Il Lombardia Race Preview – 2017

Course:

As Autumn begins to set in across Europe, the race of the falling leaves once again signifies the end of the year’s major races, concluding the season’s monuments campaign with Il Lombardia. Starting in Bergamo and travelling 247km to the finish at Como, the day’s racing is expected to be fierce as ever, with plenty of riders in good form after a late surge in promise off the back of the Vuelta a España and World Championships last month. The route itself is based upon 2015’s course, one which delivered Vincenzo Nibali the win on that day, packing much of the toughest climbing into the final third of the day’s racing. Though a couple of recognised ascents are present during the opening 150km, it is not really until the riders reach the Madonna del Ghisallo where life in the saddle gets really difficult. Lasting for 8.6km and averaging a gradient of 6.2%, the rise includes maximum inclines of 14% and should give an early indication of who is contention for the final win. The biggest challenge of the day soon follows, a chance of seeing some big names crack on the Muro di Sormano and its mind numbing gradients which touch 27%; under 2km of gruelling climbing. A relatively extended period without climbing lasts until 226km has been completed, from which point the final fireworks are anticipated to be ignited. The climb to Civiglio is a likely launchpad for an attack, a 4.2km rise which peaks at 14%, with riders reaching the summit and hurtling down to face their final climb of the day; San Fermo della Battaglia (3.3 km, avg. 7.2%). The final kilometres are not technically demanding, though after such a fatiguing affair, even the slightest inclines are bound to be magnified.

 

Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Rigoberto Uran has shown to be in brilliant form late in the year and will find the finale of this year’s race suited to his talents. The Colombian looks to have peaked perfectly for this last monument and will enter the race with great confidence of succeeding in his endeavours. Able to stick the pace of the favourites on the steepest sections and possessing a punchy acceleration which few can match, Uran is a major contender on a day where those lacking in condition will be hit hardest.

Vincenzo Nibali shall have flashed a grin when first seeing the course for 2017’s edition of his native monument, the route mirroring the one which previously delivered him the win at this race a couple of years ago. With the demands meeting that of a queen stage at a grand tour, Nibali is certainly equipped with the tools needed to survive, but it is still uncertain whether he is truly poised to put his rivals to the sword once again here. If still in contention after the ascent of Muro di Sormano, then there is a strong possibility he will seek to breakaway solo in the remaining kilometres and replicate his win of 2015.

Adam Yates was not far behind Rigoberto Uran during the week’s Milano – Torino and will believe that a tweaking of tactics could land him a major victory to add to his growing palmarès. He has had to endure an awkward year of racing, but now looks to be edging closer to the kind of form which makes him a true contender on such a tough day of attritional racing. Yates will need to focus on conserving energy for as long as possible, as with terrain which is not perfect for the British rider, he knows that every ounce of power will be required to make one big attack stick right to the line at Como.

Julian Alaphilippe appeared on course for the World Championship title late in the day at Bergen, but the race failed to follow his plan ideally, though Il Lombardia offers an ideal remedy to that misfortune. Another who is likely to favour a late solo move, the Frenchman will benefit from a more conservatively ridden race, allowing him to exploit the tactics of bigger favourites and commit to his move when others are beginning to flag. His performance at the World Championships off the back of the Vuelta a España was particularly encouraging, with expectations high for a good performance as a result.

Bauke Mollema is certainly capable of springing a surprise upon the big name contenders at this year’s Il Lombardia, with a tougher route providing him with some ideal opportunities to try and escape the bunch. The Dutchman has clearly targeted this race with full intentions of animating the proceedings when possible, aiming to pounce near the end of the day with one of his unmarked moves which has previously secured him major honours in the past.

Outcome:

1st Rigoberto Uran 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Bauke Mollema

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Rapido Guide – Il Lombardia Preview 2016

Course:

It shall seem a lifetime ago since the riders battled it out amongst themselves for glory in the Spring classics, but they shall soon need to get back up to speed with the rigours of those races as the peloton tackle the final monument of 2016. Il Lombardia is the last major one day race of the year ahead of the World Championships and offers canny puncheurs a final chance of glory before the peloton goes into hibernation until next season. This extremely lumpy course will be a gruelling affair once the pressure ratchets up and the favourites become twitchy to the movements of their rivals on the final climbs en route to the finish. The day totals 241km as it snakes its way from Como to Bergamo, looking to chip away at the riders until the last 50km of racing instigates skirmishes to breakout, likely to form an elite group which fractures in the final 20km to the line. With more climbing than recent years, it should allow purer climbers to deal greater damage to the puncheurs, the latter favouring a small group reaching the line from which they can sprint to victory ahead of the true mountain men.

