Il Lombardia Preview

The course changes every year but the race remains the same, a long distance test across the plains, valleys and climbs of Italy’s Lombardia region, a scenic race for viewers and a technical challenge for participants with double-digit gradient climbs and numerous twisty descents.

The Course: another year, another new course although this includes all the classic ingredients of recent editions. A start in Bergamo – last year’s finish – sees the race head to the Colle Gallo, a good steady climb of 6km at 6.9%, maxxing at 10% and followed by a wide descent with some tight bends yet few surprises before the race takes the Serio valley back to Bergamo and the feedzone. The climb to Colle Brianza is 4km at 7% which sounds fine only near the top it’s 20%. A descent and then the scenic loop alongside the shores of Lake Como to Bellagio and the start of the Madonna del Ghisallo climb.

The climb, thanks to this race and the sanctuary at the top, is among the most well-known roads in the sport, a marriage of sport and religion. It starts hard with 10% gradients and tight hairpin bends. The first four kilometres continue at 9% with some steeper ramps before the road levels out from Palaino to Civenna before the final ramps to the Ghisallo chapel. It is really two climbs, a steep early section followed by flat and even downhill sections as the route goes through the village of Guello before the final kick via snaking hairpin bends to the chapel… and then there’s a pesky false flat that drags on and then a high speed descent with blind bends and some off camber corners.

Next comes the Muro di Sormano, a climb so steep that it’s hard to attack with 2km at 15% and 25% for a while. It’s an infamous climb, described by 1958 Giro winner Ercole Baldini as unnecessary and “beastly, impossible to ride” but today’s gearing makes it more accessible. If anything the climb is the manageable part as you’ve either got what it takes or not and the descent is harder because it’s wild in places.

Next is the climb to Civiglio, a regular 10% ramp all the way up for 4km making it very difficult after 220km.

  • All the climbs have got the attention as they’re the obvious strategic points but watch out for the flat sections in between them. They can condemn a lone rider who went clear on the last climb and can also be tactical points where moves come and go as riders watch each other

The Finish: the race dips into Como but heads out for the final climb of San Fermo della Battaglia, a series of 7% ramps winding up to the 5km to go point and then followed by a regular descent which flattens out with just over 1km to go.

Alejandro Valverde Liege Bastogne Liege 2015

The Contenders: Alejandro Valverde is the prime pick. He’s got everything needed to win, from climbing ability to a fast sprint out of a small group as well as a crafty tactical sense and he’s still in form too as 5th in Richmond shows, a result even more impressive than previous third places given the course didn’t suit. He’s also having one of his best ever seasons but this is also a discount factor as he’s got to be tired but the Murcian surely wants more. Team mate Giovanni Visconti is in good shape and an outsider, especially adept at late attacks while the others mark themselves out.

Vincenzo Nibali is in top form and has had some excellent results of late including the Tre Valle Varesine on Wednesday. His problem is that he’s such an obvious contender and his style is to attack and ride solo for the win: all or nothing. It seems likely he’ll jump on the climb to Civiglio. The wet weather suits his skills and he comes with a strong Astana team including outsider Diego Rosa and helped by the presence of Fabio Aru… at the Tour of Almaty in Kazakhstan rather than standing in his way.

Katusha sidekick Dani Moreno is a contender too after his top-10 finish on the Superga and assumes team leadership after Joaquim Rodriguez pulls out with a knee injury.

Rafał Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) was beaten in Milano-Milano but had to cope with the attacks from Astana. Sunday’s course should be more selective and mean he and others aren’t outnumbered, or at least less so. But how can he win? He’s a strong climber but a bit of diesel, presumably he’ll try on the way up to Civiglio.

Rui Costa is a sleeper pick. If Valverde and Rodriguez are marking each other then who better to teach them a (repeat) lesson? He’s going well with good results in Canada but as ever wins come rare. Lampre-Merida team mate Diego Ulissi (pictured) is perhaps a stronger choice, the Tuscan is in good form and can climb and sprint well and needs a result to put his name back in the limelight after it’s been overshadowed by the performances of Aru, Nibali and others plus that anti-doping suspension.

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) has thrived in this race but that was back in the day when he seemed to have be invincible. The 2015 vintage hasn’t been as sweet as previous years and currently his form seems strong but not super. But he’s enjoyed Italy this year with two stages in the Giro including his stylish win in Verbania on similar roads. If he can manage with the attacks from the climbers he’ll back himself to win a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot has been dreaming of this race for years and now starts as a contender after trying to make dreams come true with 275km training sessions. He’s in form with a strong showing in the Tre Valle Varesine and Milano-Torino but this is also his problem, a tendency to show too early sometimes. He’ll also have to cope with the descending on roads that others know better. His FDJ team are offering good support with Alex Geniez and Kenny Elissonde.

