Lombardia Preview: how to beat Gilbert

He’s the red hot favourite for Saturday’s Giro di Lombardia. But cycling is a very open sport where favourites only find the odds mildly in their favour. As we saw in the World Championships, you can be the strongest but not get a result: Gilbert tried but ultimately tried too hard.

But give the Belgian rider a chance and he’ll take it. His ability to attack hard after 200km is supreme, as is his ability to ride at a high intensity after a big acceleration. He’s also a confident and clever sprinter if a small group comes into the finish.

So what can the others do in order to have their chance? Here’s a preview of the race based on the idea of ways to beat Gilbert:

First a quick look at the course, because it has changed. The start and finish often move and if the climb up to the Madonna del Ghisallo is a fixture, the rest of the percorso varies over the years. 2010 sees a very significant change with the insertion of the Colma di Sormano in between the Ghisallo and the arrival in Como. The Sormano featured in the early 1960s but using a different road up, il Muro (the wall) which featured an average grade of 17% and a section at 25%. This year the riders will be pleased to “only” do the 8% road up. Nevertheless it adds a substantial amount of climbing. Previous editions used the Civiglio climb but this was a short and steep affair, 4km at 10%. After the Colma di Sormano the race descents towards Como, before tackling the San Fermo della Battaglia hill and a tricky descent into the finish.

Out-climb him
As you can see, the course change means a longer and higher climb is included. Instead of the high point, the Ghisallo is only a step on the road up to Sormano. Gilbert is a punchy rider but the length of the climbs here could allow some to put him in difficulty, especially those teams with more than one card to play. That said I happen to know he’s been training in the Italian Alps and using the Stelvio for long intervals. Anyone trying to dump Gilbert is likely to just slim the field. Nevertheless you’d expect the likes of Dan Martin, Michele Scarponi and possibly the Liquigas team with Vincenzo Nibali and Sylwester Szmyd to try this.

Mark him
Another obvious tactic is to mark the Belgian. He’s clearly going to attack at some point but as we’ve seen in Paris-Tours, if he’s marked then he’s likely to give up.

Ignore him
It’s quite possible that worrying about Gilbert means you focus on him too much and that leaves opportunities for so many other riders. As I said above, you can have a favourite but after 260km the difference between the contenders is small.

Gang up on him
A team like Quick Step is having a good time right now. You might not have noticed but Dario Cataldo and Dries Devenyns are having a good time right now. More high profile examples would be the Saxo team with Andy Schleck, Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte and Chris Anker Sørensen. Gilbert doesn’t quite have the same strength: Greg Van Avaermet’s useful but not on long climbs and Jurgen Van den Broeck isn’t quite on form.

All in all, if Gilbert is the race favourite the win could go to several others. Scarponi is looking strong. Evans dropped out of Piemonte but don’t rule him out as he was also one of the strongest in the Worlds. Liquigas have Nibali. I think Fuglsang is one to watch too. Samuel Sanchez has also been a regular in this race with consistent finishes in recent years and last year saw Dan Martin go in an early move and then join up with the big hitters. Finally watch out for Kolobnev, the Russian is like a mushroom in the way he lies dormant all year, suddenly popping up all over the place in the autumn.

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