of the Colma di Sormano is a technical one, and last year it put an end to Vincenzo Nibali's bid for glory, as he crashed out of contention in torrential rain. Conditions are completely different today - the roads are dry and the tree-lined Lake Como hinterland is awash with pleasant Autumnal sunshine.
80km remaining from 241km
Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) brings the curtain down on his surprising late season by climbing off at the top of the Sormano.
A flurry of activity in the main peloton, as Luca Paolini (Katusha) powers to the front on the descent and stretches things out. The veteran Italian played a key role in setting up his teammate Dani Moreno's Gran Piemonte win, and he is looking to set up Joaquim Rodriguez today.
76km remaining from 241km
Paolini's burst has pegged back a little more of the breakaway's advantage. Their gap is down to 25 seconds and the race should all come back together on ahead of the Madonna del Ghisallo.
The combined efforts of Liquigas, BMC and Leopard Trek have already succeeded in whittling down the peloton significantly on the Colma di Sormano. The Madonna del Ghisallo should force an even more decisive selection however.
The new route means that the summit of the Madonna del Ghisallo is just 45km from the finish in Lecco. Cyclingnews caught up with Davide Cassani before the start in Milan this morning, and he reckons the new Lombardy route is tougher than last year's.
"The big difference now is that you come to the Ghisallo with two tough climbs in your legs, especially the Valcava and there’s also the Colma di Sormano," he said. "There will be more of a selection on the Ghisallo, it’s going to do more damage than before. Then in the finale, the climb of Villa Vergano isn’t like San Fermo, it’s much tougher, especially the last kilometre. All in all, I think it’s a harder course, it’s far more demanding than last year."
Cassani wasn't overly enthusiastic about his fellow countrymen's hopes of ending Italy's lengthy classics duck, although he noted that the foreign contenders have not shown spectacular form in recent weeks: "There’s Basso, Nibali, maybe Visconti and who knows, Marcato, although it might be too hard for him. But then, there aren’t too many foreigners either who are going well at this time of the year. So hopefully today might be the day that we finally win a classic again after three years."
65km remaining from 241km
Paolini's rapid pace on the descent has seen the front end of the peloton splinter. Philippe Gilbert, Nibali, Pablo Lastras and Jakob Fuglsang are among the men up there, but Ivan Basso, Joaquim Rodriguez and Damiano Cunego are among the absentees.
Susan here to take you to the end, since Barry is having some technical problems.
Nibali is giving his all today in search of hifs frist season win. He has a narrow lead over a group of three: Gilbert, Fuglsang and Paolini.
54km remaining from 241km
They are headed up the penultimate climb of the day, the Madonna del Ghisallo.
The climb is steep and hard. Nibali pulls away, as Gilbert and Fuglsang can't stay with him.
Fuglsang has done much of the lead work and he now turns it over to Gilbert.
The third group is led by Italian champion Viscoonti, with three other riders.
51km remaining from 241km
And that group has caught Gibert and Fuglsang.
Paolini is trying to get up to the chase group.
Have we mentioned the weather today? Cool temps, sunshine pure, a perfect autumn day.
Nibali continues to lead. The chase group is made up of Pozzovivo, Fuglsang, Le Mervel, Visconti and Gilbert. They are 40 seconds back, and the next group is at 53 seconds.
Paolini has just fallen back into the third group.
Looks like Nibali is pulling away. The gaps are now suddenly 42 seconds and one minute.
Gilbert is having a word with his fellow break-mates, possibly encouraging them to help more. No doubt they are wondering why they should help him win.
Looks like the Gilbert group will be caught soon. They have only 5 seconds or so on the field.
Meanwhile Nibali has over a minute on them now.
46km remaining from 241km
And that was it, they were caught.
Nibali still has a long way to go for a solo win, and it won't be made easier with such a large group chasing him. But he looks very good right now, and of course the Italian fans along the road are thrilled to see him in the lead.
Huge crowds here as Nibali approaches the crest.
45km remaining from 241km
The church bells ring as Nibali rides by, and then starts on his way down, with a gap of 1:20.
Thomas Lofkvist of Sky leads the chase.
The field now comes to the top of the climb, with the gap at 1:24. Samuel Sanchez falls off the back.
A fan has two little dogs on leashes, who are excited and jumping around. At least one rider swerved out of fear they might jump into the road.