Ag2r La Mondiale have Romain Bardet, Alexis Vuillermoz and Domenico Pozzovivo, all in good form. Vuillermoz is punchy but over 245km? It means Bardet and Pozzovivo the safer picks and the wet roads and tricky descents could be perfect for Bardet although the team has had issues with their tires in the wet.

Lotto-Soudal have another trio in Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin with the latter two as the best picks given the hilly course. But how Wellens and Gallopin get the better of everyone else is hard to see, they will have to take risks.

Orica-Greenedge have Simon Gerrans with maybe a little point to prove after a few stories in the week about whether he should have helped Michael Matthews more last Sunday. Meanwhile the Yates brothers offer more options on a hilly course as does Esteban Chaves but is he smiling again after a gruelling Vuelta?

From trios to a quartet as Trek Factory Racing have Frank Schleck, Bauke Mollema, Julian Arredondo and Fabio Felline. On paper the course suits Mollema but Arredondo’s in improving shape, making the front group in the Tre Valle Varesine and Milano-Torino.

Warren Barguil leads Giant-Alpecin, ninth in Québec is promising but there’s not much more to go on, still his racing style is suited to the course and Tom Dumoulin is promising to help out too, the Dutchman is obviously more than a domestique.

Robert Gesink is Lotto-Jumbo’s best shot for Lotto-Jumbo. Over at Team Sky another Dutchman in Woet Poels is riding well with fifth on the Superga summit finish and he’s due a result but this would be huge for him, Sergio Henao is the team’s other option.

Last year’s winner Dan Martin has history on his side because this is a race where many have repeated wins. In fact since 2005 every time somebody has won the race for the first time they’ve won it again the next year with the exception of Marmotte wannabe Oliver Zaugg in 2011. Martin’s should be suited to this course but is returning from injury and if his result on the Superga last Thursday was good, it’s another thing to ride away. Tom-Jelte Slagter is back in form and he’s shown strength on steep hills before but rarely in a races as tough as this.

Michał Kwaitkowski cramped up last year but is now freed from pressures about his rainbow jersey and leads Etixx-Quickstep and is in good shape, he could try a long raid or just try to stay with the climbers and beat them. Gianluca Brambilla rides on home roads and has been climbing well; a win would be a shock but he should show at some point while surely it’s all to hilly for Zdeněk Štybar?

Finally before we run out of time there’s Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Davide Rebellin, 34 and 44 years old respectively. Both are in form right now and Cunego is riding his last race before retirement, he’s won this before and still packs a punch out of a small group.

Alejandro Valverde
Vincenzo Nibali
Diego Ulissi, Philippe Gilbert
Thibaut Pinot, Simon Gerrans
Bardet, Moreno, Wellens, Poels, Henao, Visconti, Yates²

Weather: wet with intermittent showers and a top temperature of 16°C in the valleys and plains, cooler at altitude.

TV: they start climbing the Madonna del Ghisallo around 3.00pm Euro time which is when the TV coverage from host broadcaster RAI3 starts and it’s relayed on Eurosport. The finish is forecast for 5.00pm. If you can’t find it on TV, try cyclingfans and steephill for a pirate feed.

Il Lombardia? The name has changed too, for decades this was the Giro di Lombardia, the Tour of Lombardy, but owners RCS want to make giro synonymous with Giro d’Italia and so they’ve been using the label of Il Lombardia. It still feels awkward but that’s normal given this race began as Milan-Turin in 1905 got relabelled as the Giro di Lombardia in 1907 and stayed that way for over 100 editions.

50 thoughts on “Il Lombardia Preview”

  1. Excellent preview, thanks! I want to see The Shark of the Straits bare his teeth on Sunday. Nibali needs something big like this to salvage his season and silence all the critics during the off-season. I also have a soft spot for Cunego -how great a way to close out a career..with a win Sunday? Now I just need to find a video stream with commentary in Italian – I’ve pretty much had it with the English-language guys, I’ll mute the sound before suffering any more of CUE-nay-go, DOM-in-eeko, or Nib-BALL-ee. Don’t these fellows ever listen to the racers pronouncing their own names or how the Italian announcers say them?

    • I,m with you on the muting of english language commentary Larry. I seem to have been watching cycling on TV in silence for a good few years. Mind you my flemish understanding has been improving with the Sporza coverage. I even tried the Welsh language commentary for the Tour and as every 3rd or 4th word was in english I got by but the commentators had difficulty recognising the riders, no change there then!