Il Lombardia

Contenders:

Romain Bardet looked in great condition at both Giro dell’Emilia and Milan-Turin, riding aggressively in the latter stages of both and certain to feel encouraged by those performances as he enters this final major race of his season. His team AG2R La Mondiale worked really well during the earlier Italian races last week, placing Bardet perfectly throughout the day and setting him up neatly for attacks late in the race.

Esteban Chaves has been in great form as of late and has improved consistently throughout the season to confirm his status as one of the most exciting prospects within the peloton for next year. He won Giro dell’Emilia with a typically clever move, though something which he might struggle to succeed with today as a result of Il Lombardia‘s much more hotly contested nature.

Rigoberto Uran has established a talent for performing well in these one day races which come after La Vuelta a España, often emerging as one of the strongest riders as the favourites approach the finale. He felt somewhat aggrieved to miss out on the win during Milan-Turin and is riding extremely strongly right now ahead of this last big battle. He should be confident of staying with the strongest and is one of the fastest finishers in a reduced sprint after a day like this.

Diego Ulissi is somewhat of an outsider, but his showings in the previous week and a finish which plays to his strengths perfectly mark him out as a true contender for victory today. Assuming he can stay with the frontrunners late in the day, Ulissi will prove extremely difficult to beat in a sprint to the line.

There is a great breadth of riders who could all ride themselves into contention for this last monument of the year, including big name contenders such as Alejandro ValverdeJulian AlaphilippeBauke MollemaDan Martin and Greg Van Avermaet.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Rigoberto Uran 3rd Esteban Chaves

Il-Lombardia-Preview-Spokenforks

Il Lombardia – Preview

Course:

The curtain call for 2015’s Classics season is heralded once again by The Race of the Falling Leaves, more commonly Il Lombardia. After a second half to the year focused upon grand tours and the World Championships, we see the racing come to a close in 2015 with a particularly gruelling edition of this Italian monument, 245km from Bergamo to Como and some of the hardest climbing the organisers could squeeze into this course.

Similar to Spring’s battles in the Ardennes, little of note occurs during an opening stretch of 170km which serves to warm the riders up and begin building the attrition subtlety. The Colle Gallo does however feature early on as the peloton are tasked with climbing its 7.4km ascent after only 49km have passed. It possesses an average gradient of 6%, but remains relatively consistent right the way to the top and reaches the 10% maximum gradient before the halfway point. The subsequent descent places them back upon level ground for the most part and does not task them with another climb until the simple Colle Brianza once they reach the 108km marker.

Roads continue to roll with ever increasing contrast and begin to hint towards what awaits the riders during the finale of this race. Madonna del Ghisallo will be the first to land a blow upon the favourites, opening their run to home with 72.5km remaining with the initial 3km being contested at a relentless 9%. From here another 5.5km separate the riders from the summit, the middle of which offers a plateau upon which to recover temporarily, before then kicking onwards to the final 1.2km contested at 9.5%. Considering it even touches 14% at one point, should somebody feel strong to make a move here, it might prove difficult to immediately close them down with a sharp acceleration given the terrain.

A fast and technical descent of only 6km will compound their preceding efforts as they almost immediately charge headlong into the base of the infamous Colma di Sormano. A 6.6% average gradient reels the pack up the opening 5km, but all focus will be placed upon the concluding 2km which shall be a truly brutal affair for even the strongest on the day. This final section includes a mind numbing stint of 27% with less than a kilometre to the summit, and overall, the entire run to the top will be against an average(!) of 15.8%. Just shy of 50km shall be left once they complete this ludicrous Ghisallo-Sormano combo and spectators will have now been provided with a clear idea of who has the legs to contest the win by Como. 

Once they have made their way to Como the riders shall approach the first of two circuits of the rolling roads which thread their way around the city and utilise the ascent of Civiglio. The climb itself is another punch to the guts in order to ascertain the real contenders once again, though only 4.2km in total, its average gradient of 9.7% grinds its way to the summit and includes ramps of 14%. Another drop will funnel the pack downwards again, once they have reached Civiglio’s peak with just under 17km remaining and begin approaching the finale. This climb would be a perfect launchpad for a race winning move, but given the immense depth of talent present at 2015’s edition and the attritional nature of this particular course, we might see the divisive move come even later. The final chance to make a difference will be placed before the hopefuls only 8km from home, the San Fermo della Battaglia may only be 3.3km long, but its average of 7.2% and maximum of 10% will feel like a herculean obstacle in the wake of the day’s preceding climbs. From 5.3km out it begins tipping downhill and ultimately only levels out 1.5km from the finish line, it was during this part of the race last year that the elite lead group were caught napping by Dan Martin as he attacked and sailed away solo to secure the win.

