With a sudden acceleration on San Fermo della Battaglia at 6km to go, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) went solo to win his second Classic after the 2019 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The first Dane to win in the The Classic of the Falling Leaves crossed the line in Lungolago di Como with half a minute’s advantage over the New Zealander George Bennett (Team Jumbo Visma) and 51” over Russian Alexandr Vlasov (Astana). On the technical descent from Muro di Sormano the Belgian Remco Evenpoel crashed and fell down a bridge in the woods, suffering injuries to his right leg but thankfully without losing consciousness.
Il Lombardia is usually the fifth and final Monument Classic, coming at the end of the season, calling the champions and the outsiders for the last battles, but in the unusually condensed 2020 calendar, the race has been moved to the summer sun. The new date, just one week after the opening Monument, Milano-Sanremo, is 15th of August – nicknamed Ferragosto in Italy – it’s a national holiday.
After Wout van Aert’s magnificent double of Strade Bianche and Classicissima di Primavera and running simultaneously with the fourth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the riders faced the Ferragosto Lombardia on a typical Italian summer day with an average temperature of more than 30 degrees on the route. This year’s start from Bergamo was more poignant than ever, the orobic city having been the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy (): respecting the necessary protocols, the city welcomed the Monument Classic and before the race start the peloton and the organisation remembered the victims of Covid-19 with a minute’s silence. Cycling has always been a very popular sport in Bergamo, a province that has given birth to many champions such as Felice Gimondi, to whom the race (which he won in 1966 and 1973) pays homage one year after his death, along with Fiorenzo Magni, 100 years after his birth.
The route had a minor change. After the first 40km from Bergamo up the Cavallina valley to Casazza then to the first ascend of the day, the Colle Gallo, the riders reached the Seriana valley and faced the Colle Brianza. Going towards Oggiono after the descent, the initially planned detour for Lecco / Valmadrera was cut out, making the route 12km shorter, for a new total of 231km.
The American Joey Rosskopf (CCC Team) – who attacked in the Gran Piemonte (12 August) – was the first to breakaway in the Race of the (not yet) Falling Leaves after around 39km along with Davide Gaburro (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation), Petr Vakoc (Alpecin-Fenix), Florian Stork (Team Sunweb), Alexander Riabushenko (UAE Team Emirates) and Andrea Pasqualon (Circus-Wanty Gobert, who were soon joined by Daniel Savini (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Denis Nekrasov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Emmanuel Morin (Cofidis) and Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabù – KTM). The maximum advantage of 4’30’’ was reached after 90km and James Piccoli was the last man out before the Gruppo Compatto at 68km to go, just before the iconic climb of Ghisallo. At its crest, welcomed by the bells of the Sanctuary, the peloton measured just 40 riders.
The high pace on the very demanding Muro di Sormano (1.9km, 15.8% average gradient and 27% maximum), reduced the leading group to just seven riders with most of the favourites: George Bennett (Team Jumbo-Visma), Jakob Fuglsang and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Giulio Ciccone, double former winner Vincenzo Nibali, and defending champion Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo).
Evenepoel suffered a horrific crash on the descent, the Belgian flipping off his bike over a bridge, falling down a cliff in the woods. He suffered an injury in the right leg; thankfully, the race doctor, quickly in attendance, reported that the rider had remained conscious. Despite the numerical superiority, the Trek Segafredo trio lost contact from the leading group on the Civiglio climb. Vincenzo Nibali worked for his teammates, but today he wasn't in his best condition. In the lead, it was left to three riders to fight for victory: Vlasov, Fuglsang and Bennett.
The hottest Lombardia in history was also one of the most challenging, having become a real elimination race. The final duel was between Fuglsang and Bennett with the Dane resisting the many attacks of the New Zealander before going solo at 6km to go.
Immediately after the finish line, the winner said: “It was a hot day but we always went all out. I felt good but I knew George [Bennett] was in good shape too, especially after his win at GranPiemonte on Wednesday. Luckily there was Vlasov who helped me a lot: he raced like a champion. After the Civiglio I thought I was going to sprint with George, then on the San Fermo I tried and when I saw that I was alone I kept pushing hard until the finish line: what a beautiful victory!”