      • I’m praying it’s Rob Hatch and not Kirby.
        Bit of a young retirement from Cunego? Mind you, he hasn’t done much in a long time. Impressive that Rebellin is still going.
        If someone attacks from long range, I predict Valverde won’t win, due to his refusal to work in any circumstance – otherwise, he’s a big favourite.

        • Cunego enrolled in a sports-science degree last year. Apparently led him to take the view that the sensible thing to do is get prepared for a life after racing sooner rather than later.

      • Really? What is the proper way to pronounce Stybar? STEE-bar is pretty common, but incorrect? And Road-REE-gez is wrong as well? The Brits have trouble with the J sound in Spanish for sure, on the Vuelta broadcasts EVERY J was like WAH-keem even if the words starting with J weren’t Spanish. Picky? Yes. But what is the job of these cycling commenters if not to be experts? If you don’t know much about cycling and can’t even bother to learn a halfway decent pronunciation of the principle players names, WTF are you doing on TV in the first place? And then you have one of the guys saying POTSO-veevo while his partner says POHTZO – do they not even listen to each other?

  2. I see Poels has snuck in with one chainring – he’s my dark horse for this race. Otherwise I’m calling it for Nibali.

    As popular as it would be, I can’t see Cunego pulling of a Monumental final win here. Is Rebellin retiring too, or will he squeeze another season out of those creaking legs?

  3. The course is pure Lombardia spirit, but I’d add that it’s by far the most gruelling in years. Weather will be for tough guys, too. A true Monument, indeed.
    Just hoping that not every favourite falls out of the race (as Nibali did on that same Sormano-Nesso descent in 2010 and Gilbert in 2012). Nice picks by inrng and other readers.

    • +1
      The way it is described the course seems like one for “Ronnie PICKERING!”
      Isn’t it amazing that, once up, Valverde’s form never seems to have any downtime.

    • Although the race has seen 67 Italian winners in what will be the 109th edition, there has not been a home nation victor since 2008.
      I note that Astana have gone with a very Italian-centric squad. Their riders looked awfully strong in Milano Torino the other day, although I am a little surprised that Fabio Aru is not included tomorrow.
      He finished like a rocket up the final climb in Milano Torino.

      It will be interesting to see who makes the early pace in Sunday’s race. Astana should avoid doing too much too early, I feel, and look to make their strength count in that final topsy turvy 70km.
      I’m actually rooting for a Nibali win, or another Italian, but the strongest challenge could come from Valverde and Rodriguez and, possibly, Poels.
      Forza Italia for me.

  4. Either I’ve read that too fast or you’ve forgot Etixx-QS? Surely Stybar, Kwiatkowski and Alaphillipe would all be contenders here too. To be fair you’ve done well to fit as many contenders in as you have. This race seems wide open for a wide variety of riders rather than, for once in modern cycling, a few dominant specialists. For that reason, and the stunning scenery, it’s my favourite race of the year. I’m a back fan of Phil Gil and Stybar so I’d like to see them win, otherwise a breakthrough win for a youngster would be good, maybe Ulissi, Feline or Wellens? Italy could certainly do with a monument winner, perhaps Cunego will remind them how in his last race?!

  5. Yates raised to the power of 2. Fantastic, a classic INRNG quip.

    Great preview as always, huge thanks for this blog’s ray of sunshine into our cycling lives.

  6. Thanks for the preview.

    Not Alaphillipe, but Kwiatkowski and Stybar are on the Ettixx-Quick-step selection.

    I think that Cunego is not retiring yet; he will race at least one more season. Anyway, after Lombardia there is still the Japan Cup.

    Rain + hard course = Tim Wellens (my wish).

    But Astana is too strong, not Aru this time but Mikel Landa added to Rosa, Tiralongo, Cataldo … I second the chances of Nibali going solo on the Civiglio. I don´t see how the likes of Gilbert, Gerrans or Stybar can survive the Ghisallo-Sormano double.

    Valverde (Movistar) and J.Rodríguez (Katusha) will race with the UCI WorldTour team classification on mind.

  7. I wonder why Reichenbach is not in Lombardy. It’s his kind of race and he hasn’t been seen for a long time. I also wonder why Van Avermaet shuns this race. He could for sure be of great help to Gilbert, and even have a good chance himself of the climbing is not too fast or on a breakaway. I finally wonder if Landa will be on team duty or will ride lone wolf.
    Very interesting race, actually, one of my favourite Monuments, along with the other four. And the course this year looks like a real Giro de Lombardia. What I would like to see one day is the race finishing in Bellagio, after climbing the Colma’s long (HC) side, connected to the Ghisallo’s short side, and the bells ringing just as the race is really decided. It would be really beautiful.

