Mollema beats Bernal to win Tour of Lombardy

Emmeline MOORE

Milan (AFP) - Dutch rider Bauke Mollema crossed the line alone on the banks of Lake Como to take victory ahead of the race favourites with a 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.' 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!"

Tour de France champion Bernal, ten years younger than the winner, was content with 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 having claimed his first victory in Italy in Thursday's Gran Piemonte race.

"Mollema was the strongest today, it was a tough race but I loved it and hope to win one day."

"I think the most important thing is that I’m on the podium and have finished the season well," added the Colombian.

- 'Explosive' -

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

Mollema made the break at Civiglio, with 20km to go, attacking two kilometres from the summit, ahead of a group featuring Bernal, Valverde, Vuelta a Espana winner Primoz Roglic, and France's Pierre Latour.

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 near Como, 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 his hopes of adding to his titles in 2015 and 2017 had evaporated.

Mollema held off late attacks from both Roglic and Valverde in the final descent five kilometres from the line.

"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.

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