Enric Mas laid down a marker ahead of the final Monument of the year at Il Lombardia, dispatching with Tadej Pogačar on the way to victory at the Giro dell’Emilia.
The Movistar leader had emerged as the strongest along with his UAE Team Emirates counterpart on the penultimate ascent of the steep San Luca climb in Bologna before the pair were caught by a small chase group inside the final 10km of the race.
However, set up by his teammate, the retiring Alejandro Valverde, Mas struck out early on the final climb to the line, 2km out. Pogačar surprisingly had no response, leaving Mas to solo to his sixth win of the season.
Pogačar took second place at 11 seconds, while Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) rounded out the podium shortly afterwards having raced up the final kilometres alongside the Slovenian.
Valverde, now days away from calling time on his 22-year cycling career, took fourth place at 26 seconds, while Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost) finished fifth a further five seconds back. All five men will head to Il Lombardia next Saturday, where they’ll once again be among the main favourites for glory in Como.
How it unfolded
The 199km race would take in largely the same parcours as in recent years, with a flat start giving way to two larger climbs (Cà Bortolani and the Medelana) in the middle of the race before the peloton raced to Bologna to take on four-and-a-half laps of the hilly circuit and five ascents of the closing climb of San Luca.
A small breakaway group managed to steal away from the peloton within the first 10km of the day with Jacopo Guarnieri (Groupama-FDJ) joined out front by Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën), Kobe Goossens (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Rick Pluimers (Jumbo-Visma), and Johan Meens (Bingoal-Pauwels Sauces-WB).
Ineos Grenadiers and UAE Team Emirates controlled the race at the head of the peloton, each team boasting a contender in Adam Yates and Tadej Pogačar, with both looking to keep the break in check ahead of the final.
The break’s maximum advantage reached out to just over seven minutes after around 50km of racing, though the mid-race hills would see the time slip away with the peloton pushing the pace over Cà Bortolani.
With three minutes between break and peloton as the riders hit the Medelana, 80km from the finish, Guarnieri and Meens were the first men to drop back from the leaders, leaving three up front to keep pushing on.
On the climb, Bouchard and Goossens found themselves alone as Pluimers lost contact, and the duo led the way back to Bologna at two minutes up on the peloton.
The first lap of the hilly closing circuit only saw the peloton close in further, and by the start of the second, 30km from home, Goossens was on his own up front. The Belgian dangled at less than a minute ahead of the rest as Bouchard dropped back.
Attacks started to fly from the peloton on the second lap as Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech), and Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) jumped away to join Goossens up front on the descent from San Luca. The quartet held a small gap of 15 seconds heading into lap three, but behind them UAE Team Emirates were charging along in pursuit.
At 20km to go, at the base of the third of five ascents of San Luca, the group was brought back, leaving UAE to control the race into the final laps as Diego Ulissi and Davide Formolo pushed a high pace ahead of Pogačar.
The two workers kept plugging along as the diminished lead group headed into the final 10km and the penultimate climb of San Luca, their control only broken by a move by Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa).
His acceleration roused the big favourites into action, with Pogačar reacting along with Movistar’s Enric Mas and Domenico Pozzovivo of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert. Over the top, however, it would be Mas and Pogačar who led the way over the top, the Spaniard looking to put his rival into a bit of difficulty with a jump towards the summit.
A seven-strong group of chasers, made up of Formolo, Pozzovivo, Fortunato, Mas’ teammate Alejandro Valverde, plus Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost), Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), and Ruben Fernández (Cofidis) trailed at 15 seconds, leaving a likely two-man battle for victory the next time around.
It was Urán who led the moves from behind on the descent, the Colombian leading Valverde and Pozzovivo across to the two leaders in time for the final test up San Luca. Mas was the first to strike from the lead group, jumping 2km out after Valverde had set it up for his teammate.
The Spaniard’s move was met with no immediate reply behind, even from the usually unflappable Pogačar. The Slovenian, accompanied by Pozzovivo, was the closest chaser behind, however. Further back, Fortunato was making a move to get across to Valverde and Urán.
Mas pushed on into the final kilometre alone, while neither Pogačar nor Pozzovivo could mount a rearguard challenge to the 27-year-old. He duly raced on to victory while Pogačar could console himself with second place.
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