  8. I would love to see Gilbert get this. As mentioned, he’s not the force he once was but had an excellent Giro. I saw him smash the field at the Amstel Gold Race a few years back and have a soft spot for his attacking style.
    Lombardia is a beautiful race – I’m an Autumn child and love the slight feel of melancholy I get as the season winds down. Even more so now the riders don’t have to schlep over the Beijing…

  9. Where is Cunego retirement news coming from? I have heard nothing from team press releases, nothing from Cunego, and his contract runs through 2016..

      • He has enrolled at university last autumn: in January 2015 he was preparing exams, following lessons and so on, even if he acknowledged it was kind of hard, not having studied in years. I don’t know if he went on with the full student’s life during the cycling season, too, but I think he’s officially enrolled – if he didn’t quit in the while, I mean. At the end of 2014 he was saying he intended to race for “at least another couple of years”: that would be 2015-2016. Again, if he didn’t change his mind during the racing season.

  10. Nice review as we build to the start of the last classic.
    Would love to see Nibali take this, after a prolonged day of attacks and wicked cycling blows being
    distributed by many.

  11. Typo: the 1905 edition of the soon-to-be-called Giro di Lombardia was known as “Milano-Milano”.

    I guess the mess was due to the recently held “Milano-Torino”, whose first edition supposedly was… in 1876! (eight riders, four finishers 0__0 can’t imagine what the “bikes” were like). Probably one of the oldest Classics in the World, although a proper second edition was to be seen only 17 years later.
    However, when the first Lombardia was disputed, under the Milan-Milan name, the Milan-Turin could boast some *five* previous editions!
    As a term of comparison, the so-called “Doyenne” (the oldest), that is L-B-L, had had ‘just’ three editions before the first Mi-Mi/Lombardia (ten previous editions for the Roubaix, which started later than L-B-L, and Mi-To, obviously, but which had right from the start a lot of continuity).

  12. Lombardia is so often much more interesting than LBL – and that’s because LBL has an uphill finish.
    If there’s an uphill finish, riders tend to wait until that. In Lombardia they attack earlier.
    Chapeau Nibali – brilliant stuff – and excellent tactical riding by Rosa. Epic descending and he thoroughly deserves a Monument having attacked in so many.
    But why would you let Nibali away on a descent? You had to go with him right at the start. Especially if you’re a very good descender like Valverde. How many victories has Valverde thrown away by having his seeming fixation with doing absolutely no work whatsoever? It seems that he will never learn that more often than not that tactic is unsuccessful.
    Moreno rode an unintelligent race – wasted his energy countering every attack: the anti-Valverde. Had he saved his energies and launched his final attack earlier, who knows.

    • Please watch a replay if you find one, J. Nibali waits until everyone has reached for a gel or something like that. And Rosa and Nibali had them on the ropes after the fireworks on the Civiglio. Just when everybody was thinking about some moments of respite he attacked. And this time you could tell that he really meant it.
      Deserving and very satisfying (I suppose) win and a very beautiful race as the Giro di Lombardia nearly always is.
      I agree on your comparison with LBL.
      Moreno is not very experienced in situations like this. And he obviously felt strong. Which normally means you should go for it on your own or keep your powder dry until it really matters.

      • But it was immediately obvious that the moment Nibali had gone they had to chase him down without delay.
        Valverde has the ability to do this.
        And even if – I haven’t checked – every single one of them had reached for a gel, it doesn’t take long to put that in a pocket and go after him.
        Moreno’s not a newbie – he should have more idea about tactics.

        • It almost seemed like Moreno was riding to protect Valverde, covering all of the moves, up until Nibali’s last attack. Agreed that he may have been stronger had he not done so many chases, but I think Nibali would have had him on the descending. Pinot has really developed as a bike racer. I hope he continues to mature and improve. What a show!

      • As you can see from the very start of this video –
        – most of them aren’t eating (if that would be an excuse/reason).
        Moreno immediately goes after Nibali and the rest are right on Moreno’s wheel.
        But this group lacks commitment from the start and Nibali gets away. They had to stop that attack when it began – and this was obvious because everyone knows what a downhill specialist Nibali is.
        Great riding by Nibali, but the criticism of Valverde, in particular – as he is a great descender – is valid.
        Valverde’s tactic is what I predicted above yesterday – that doesn’t make me a seer, it’s just what he does in so many races.

Comments are closed.