Remco Evenepoel burned off the peloton to win a rain-soaked Coppa Bernocchi with a dominant solo effort in Italy.
The 21-year-old claimed his 22nd career win and his explosive ride distanced the bulk of the riders to such an extent that race organisers almost pulled them from the road with two laps of the Legnano circuit remaining.
Riding for Team Deceuninck-Quick Step, Evenepoel got his head down with 30 kilometres to go and built up a gap of over two minutes that barely wavered until he crossed the line.
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The Belgian, who had over a kilometre and a half of clear road behind him at one point, rode superbly with a punch that has seen him compared to compatriot and cycling royalty, Eddy Merckx.
Six riders had initially distanced the peloton after 50km with a breakaway that only eked out the gap as they ate up the miles.
Evenepoel left Alessandro Covi, Fausto Masnada, Samuele Battistella, Thibaut Pinot and Antonio Puppio scrapping for positions behind him with the rest of the peloton long behind them down the road.
Team Deceuninck-Quick Step were well represented in the breaking group by Masnada and Evenepoel and it was Masnada who finished third behind UAE-Team Emirates’ Covi.
It fell to the legs of Ineos Grenadiers and Richie Porte to reel them back in with other teams reluctant to push on at the front.
But it was nowhere near enough to catch the young Belgian and nearly not even good enough to finish the race, with race organisers deliberating over pulling in the trailing riders as it looked possible they may have been lapped.
The race had been tight for the first 60km, but gaps started to appear when the breakaway got away at the front, spinning up a gap that quickly jumped over five minutes.
Team Deceuninck-Quick Step, usually such a driving force at the front of the peloton, were more than happy to sit in and let their two riders stretch their gap further up the road.
Coppa Bernocchi : Highlights as Evenepoel produces dominant solo effort
The 197.15km route took in six circuits around the outskirts of Milan and six runs at the 1.4km Piccolo Stelvio in the foothills of the Alps before finishing on the flat roads of north Milan.
The 6.5% average Piccolo is small in name and nature and with the relatively flat parcours of the rest of the route, the race had been set to be one for the sprinters.
But the high number of corners making up the circuit and the torrential conditions meant that despite their best efforts, riders on the front of the peloton could only push as hard as the group they were chasing, leaving the breakaway to eat up the ground.
It was the first Belgium win at the Coppa Bernocchi for 63 years at the 102nd edition of the race, returning after 2020’s Covid-enforced hiatus.
It marks the first of the races that make up the Lombardy Triptych, with Tuesday’s Three Varesine Valleys and, on Monday 11 October, the Agostoni Cup.
The result means that Evenepoel will again be the one to watch at the Il Lombardia in a few days’ time.
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