Il-Lombardia-Preview-Spokenforks

Il-Lombardia-Preview-Spokenforks

Contenders:

Vincenzo Nibali is entering this race as the favourite and could finally secure the elusive monument win which so far is absent from his palmares. Not only does the gruelling nature of the day’s route suit Nibali well, but the high possibility of rain combined with the technical descents offers all the ingredients required to bring the Italian to the fore when it matters most. Having missed out on ridding the Vuelta a España due to his disqualification for cheating, he arrives here fresher than many of his rivals and has already demonstrated this fact by winning Tre Valli Varesine last week. Often this race is decided by an elite group sprinting late on for the win, something which would normally be a negative for Nibali, but today’s arduous finale should guarantee him the opportunity to attack and come to the line solo for his debut monument victory.

Alejandro Valverde could prove to be Nibali’s greatest adversary in pursuit of Il Lombardia, possessing an encouraging record at the race but having never stood atop the podium. However, he shares the biggest unappealing factor as many of the contenders here, arriving at the start line off the back of a difficult Vuelta a España. A day of bad weather could actually become a positive for Valverde, the pace subsequently being reduced and taking the sting out of some rivals’ attacks. Like Nibali he will be comfortable on the technical descent and will no doubt be the favourite in a sprint should a small group make it right the way to line.

Rui Costa tends to be forgotten when it comes to these races, despite having won the biggest one day race of the year (2013’s World Championships), but remains a clear danger today. The Portuguese rider was third in last year’s race and certainly has the skill set required to go even better today, but his exact condition is somewhat uncertain. However, the fact he placed 9th at the World Road Race in Richmond is a big hint at what could lay in store, a dangerous rider who might mistakenly be provided with too much room to attack.

Dan Martin is the defending champion and appears here in the colours of Garmin-Cannondale for the final time before moving onto Etixx – Quick Step next season; no doubt a sign that he will wish to sign off with a good performance today. Sadly for the Irishman, his preparation heading into the day has been far from ideal, only making his return a few days ago since the shoulder injury which forced him to abandon the Vuelta a España. Despite this, he did finish 14th and less than a minute down on his comeback at Milano-Turino, so there is evidence to suggest he will at least be competitive to a certain extent. He does not have the effects of a hard grand tour still lingering in his system like others here and certainly fits the mould of a likely winner of Il Lombardia yet again.

Bauke Mollema may emerge as a surprising animator of the race today, the Dutchman has looked to be in strong form as of late and certainly suits the amount of climbing in this addition. His one-day racing credentials are a good support to his claims of a win, though the most positive suggestion of a good showing is his continued form throughout the Tour of Alberta, GP Quebec & Montreal and a great team role during Richmond too. Like Rui Costa mentioned above, he is the sort of rider who could be underestimated and afforded far too much room in order to make a race winning move.

Thibaut Pinot has made this race a huge goal for himself at the end of the season and will ride amongst a FDJ.fr team which offers no real alternative beyond their leader. Given the amount of horrendous climbing in 2015’s route, this is a great chance for Pinot to secure a surprising monument amongst his palmares come the end of the day. If he can mirror the sort of strength we witnessed during the Tour de Suisse earlier in the year, Pinot would be the strongest pure climber present at the race and no doubt ensure everybody is aware of this fact when it matters most.

Outcome:

1st Vincenzo Nibali 2nd Thibaut Pinot 3rd Rui Costa

The Last Hurrah – Il Lombardia Preview

With the season drawing to a close, the last major race and final monument of the year is Italy’s ‘Race of The Falling Leaves’ – Il Lombardia. Forming the latter bookend to the year’s classics season, Il Lombardia is the last chance for a rider to add a major victory to his palmarès before the races curtail off into more minor events. A race with a tendency to lend itself to back-to-back winners; Joaquim Rodriguez, Damiano Cunego, Phillipe Gilbert and Paolo Bettini have all one here at least twice, but we may see a new champion after serious alterations to the route. With the World Road Race Championship having slipped through the hands of all of Il Lombardia’s major contenders’ (except for Poland’s wonder kid) many will treat this with equal importance.

Course:

With the organisers keen to avoid the race becoming formulaic in its tactics, changes to the terrain should mean we see a totally different race to last year’s edition and possibly a new winner too. Stretching over 256km, Il Lombardia will be as equally testing as any of the other Monuments, with a more difficult run of climbs in this year’s latter stages. However, despite the day being a more gruelling affair overall, the finish has been simplified to fit the talents of the classic specialists who often benefit from an elite bunch kick.

