Il Lombardia is a tough race, as beautiful as it is unpredictable. Most of its appeal lies in the countless ways in which it can be settled, be it in a small-bunch sprint, or attacking uphill/downhill, from a long distance or in the closing kilometres.
In this post series, we will take a look at five possible ways to win Il Lombardia, starting with the most exciting one – at the same time, the hardest to achieve: a long-distance solo attack.
Many riders have succeeded in doing so over 115 editions, from the early days until recent times.
Having to single out one sole accomplishment, however, the feat we will review today stars the legendary Fausto Coppi – the multiple winner of the Classic of the Fallen Leaves, the one rider who, above any other, made solo breaks not only his trademark, but also a form of art.
On October 24, 1948, the ‘Campionissimo’ had already won the two previous editions of the Giro di Lombardia, and he was the odds-on favourite that year as well.
Instead of cracking, he would thrive under pressure.
Without even waiting for the final climb, which was however quite far from the finish line, he attacked out of the favourites’ group near Lake Segrino and caught up with the three last remaining breakaways (Rossello, Pinarello and Seghezzi), leaving them behind.
The finish was still 83 km away.
The gap increased along the gravelled Ghisallo, as Coppi rode up the ramp in a record-breaking time of 25’20”.
Ortelli and Bobet, his closest chasers, cleared the summit 2’41” behind him, and just a handful of seconds ahead of a small chasing peloton that included Leoni, Astrua, Schaer, Rolland, Simonini, Martini, Giudici and Cerami.
From there on, the race was virtually over.
By the time the road levelled out towards Milan, Coppi – who at that time was the World Hour Record holder – was out of reach. The gap even continued to grow, and Coppi entered the Vigorelli Velodrome nearly 5 minutes ahead of the runner-up, Adolfo Leoni.
After an eighty-kilometre solo breakaway, and after setting a new record average speed (37.8 km/h over 222 km), the Heron scored his third consecutive win.
As we said before, attacking from a long distance is surely exciting but also extremely difficult, because it requires strong, unfaltering legs, as well as imagination, bravery and a touch of madness – all the features of a great champion.