Dark horse Mollema stuns favourites to win Tour of Lombardy

Milan (AFP) –


Dutch rider Bauke Mollema stunned the favourites to cross the line alone on the banks of Lake Como after a spectacular solo break from 20km in cycling's season-ending Tour of Lombardy on Saturday.

The Trek-Segafredo rider finished 16sec ahead of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Tour de France champion Egan Bernal of Colombia in the 243km race from Bergamo in northern Italy.

The 32-year-old claimed his first victory in one of cycling's 'Monuments' on his eleventh attempt. The 'Race of the Falling Leaves' is the fifth and final of the annual one-day classics.

"I can't believe I've won a Monument," said the rider from Groningen who won a stage of the Tour de France in 2017, and the San Sebastian classic in 2016.

"I wasn't the favourite so maybe the other riders underestimated me a bit.

"I found the right moment to attack. I just went full gas in the last 10 kilometres. It's unreal!"

Bernal, ten years younger than the winner, settled for a podium finish.

"I'm still only 22 so this was a big result for me," said Team Ineos rider Bernal, who had been bidding to cap his season with another prestigious win after warming up in Thursday's Gran Piemonte race.

"I think the most important thing is that I'm on the podium and have finished the season well."

Mollema became the third Dutch winner and first since Hennie Kuiper in 1981.

The Dutch veteran made the break at Civiglio, with 20km to go, attacking two kilometres from the summit, ahead of a group featuring Bernal, Valverde and Vuelta a Espana winner Primoz Roglic.

- Nibali sinks -

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, a former two-time winner, dropped off the main group at the foot of the Civiglio, one of the toughest climbs, with an average gradient of just under 10 percent.

The 34-year-old put a foot down after a touch of wheels, before getting back into position, but for the rider known as 'the shark' his hopes of adding to wins in 2015 and 2017 had evaporated.

Mollema built up a lead of 40 seconds at the foot of San Fermo della Battaglia, the final climb eight kilometres from the line.

The Dutch rider then held off late attacks from both Roglic and Valverde in the final descent, to give his Trek team their tenth success this season, after Danish teammate Mads Pedersen won the world road title last month.

"I knew I had to go, the others were more explosive than me, so I had to," said Mollema, of his early break on the penultimate climb.

"Once I had 20 seconds on them I was full gas all the time - I've been feeling good all week," he said.

Valverde, 39, settled for his third second-place finish in the race, becoming the oldest ever competitor to achieve a podium finish.

"Il Lombardia remains a thorn in my side. It's a race I love but it always escapes me," said the Spaniard.

Roglic, 29, had also been among the favourites after carrying on from his Vuelta success with wins in the Tre Valli Varesine and Giro dell'Emilia in Italy this week.

But the Slovenian trailed 34sec behind in seventh at 34sec, with Nibali over six minutes adrift in 55th position, just behind another former two-time winner Philippe Gilbert of Belgium.

"As the saying goes: if two dogs fight for something, a third one goes with it," said Roglic.

"But this has been my most successful season and I'm most happy with the fact that I'm finishing the season as number one in the world."

This year's race was dedicated to former Italian cycling great Felice Gimondi, who won five Grand Tours in his career, and died last August aged 76 years.

But it was the worst ever performance for Italian riders with their best finisher 17th-placed Giovanni Visconti.