Nibali is hunched over as low as he can get, to get downhill just as fast as he can. HIs gap is now at 1:30.
Nibali's lead keeps growing, another 10 seconds or so. Now Sky is leading the chase.
Paolini is back at the team car, getting a bottle and some advice.
The gap had gotten up to 1:48, now dropping again, at 1:36, as Sky puts the pressure on.
Ivan Basso is on third wheel in the chasing field. If his teammate Nibali is caught, no doubt he would be happy to go for the win.
The gap is now holding steady at just over 1:30
So of course now the gap is dropping, to 1:27.
Nibali continues to tear along on this very long descent.
Nibali grabs a bottle, as he seems to be at the bottom at last. Gap at 1:13.
Paolini has darted out of the field and is chasing his countryman.
We must say, there is some absolutely gorgeous scenery here.
'The field is a good size -- maybe 40-50 riders?
Euskaltel moves into the lead of the chase group.
25km remaining from 241km
25km to go for Nibali. Can he make it?
Now three Sky riders in the lead. They are having a bit of a chat and looking around -- possible searching for whoever it is they are riding for?
Tunnel time. Where are they all???
22km remaining from 241km
Nibali has still one more climb to go. His gap is dropping, but we don't have the exact number.
20km remaining from 241km
Katusha now leading a determined chase.
Nibali doesn't look so fresh anymore and has taken something out. 50km on your own is pretty hard...
The field is now only 20 seconds back.
Still about 40 riders in the peloton. They will have Nibali any second now.
16km remaining from 241km
And with 16.5km to go, he is caught. That changes everything now. Will the group stay together to the end or will we see another break?
Basso, Gilbert, Löfkvist -- only a few of the names in this group.
One more climb and then -- who will take off? Will Gilbert have enough left after a long and successful season to explode again and go for the win?
They are about to start up the final ciimb, the Salita di Ello. It starts out at 6%, then averages 11.7%, with one ramp of 15%.
It has a six km descent, with the final 3km of the day a flat run in to the finish.
A Katushas rider looks like he is trying to get away, as the start going up. He is not successful.
Nibali has been dropped off the back of the field.
11km remaining from 241km
A Garmin rider now leading things.
Sky and Garmin sharing the lead, with Greg Van Avermaet of BMC right behind them.
Cunego has dropped off, but is doing his best to get back up to the field.
10km remaining from 241km
Löfkvist continues to pull the trian along. The group has shrunk by about half. Now BAsso takes over the lead work.
Only about 20 in the group, with Gilbert amongst them.
Zaugg attacks out of the group. Basso falls back.
The Leopard Trek cimber pulls away as he approaches the final summit.
Zaugg rides alone through what looks like a narrow cobblestoned alley. We would hate to see a large group come through here!
The group has exploded -- and Gilbert is at the wrong end of it. He is not having an easy tim at all on this climb.
7km remaining from 241km
Pozzovivo, Joaquim Rodriguez and Lloyd of Garmin are giving chase.
The three chasers take it out and wait for Basso and Cunego. Now a group of five.
4km remaining from 241km
Looks like Zaug has a nice little lead. Don't know exactly how much though.
An Androni rider has joined the chasers.
Zaugg is nearly at the bottom. Then he will have only 3 km to go.
21 seconds for Zaugg.
He is more of a climber than a sprinter. Can he hold it out for another 2km?
The Basso group could still catch Zaugg. But Gilbert has now no chance to defend his title.
1km remaining from 241km
The last kilometer for Zaugg with a gap of only 14 seconds or so...
Zaugg crosses a long bridge over the lake and heds into downtown Lecco. He wil take it!
H makes his way through the s-curves to the finish line, with plenty of time to raise his arms in triumph!
Second place goes to Daniel Martin, with third to Dani Moreno.
My goodness, of course that wasn't Moreno. It was Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha who took third place. The group came in only 8 seconds down.
Here's the top six for today, and the last Classic of the season:
1 Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Leopard Trek 6:20:02
2 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Cervelo 0:00:08
3 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:00:08
4 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:08
5 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-ISD 0:00:08
6 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Colnago CSF-Inox 0:00:08
That's it! The race is over, the season is (virtually) over.
Congratulations to Leopard Trek, winning the first and last Giro di Lombardia it will ride.
Hope everyone has a good off-season and we will see you all again on live reports in 2012!
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