Il Lombardia, a preview

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 course
Lombardia profile

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.

Colma di Sormano
No time to stop for a drink

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.

The contenders
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 but if this is geo-restricted, check out the likes of and 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
Ghisallo chapel
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.

14 thoughts on “Il Lombardia, a preview”

  1. Great little article – this is rightly one of the monuments of the sport. I can’t wait.

    Don’t forget the other great attraction next to the Ghisallo Church – the most fantastic museum filled with all sorts of incredible cycling memorabilia. The museum building itself is a piece of art, not to mention the views from the enormous windows across the Lake.

  2. They wont do Muro di Sormano. They have never done it in the last 20 yrs and it is not a classic of the race.
    They are doing Colma di Sormano, the same as they did last year after Ghisallo. On his downhill Nibali crashed and Gilbert went alone. It is a longer climb, averaging around 6%.
    Valcava is a downrated climb by most. It is the hardest climb of the race. In 3 of the last 4 k gradient never went below 10% . you need a proper gear to pedal up there.

  3. Hi Marco, tks for the info, assuming its the ‘real’ one 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you back in the new racing year, sir! Tour de France route 2011 could be very interesting?

    @inrng, is there a budget to hire Marco Pinotti as the in house adviser?

    Not sure what to make of Gilbert, he might lack some ‘freshness’ or did he safe himself lately, I expect Basso to be good here, in a fine form last couple of weeks, and I think he might have made this race an objective

  4. Jani the Brakstar came in Second in 08 to Cunego, he has never won it….
    a minor mistake in another excellent piece. please kind sir, keep them coming

  5. Excellent piece. Maybe we can add that the list of past winners and runners-up reads like a whole history of cycling. Can’t believe how Contador and Schleck and Evans feel they can afford not to try to have it their collection.

  6. It’s an easy mistake to think Janez B won the Giro d’ Lombardia as Janez himmself thought we won it a couple of years ago throwing his arms up in victory for second place behind Cunego!
    I went to the Lake Como area on holiday a few years ago and have to say it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen! It is well worth a visit as is the Madonna di Ghisallo and museuem.

  7. Another amazingly insightful piece. I thought I knew European professional cycling until I started reading this blog. I learn something here everyday. Thanks and please keep it coming.

  8. INRNG;

    I actually come up with this kind of research myself, so to have it all set out so clealry makes me thankful to you for doing all the hard work for me. You might remember I initially suggested that missing was this type of in-depth understanding in the World Champs post. Well done here, though, seems you either listened to my words or had more spare time.

    In terms of contenders – I would expect Greg Van Avermaet to further come out of Gilbert’s shadow. I’ve been tipping him ever since the World Champs and he hasn’t disappointed, winning Paris-Tours and coming runner-up in the Gran Piemonte, a few days ago. Speaking of from riders he is the one, and I expect him to win or fill a place.

    Daniel Moszkowicz

  9. @bundle i think in fairness that Evans has given the classics more of a go than the others* you mentioned – he’s been in the shakeup in LBL & Amstel frequently (winning Fleche) and newly rainbowed worked hard to give Phil his first “big” win a couple of years back. Cadel has raced full seasons in the past – from January to October but he is in his mid thirties now. The timing of it is more the issue – it just doesn’t correspond to other objectives this year/looking forward to 2012 – next year might be different if some of the tour contenders try to hold form for the olympics, then more of a climbing worlds (followed by this a few weeks sooner).

    *OK, Andy throws his hat in at LBL every now and again and Contador has shown his face at the Fleche

  10. Cadel Evans WAS at Madonna del Ghisallo, not in racing kit but donating a signed jersey to the shrine/museum. Clear but COLD weather up here, especially if you’re not used to autumn weather yet as it’s been unseasonably warm in most of Italy recently. I know have two of the five monuments checked off my life list. Next will be Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix 2012.

  11. I remember staying at Menaggio on Lake Como back in 2003, on a family holiday to France & Italy with my wife and kids (a no-bike holiday!).

    I remember driving around parts of the lake, and thinking what a beautiful place to ride, and how tough a race this must be. Hopefully I can get back there one-day with my bike and enjoy these incredible roads.

Comments are closed.