Il Lombardia Preview

la classica delle foglie morte

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 wall profile

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.

The Contenders

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 2013 worlds

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 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.

29 thoughts on “Il Lombardia Preview”

  1. Whatever happened to Oliver Zaugg, the 2011 winner? Never had heard of him before, never seen him afterwards. And he was really the best of an elite group that day.

  2. Exciting. Reminds me when Rominger won way back when in the late 80s, while racing for Chateau D’Ax – remember that? It looked like night time when he finished – alone, filthy and wet. Many legs are definitely tired at the end of the season, and this classic is no joke. However we must never ever dismiss the pros with unfinished business. Can’t wait to see them settling some scores this Sunday.

  3. Zaugg had a rather solid ride in the Vuelta this year being up there for Nicholas Roche on several occassions in the mountains. IIRC he’s still without a contract for 2014 (as numerous other Saxo riders are) so perhaps we’ll have a strong and motivated ride from him as well.

  4. Great preview thanks. It seems odd that (1) the dominant stage racer of the year is not among the favourites for this, which I suppose shows just how poor Froome was on Sunday, and (2) that a couple of big teams – Sky and OPQS – don’t appear to be fielding full squads? Why would you miss that opportunity to ride a monument?

    To risk sounding like a broken record, my outside tip is Betancur – his form is improving. There were a few Colombians in play on the last lap on Sunday and it was all for Uran. Not so this weekend and Betancur, Pozzovivo and Nocentini should be good foils for each other. The forecast bad weather won’t bother him either.

    I hope the TV coverage holds up – it was v disappointing last year to miss most of the action until Rodriguez emerged alone from the gloom.

    • If Froome ever happens to win this race – which I seriously doubt will ever happen – he will have completed a transformation much more astonishing then the development which made him a TDF champion. Go ride one of these descends of Il Lombardia, especially those in the final, and you will know what I mean.

      • Actually, I did the Sormano last week STS…. Yes, they’re tricky although Froome won’t lose this race due to being a bad descender – he is not that bad at that – more likely because he doesn’t have the legs to go up the climbs quick enough at the moment. Anyway, my point was more that it seems odd for a multiple GC winner this year to be riding this type of race without featuring as a favourite. I fully accept that many GC riders wrap themselves up in cotton wool at this time of year rather than continuing to race: he must think he has something to offer.

        Anyway, as HughM says below, maybe those days are past although note that at least two of the mentioned favourites have featured highly in two grand tours this year.

        • Great you did the Sormano, Tricky Dicky. Did you ride up the wall? What a beast, isn’t it. So now go on and tell me that Chris Froome can win a race where he has to go down on a narrow, winding, anything else but open descent like this in the rain with leaves on the ground just before the finish line. If it was dry he could be very happy if he manages to stay in contact with the leading group in the descent and then lose it on the line because he can’t sprint. But when it’s wet – and more often it is like that than not – a lesser than average descender and finisseur can no longer win this race in those modern days. He would have to attack from very far and stay away and this no longer happens especially if you are a TDF winner.
          That’s why I meant he would have to transform in preferably more than one way in order to be able to win it.
          For whatever reason he actually decided to give it a try. But would you not try to win the World Tour overall title if you were the series leader and this is its last race?

          Let’s hope it will be another exciting race tomorrow with good TV coverage!

    • On (1), if you look at the top 3 for the last 20 years or more, the dominant racer of the year has never really featured, so its not that odd for Froome not to be a favorite. That’s not to say he wasn’t poor at the Worlds though. On (2), I suspect the reasons those two teams are struggling to field a full squad is because its Cav’s wedding on Saturday.

  5. Considering that Froome started winning races in February with the Tour of Oman, it’s not surprising that he shut it down after the Tour 6 months later. The days of grand tour winners racing for wins for 9 months may be over, if they ever existed.

    • It’s a joke, yet they have live of the Kazhak tour, thanks to Pat’s Globalization of cycling…
      There’s also the fact that there is Superbikes and WTA Tennis on.
      I’ll probably catch a feed off something on Cyclingfans instead.

  6. One of the best races of the year, but not when the finish is in Lecco. The big flat bit between Ghisallo and the last climb destroys everything. They need to go back to Como or Bergamo.

    • I think you’re right but hope you’re wrong 😉

      Hopefully the riders can adjust to this section of the course, it could force some to attack/accelerate earlier to avoid a big bunch rolling across the plains.

      • He’s right. Lombardia was always my favourite classic, but with this course it looks more and more like a Flèche Wallonne with a descent. Arriving in Como straight from the Ghisallo would be my preference, but if Lecco is the city that pays for it, there are better possible courses than putting a Purito-esque wall 9 km from the finish.

  7. Is Cuddles still injured after the Worlds? He went pretty well in this race a couple of years back, but was somewhat hampered by a bee-sting behind his glasses in the finale, IIRC. He’s also been known to go well when the weather is bad, and can descend with the best.

  8. I’m going with Betancur. After a horrible Vuelta that saw him riding into shape, he’s very well suited to this type of course. He’s alot fresher than most of the other favorites, but his inexperience could cost him dearly, as he can’t go too early. Also, as I believe he’s anxious to finish his season on a high note, so he’s likely to take big chances on the descent after the Villa Vergano.

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