Tadej Pogačar made history by winning Il Lombardia for a third consecutive time, adding further prestige to his career by joining Alfredo Binda and Fausto Coppi in the record books. But he had to suffer to end his 2023 season on a high, his happiness wrapped in fatigue, with his voice tired and body clearly ready to take a break from racing and training.
Pogačar won Il Lombardia in a two-rider sprint in 2021 and 2022. Like two years ago when the race also finished in Bergamo, he made his move on the Passo di Ganda climb with 32 km to race.
When his biggest rivals chased him down, he attacked again over the top of the climb to go solo and then fought all the way to the finish, his advantage growing as his rival’s determination to chase waned.
Despite some cramps, Pogačar rode alone through the packed crowds on the climb to Bergamo Alto and had time to savour the descent to the line and to victory.
“This was the hardest of my three Il Lombardia victories. Finishing solo tops it off and finishing alone is emotional,” the UAE Team Emirates rider explained.
“A third consecutive victory is unbelievable. Il Lombardia is a dream race for any rider. It’s the last big, big race of the season, the last Monument. I’m really proud to have won it again, for a third time in a row.”
“You need everything to win. You need legs, fitness, the right mentality and also a bit of luck.”
Pogačar said he tried to “punch the shit out of the cramp” that hurt him on the valley road to Bergamo. His determination to overcome the muscle pain and win Il Lombardia reflected his 2023 season.
He was dominant in the spring races but then a complex wrist fracture at Liege-Bastogne-Liege affected his training for the Tour de France and left him without the form to fight with Jonas Vingegaard for three weeks.
He fought cramps at Il Lombardia just as he fought to hold onto second overall in France and win a final mountain stage.
“It was a strange season with the wrist fracture but I think it was a really great season,” Pogačar suggested, convinced he now deserves his off-season.
“This win is not revenge for the problems of the season but it’s a relief,” he said.
“I was getting more and more confident in the last few days that I could win and so it was special to ride to the finish alone and win.”
“I’ve ended the season on a high, so I can relax and enjoy life, try some new things in the winter and then prepare for the new season. I’m happy.”