Il-Lombardia-Race-Preview

Life gets serious as the race reaches its conclusion.

Expected to drain the legs of the riders during the day are the ascents of  Madonna del Ghisallo, Colle Gallo and the day’s major feature of  Passo di Ganda – a 9.2km climb which sees its average gradient of 7.3% reach a maximum of 15% as the riders approach the summit. Despite having the composition of a climb intended to decide a race, with over 60km remaining once ascended by the peloton, it is unlikely anyone will win from this point – though many could find their race being lost. Over the following 60km or so of racing, the pack will be forced to navigate technical descents (possibly in the wet) and roads which narrow drastically at times. Stress will be high, so teams will need to focus on keeping their leaders’ well positioned at the front of affairs as the final 3okm come into view. After a 14km stretch of calmer rolling roads ends with 5km remaining, the favourites well be expected to make their move on the race winning climb of Bergamo. Despite having being proceed by climbs more suited to the mountain men, the day’s deciding feature is more akin to that of a big Ardennes finish at 4.9km with an average gradient of 7.9% (12% max) – after the proceeding 250km of racing you will here the legs blow from home. Bergamo is also a tricky challenge thanks to cobbled sections, narrow roads and even a set of citadel gates to navigate – think GP de Wallonie’s fortified finish. Once over the top, those out front will drop like stones through the descents wider streets and find themselves taking the last left hand turn onto a flat 900m stretch to the line.

Contenders:

With the latest course changes taken into account, the range of possible winners has broadened massively thanks to a finish which allows more tactical permutations than recent editions. Many will look to Il Lombardia to compensate for a poor Worlds or even save their entire season. Immediately making Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert the big name favourites in the betting market; which when you consider the course seems somewhat irrational. The first 250km might suit ‘The Three Musketeers‘ but realistically Gilbert is the only one truly suited to the finale. The classics specialist should be seen as the favourite for this, having won this race twice before (though upon contrasting terrain) he will fancy his chances for the win if still present late on.

Possibly the most marked man in the peloton on the day, Michal Kwiatkowski could see the final 5km as the perfect opportunity to take his debut in the rainbow bands of the World Champion. With the short and hard climb of Bergamo leading onto a long descent to the finish, Kwiatkowski could slip off the front and replicate the antics of Ponferrada once again. However, the young Pole is still weak when it comes to difficult and prolonged climbing, meaning we might not even see him in the  race winning group of leaders.

Another similarly talented youngster who appears to be going from strength to strength this season is Tony Gallopin. The young Frenchman is an interesting outsider for the win after impressing at the Worlds, Wallonie and the Canadian Grand Prixs recently. If able to be remain part of a group which makes it to the home stretch, he does have a powerful sprint on him for a climber but is likely to be heavily fatigued after such a testing day.

Dan Martin is a would be favourite in a year with better form and better luck, though it would be foolish to dismiss him totally on his final chance to rescue his season. Seemingly jinxed this year, he was going well in Ponferrada before more bad luck cut his race short once again. He has form at the one-day classics and has come close to winning Il Lombardia already amongst his solid placings at this final monument.

A man who appears to be going well as of late is Frank Schleck, putting in impressive showings at both GP de Wallonie and Milano – Torino has proven he is still a man to be feared on the right terrain. His key weakness is a lack of tactical nous however, often finding himself in racing winning positions, only to throw them away while decision making.

Bauke Mollema seems to have fallen to the wayside as people select their favourites’ for Il Lombardiaincredible considering his amazing consistency amongst the classics. At the end of a season however, such form can often be an altogether different task to achieve when faced with fatigue. The Dutchman should be able to hold on in the mountains, make it to the final climb and put in a decent sprint if required.

Two more who could benefit from a reduced bunch sprint or breakaway making it to the line are Ben Swift and Jelle Vanendert. A more tactical race would allow them to remain in contention for the win amongst a small group, but it remains unlikely that the pair will be at the forefront to contest the win come kilometre 256.

Il-Lombardia-Preview

Outcome:

Even on closer inspection, Il Lombardia appears to be a relatively open affair for the last big race of the year. Not only does the course suit a greater number of riders than usual, but the location of this fixture in the calendar means many will be targeting this more seriously than others would suspect. Ultimately, the day does appear to be tailored made for Philippe Gilbert and his potent finishing abilities. He will face stiff competition from Bauke Mollema, Dan Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski if he manages to stay in contention. Though messrs Valverde, Contador and Rodriguez are all likely to be present at the decisive climb of Burgamo, they do not excel upon such terrain and would be better off with a more challenging conclusion or a summit finish.

1st Gilbert 2nd Martin 3rd Mollema