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Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) wasn’t going to get caught this time.
In an eerie replay of last week’s world championships, the Spanish rider was off the front, alone in the rain, on Italian roads, closing in on victory. Unlike last week’s tearful loss to Rui Costa in Florence for the world title, the ending was very different.
The 34-year-old Spaniard took revenge Sunday, winning the Giro di Lombardia for the second consecutive year, and capturing the WorldTour lead with just one race left to go.
“The worlds is the worlds. It’s different,” Rodríguez said. “This is Lombardia. It’s another victory, beautiful, impressive. You have to live the moment and just enjoy this moment.”
Rodríguez took risks on the wet descent to hold off the chasers and secure victory. But will winning a second Lombardia, one of cycling’s monuments, help take away the sting of losing out on the world champion’s rainbow jersey?
Rodríguez said winning helps salve the wound, but admitted he will likely never forget what happened in Florence.
“No, you cannot forget,” he said, shaking his head with a laugh. “I’ve recovered well. This victory will help me think about next year.”
Spain was burning all week in the fallout from the world championships, when Costa attacked in the closing 2km to reel in and then knock back Rodríguez to win the rainbow jersey.
Many pointed their finger at compatriot Alejandro Valverde, but Rodríguez said the pair spoke last week to discuss what happened in the race, when Valverde didn’t follow Costa’s move.
“We spoke at the worlds, and he clarified everything. He explained his race and how he saw it,” Rodriguez said. “Logically, we have different views on it, but I respect his view, that he was not 100 percent. It’s like that.”
Rodríguez caps another successful, but oh-so-close season in which he won some big races, and perhaps will finish the season ranked No. 1 in the world, but is just short of a major, breakout victory.
This year, he lost Liège-Bastogne-Liège to Daniel Martin, but reached the podium for the first time at the Tour de France with third. At the Vuelta a España, he fell flat with fourth overall, and came within a few pedal strokes of capturing the world title.
“I was a little unlucky this season,” he said. “I was going well, always close. At the Tour, I was good, but missed something to go 100 percent. I wasn’t as good as last year, but that makes these victories all the more special.”
Rodríguez now takes a slender, 20-point lead to Chris Froome (Sky) in the WorldTour ranking, with only the five-day Tour of Beijing left to race. Froome pulled out of Lombardia, citing a sore back, and is not confirmed to race in China, while Rodríguez said he will not race in China.
For Rodríguez, winning Lombardía and staking claim for the world No. 1 ranking is all fine and dandy, but you get the feeling he’d trade it all and more for the stripes.
“It’s not useful to regret anything,” he said with resignation. “I did my [worlds] race, I was second. That’s it.”
On Sunday, he was first. And that’s what people remember.