The 2013 season is coming to an end but not without one of the best races on the calendar. Il Lombardia offers stunning scenery, big name contenders and a selective route to make this a compelling race. And it’s also a revenge match following last Sunday’s World Championships.
Note this race has been moved to Sunday. Here’s a preview with the route, contenders, TV listings and more.
The Route: the race is defined by the series of climbs along the route The Valico di Valcava is a proper alpine-style climb with hairpin bends and a tough gradient, 11km at 8%. Next up is the Colle Brianza, just 4km at 7%, a short one to disrupt the rhythm and impose the arithmetic of added climbing and subtracted energy.
Sormano: the Sormano is back again after last year’s reintroduction of the climb. The riders tackle moderate 7% gradients before reaching a steeper road, the Muro di Sormano, the wall of Sormano with 15.8% average and ramps at 25-27%.
Capisco che il Ghisallo non dava più garanzie di selezione, ma francamente si è esagerato nel senso opposto. Questa salita è semplicemente bestiale, impossibile da percorrere
I understand the Ghisallo can no longer guarantee a selection, but frankly this goes way too far in the opposite sense. This climb is simply beastly, impossible to ride.
- Ercole Baldini
That’s a quote from the past which lives on today as it is painted on the road, along with other citations and more in an art project that has decorated this climb. Used from 1960-1962 the road had riders walking up. But it’s reputation can be levelled by a compact chainset, riders can spin up when they’d have to grind or even walk.
Regardless of gearing it is an intense effort and given the weather forecast, an exercise in balance and traction. And that’s just the climb, the descent back down to the shore of Lake Como is very tricky with sharp bends that tighten up and narrow roads through shaded woodland and this took out several riders last year.
Soon after the descent comes the Via Vallesina, better known as the Ghisallo. At a roundabout outside Bellagio the riders will turn right and then start one of the sport’s mythical roads. The climb up to the Madonna del 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. It is almost two climbs, an early section followed by flat and even downhill sections as the route goes through the village of Guello before the final kick to the chapel… and then there’s a pesky false flat that drags on. There’s also another difficult descent.
Salite di Ello – Villa Vergano: the final climb has proved decisive since its introduction in 2011. Winding up past houses on a narrow road, the road to is steep with 3.4km at 8% but the last kilometre at 15%, a devastating gradient after 245km.
The Finish: the road to the finish line is flat… but only from 2.8km to go because the climb of Villa Vergano and its descent precedes it. Like so many of the roads in the area the descent is tricky and irregular, nervously winding its way down through fields, past gardens and houses. It’s technical on a normal road in dry conditions but after 250km in the rain mistakes can come easy.
The Scenario: If the climbs define the route, don’t forget the rest. The climbs are fast and well-surfaced but this means the smooth tarmac is slippery in the wet. And there are some long flat sections between the climbs which can prove fatal to lone breaks or small groups.
An early break should pull out a big lead in the rain before the chase begins. The Sormano is 90km from the finish but enough to smash the peloton into pieces. Hopefully the carnage is on the climb rather than the descent and this should set up a selection for the Ghisallo climb which is then further refined by the final climb to Villa Vergano, the perfect springboard for an attack so a rider can go solo. It’s all about managing the effort, staying with the leaders on each climb and descent whilst saving energy for the next climb.
Joaquim Rodriguez is the prime pick. He won last year and proved strong in the worlds and must long to make amends for his disappointment last Sunday. As a curiosity note history shows plenty of repeat wins, on 13 occasions a winner has gone on to repeat the following year. But Purito looked off the pace in the mid-week Milano-Torino, perhaps still dehydrated after all those tears? If not Katusha team mate Dani Moreno will also find the final climb to his liking. They’ll both be closely marked by Alejandro Valverde which could prove destructive for Spanish ambitions. Rui Costa is racing but now has a huge “follow me” target on his back in the form of the rainbow jersey.
Philippe Gilbert vanished in the attacks last Sunday but finished ninth and has won in Lombardy before. The final climb is less to his liking but he can cope with these efforts, especially if any attacks by the climbers are cancelled by a chase on the descent.
I tipped Diego Ulissi as one to watch for the worlds but he had a bad day. Only he bounced back to win Milano-Torino with a very powerful finish, almost to the point where he’ll be heavily marked on Sunday but note this is effectively Lampre-Merida’s home race and he’s backed up by Kristijan Đurasek and Michele Scarponi. Vincenzo Nibali has what it takes to win but can he stay cool enough to save his energy for one decisive attack? Another Italian is Domenico Pozzovivo who impressed on the slopes of the Superga last Wednesday.
Sky’s Rigoberto Uran could have been world champion were it not for a crash. But there’s no time for speculation, he’s recovered and his form suggests this could be a good course for him in his last race with Team Sky. Another crash victim with ambitions is Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin. Saxo-Tinkoff have in-form Rafał Majka who will be supported by Alberto Contador.
Peter Sagan is a late entrant but can he cope with the climbs? The longer the race goes on the more things suit him but he could be easily dispatched if the climber take the Sormano at full speed. The Dutch men last Sunday couldn’t match the success of their compatriots in other races but back in the Belkin jerseys there’s every reason to watch Robert Gesink given he won in Canada recently but note Bauke Mollema is out with a knee injury. It’ll be interesting to see how Simon Clarke does after his impressive ride last weekend.
Finally watch for Thibaut Pinot, he dreams of winning this race and still has good form from the Vuelta. His descending has been improving but it’ll be tested in the rain.
Weather: the Italian weather forecasts seem unreliable, promising a sunny start to the worlds and thunderstorms for the finish only to see the reverse. But this time the forecast is universal: it will be cold and wet. Rain is forecast all day and the temperature will not exceed 15°C (59°F). Update: on Sunday morning conditions look cool and damp but it could stay dry all day.
TV: don’t forget the race is on Sunday instead of the traditional Saturday slot. RAI start their coverage at 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected between 4.50-5.30pm. Tune in before 3.00pm to catch the Sormano and to catch the scenery and the action on the descents.
If you can’t find it on TV then remember cyclingfans.com will serve up a pirate video feed.
History: a reminder that this is one of the five Monuments, the most prestigious one day classics. The race goes back to 1905 and has been won by the greats. Like many classics the course has changed plenty of the years.
Another recent change has been the date. Once the la classica delle foglie morte or “race of the falling leaves” it used to bookend the season in mid-October. But RCS agreed to move it to September as they get more riders fresh from the worlds and the UCI tried to make its aborted Tour of Hangzhou race more important with the “final race of the year” tag. It’s taken something from the race because the leaves are turning rather than falling and the distinctive smell of woodsmoke from stoves has gone.