The Giro di Lombardia has changed names to Il Lombardia or “the Lombardy” but the format is simple: a long race across hilly terrain with stunning scenery to end the season.
The name change is part of a move by race organisers RCS to rejig their portfolio of races and ensure that there is only one Giro… the Giro d’Italia. So the Giro di Piemonte becomes Gran Piemonte and tomorrow sees Il Lombardia. Here’s a look at the region, the race, the contenders and more…
Lombardy is the large region in the north of Italy around Milan that extends to the Alps. One of the heartlands of Italian cycling, the region offers plenty for cycling, especially if you pick the right spot. The race itself isn’t really a tour of the region, you can’t do that in one day. Instead is concentrated to the north around the shores of Lake Como. And for good reason as the area is stunningly beautiful and and includes some amazing roads. Cycling photographer Graham Watson once said he wanted to “shriek with joy” at the sight of the lakes and mountains.
There’s an air of melancoly about this race. Give or take a few smaller events, it’s the last race of the year and autumn is here. In fact it’s the last time the race will happen against the backdrop of fallen leaves and wood smoke wafting from chimneys as next year’s event is moved to September. If the Tour of Flanders has scrapped the Geraardsbergen without warning, at least this time we’ll have a final chance to appreciate the autumnal nature of Lombardy.
The race starts in Milan, capital of the region before heading north and then east across to the first climb of Valcava. From Torre de’ Busi it’s a proper alpine style climb with hairpin bends and a tough gradient. It won’t determine the result alone but it is sufficiently hard to make it important even if it’s early in the race.
Then comes the Colma di Sormano, a classic of the race. It is regular at 6% and enough to be selective. The descent back down to the lake is very technical with plenty of corners. Then it’s along the shores of Lake Como to Bellagio, home to many a jet-set star. [EDIT: I started by saying the Muro di Sormano was included but it's the Colma as pointed out by a more famous reader in the comments below].
At a roundabout the riders will turn right and then start one of the sport’s mythical roads, the Via Vallesina. The climb up to the Ghisallo chapel starts hard with 10% gradients and hairpin bends. The first four kilometres continue at about 9% with some steeper ramps before the road levels out from Palaino to Civenna before the final ramps to the Ghisallo. As such this is almost two climbs, an early section followed by some flat and even downhill sections before the final kick. For more on the chapel, scroll down.
Once the chapel is passed the climbing is not over as there is another drag up again, this was where the favourites powered away last year. Then comes another tricky descent. The climbs are fun in the way the gradient changes and the tight hairpins let you feel a bit of G-force going uphill. But the descents are correspondingly technical or, for want of a better word, crazy. Last year even Vincenzo Nibali fell, one of the best descenders in the bunch, he lost it on a corner. Hard enough in the dry, if it’s wet then damp surfaces and slippery leaves make this a real test of nerves.
The final climb is a new edition, the road to Villa Vergano is steep with 3.4km at 8% but the last kilometre at 15%, a devastating gradient after 235km. This will provide the last chance for a climber to get away ahead of yet another nervy descent and then just three kilometres until glory awaits in Lecco.
Since he started racing in February, Philippe Gilbert has won races in every month so far. Except October. He’s got to be a favourite but hasn’t had much luck so far this month. He comes with a dedicated team, an often unmentioned ingredient behind his wins.
If I had pick three more contenders, then it gets hard because many have not been racing that much in recent weeks and certainly not in such a hard test. Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema has had some consistent results though and should be present. For “old times’ sake” Samuel Sanchez could be present but he’s been quiet recently, the same for the consistently erratic Damiano Cunego. And Vincenzo Nibali has the ability to control things uphill and downhill.
Then there are several others to consider. Thomas Voeckler is in mishcievous form. Nicolas Roche lives in the area and is going very well, the same is true for another adopted local, Garmin-Cervélo’s Christophe Le Mevel. Colombian Carlos Betancourt is strong and a name for the future. Pocket-sized climbers like Emmanuelle Sella and Domenico Pozzovivo could be up there, maybe Giovanni Visconti too. Katusha are strong at the moment and in real need of ranking points to watch for Di Luca and Spaniards Daniel Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez. Talking of Spaniards Juanjo Cobo might have some of his Vuelta form left. Past
winner podium finisher Jani Brajkovic could do well and Sky’s Rigoberto Uran is in form, raising his hands in the GP Emila, only a lap too early on the finishing circuit. Finally, watch for Thibaut Pinot, the young Frenchman is pure talent and has been landing several impressive wins, including on the 20% slopes of the Grand Colombier. Maybe the distance is too much but the FDJ rider has mentioned this is his favourite race of the year.
The gradual wearing down is worth watching but if you’re pressed for time the final hour should be dramatic. If I’ve picked many names it’s partly because forecasting is for fools but this time the race is genuinely open to many. It will be televised on the likes of Eurosport and there should be an online stream at gazzetta.it/Ciclismo but if this is geo-restricted, check out the likes of cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv who should post links to video.
In one word: autumnal. In more detail temperatures won’t get much higher than 14°C (57°F) and there should be sunshine and clouds. The roads are expected to be dry.
Our Lady of Cyclists
The chapel next to the race route is a unique blend of cycling and religion, catholicism meets sporting iconography. It isdedicated to cyclists and decorated with jerseys and bikes from the past, for example you can see Fausto Coppi’s bike and also the sad twisted steel frame of Fabio Casartelli. Both the climb and the chapel are well worth a visit.