Solo breakaways dominated two of cycling’s big one-day curtain-fallers at Paris-Tours and Il Lombardia. In the latter Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo came away with the win, while in the former it was a triumph for Lotto Soudal’s Jelle Wallays.
Il Lombardia saw George Bennett lining up once again in the services of teammate and Primož Roglič of Jumbo-Visma. The duo have paired up to great effect throughout the season, with the Slovenian entering Il Lombardia as the undisputed favourite after victory in Tre Valli Varesine and Giro dell’Emilia in the week leading up to the ‘race of the falling leaves’.
At 243km in length the race would take almost 6 hours for the victor, but the early stages were dominated by a breakaway featuring Remi Cavagna of Deceuninck-QuickStep, Toms Skujins of Trek-Segafredo, Marco Marcato of UAE Team Emirates, Cesare Benedetti of BORA-Hansgrohe, Davide Ballerini of Astana, Fausto Masnada of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec and Enrico Barbin of Bardiani-CSF.
The break gradually built a lead that went up to around 5 minutes with Jumbo-Visma initially assuming control over the peloton. They remained on the front until Team Ineos and EF Education First began to assist the chase. With 71km to go it was Ineos on the front with a deficit to the remaining break sitting at 2.39mins.
With 65km still to race Masnada – to the irritation of Skujins – attacked and took off alone. At this point they were the last men standing in the move and it seemed a bit of a nonsense move but the Italian was gone. Eventually, however, all came to nought for the lone leader and a select group of about 27-strong formed at the front of the race.
In the group was George Bennett, who attacked briefly before a move went away from Tim Wellens of Lotto Soudal and Emanuel Buchmann of BORA-Hansgrohe. An attack from Alejandro Valverde quickly brought Buchmann back with 19km to go, but it was an attack from Bauke Mollema with 18.5km to go that proved decisive. The Dutchman picked his timing to perfection as the rest of the group looked at each other. Mollema built a lead of 30 seconds and took it to the finishing climb where he managed to defend his advantage ahead of a chase group that contained Alejandro Valverde, Jakob Fuglsang of Astana and Egan Bernal of Team Ineos.
As the kilometres ticked away it became clear that Mollema had done everything right and the chasers had let the race run away from them. The Dutchman crossed the line 16 seconds ahead of Valverde with Bernal just a little behind the former world champion in third and Fuglsang fourth. Pre-race favourite Roglič finished in the next group on the road led home by Michael Woods of EF Education First.
George Bennett, for his efforts throughout the day, crossed the line 35th alongside teammates Robert Gesink and Sepp Kuss; joined by Ruben Fernandez of Movistar and Mikel Nieve of Mitchelton-SCOTT.
Wallays solos to Paris-Tours triumph
Paris-Tours used to be regarded as a sprinter’s classic, however the last pure sprinter to triumph in France was Fernando Gaviria back in 2016. It has instead become known as a bit of a mixed bag of an event in terms of who it suits, with bunch sprints, small group sprints and solo breaks seeming to be the order of the day in fairly equal measure recently.
Over the 214.5km of racing it took a fair while for a breakaway to go. In the end a group did manage to take off but it didn’t take long – once the crosswinds bit – for the break to be brought back to heel and with 90km to go there was a new formation at the front. It wasn’t a whole peloton, however, that now formed the front of the race; but instead a fractured one. Three big groups had formed over the road with Dimesion Data’s Mark Cavendish caught out in one of the trailing ones.
Eventually, though, the peloton at the head fo the race did swell, but there was a sense that more attacks could come and with 70km to go Søren Kragh Andersen of Team Sunweb went up the road with Roompot-Charles’ Boy van Poppel. They lasted together until 53km to go where Andersen dropped his companion. The duo had built up a lead that had crested the minute margin with Groupama-FDJ taking on the chase effort.
On the gravel, however, an attack by Jelle Wallays provided a new dynamic. The Belgian had a lot of chasing to do over the gravel sectors, but he seemed up for the challenge despite having no company. Andersen up ahead had 40 seconds in hand over the chaser with 48km to go but he was brought to a standstill on the gravel with 44km to go; the result of a puncture. Wallays caught and passed the lone leader swiftly ad wasn’t going wait for him either; instead choosing to march on alone.
Andersen remained in the hunt until he was caught by a group of chasers. The main group who had been chasing found themselves breaking up along the gravel, a combination of the intensity along with the punctures and mechanical issues that the gravel threw up, seeming to aid Wallays’ chances of staying clear.
Wallays steadily built his advantage to 1 minute with 34km to go and despite a bit of a uniting amongst the chase group, with Groupama-FDJ still to the fore, the Lotto Soudal rider never looked like rescinding his lead. At 20km to go his lead was still sitting at 1.15mins with a chase group of 14 riders fighting to remain in the hunt for the honours.
The final climb of the Côte de Rochecorbon saw Lars Bak of Dimension Data make a valiant attack, with the Dane being briefly joined by two riders before the rest of the group pegged them all back with the deficit not falling. With 15km to go the Belgian’s lead had crept up to 1.30mins and despite the gap falling inside the last 10km it never looked threatened as the chasers had to concede that Wallays was simply too good.
The chasers rallied particularly well in the final 5km bringing Wallays’ advantage down to 46 seconds with 1km to go; but it wouldn’t be enough to bring back the Lotto Soudal rider who pressed on to take a thoroughly deserved win 29 seconds ahead of Niki Terpstra of Total Direct Energie and Oliver Naesen of AG2R La Mondiale.