Procycling

Pogačar’s Faustian pact with Masnada

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The German legend of Faust tells the story of an erudite but dissatisfi­ed scholar who came to a crossroads and made a deal with the Devil: all the worldly goods and knowledge he could accumulate in 24 years in return for his soul once that time was up. The moral of the story is that it was a bad deal for the protagonis­t - eternity in Hell considerab­ly outweighed the shortterm gain, no matter how tempting.

The terms of the unspoken deal offered to Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Fausto Masnada in the final 16 kilometres of Il Lombardia 2021 by Tadej Pogacar were every bit as one-sided, even if the Slovenian’s bargain was much more favourable to Dr Faust’s namesake. It came to this: the Italian would be allowed to ride into his home city of Bergamo in Pogacar’s company and secure second place, but he would not be first across the line. Second place in a monument, especially when that race finishes in front of home fans, still beats eternal damnation, and even if Masnada went through the motions of trying to beat the Tour champion, the conclusion to this tale was inevitable.

Objectivel­y, there was not much Masnada would be able to do against the rampaging Slovenian, except hope for a mechanical. The Italian had chased Pogacar’s attack on the Passo di Ganda, which had dropped an elite lead group, and he had to work hard to close a 30-second gap, though skilful descending and probably better local knowledge helped him significan­tly. However, the situation was this: Pogacar is a stronger rider than Masnada, he is a faster sprinter and to that point Masnada had also been a more visible presence in the race and had already spent considerab­le energy in working for his team to try to set up their world champion Julian Alaphilipp­e.

The only threat to Pogacar was going to come from tactical decisions taken in the chasing group, but the co-operation there was bad enough that it was barely a group, and not at all a chase. Jumbo-Visma were the only team with more than one rider, with Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglic, but Roglic seemed to have spent his best form winning the

Giro dell’Emilia and Milano-Torino in the previous week, they were loath to pull Masnada’s Deceuninck team-mate Alaphilipp­e back up to the front and nobody else would contribute anyway.

So that left Masnada and Deceuninck-Quick Step with the impossible task of beating Pogacar. They did the best thing possible, which was to glom Masnada on to Pogacar’s wheel and refuse to come through. But the discrepanc­y in strength between the two was such that even the game attack that the Italian made on the short, steep rise of the Colle Aperto into Bergamo was covered easily, with Pogacar not even deigning to rise from his saddle. The sprint at the finish was a done deal.

Pogacar’s win made him the most successful male rider of 2021 and put him among exalted company in

the sport. He had already taken Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de France, and Lombardia was his third major race title of the season. Only Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx had previously won both a grand tour and two monuments in a single season (notwithsta­nding the fact that ‘monument’ is a distinctly modern term, which reflects the hierarchy of races as it is in 2021, not the 1950s or 1970s). Behind him, Alaphilipp­e and Roglic could reflect that even with superior strength in their teams, they still came up short - they couldn’t match Pogacar on the Ganda, and the bare facts of the race will give them pause for thought. Pogacar is becoming the leading figure in men’s cycling, and though his period of dominance is likely to last for a decade or so rather than eternity, it might feel like the latter to his rivals.

 ?? ?? In front of a Slovenian flag, Pogačar powers away from his rivals
In front of a Slovenian flag, Pogačar powers away from his rivals
 ?? ?? Masnada shows his disappoint­ment, though it was hard to see how he could win
Masnada shows his disappoint­ment, though it was hard to see how he could win
 ?? ??

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