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 Route: 241km from Como to Bergamo with 4,400m of vertical gain. After 56km comes the “poor man’s space ship”, the famous climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo and if it’s early it’s scenic and still adds to the vertical gain. After the small unmarked climb of Colle Brianza climb 3.6km at 6.2% comes more valley roads.
The next climb is the Valcava, 11.6km at 8% and worthy of any Alpine ascent with its hairpins. Here begins a section with few flat roads for the next 80km and the sinuous descents never offer much rest, requiring concentration and power to accelerate out of the bends. The next climb to Berbenno is not mentioned on the race website but it’s there and some 6km at 5%.
Next up is Sant-Antononio Abbandonato. The patron saint of dropped riders? Probably not but at 6.5km and 8.9% with some 15% along the way it’s a hard climb that approaches 1,000m in altitude and scenic too. It’s also never been used before in this race. Teams with plans for the finish need to start tightening the screws to thin the field.
Then comes the climb to Miragolo San Salvatore, 8.7km at 7% and another novelty for the race, again approaching 1,000m above sea level and with a wilder feel as it snakes through Alpine pastures and past dense woodland.
Then comes the climb to Selvino which is easier and more of a crossing point that lifts the riders away from the mountains a last time before dropping down to the plains via a long descent with one section where there are 12 hairpins in a 1.2km stretch, expect helicopter shots of a strung out peloton.
Then comes a 15km flat section to Bergamo, all on big roads. For all the climbing so far here’s a long portion that will deter the climbers from solo moves and could allow the race to regroup and for some faster finishers to get back in contention.
The Finish: the same as 2014, they arrive in Bergamo and climb to the old walled citadel on top of the hill via narrow cobbled ramps through ancient gates and medieval streets. The profile above doesn’t show the corners nor the cobbles which make the last climb a leg breaker. The descent is much more straight forward, symmetrical, it’s on wider roads with large hairpin bends and the road for the finish levels out in the last kilometre with one right hand bend with 250m to go before the line.
The Contenders: the prototype rider can cope with the climbs, have the punch to get over the cobbled climb in Bergamo and then deliver a powerful sprint from a small group. The embodiment of this would be Alejandro Valverde or Philippe Gilbert but neither offer assurance at the moment.
Etixx-Quickstep come with a lot of options. Dan Martin is a previous winner in Bergamo and there’s a curious pattern in recent years where a winner one year often lands a second or third win soon after, see Bartoli, Cunego, Bettini, Gilbert, Rodriguez et all. If his strongest move is a searing acceleration on a climb he’s a crafty rider with a good sprint too. This race has been a quiet target of his and he’ll look to shine again. Team mate Julian Alaphilippe is almost the prototype rider here too but too often he’s got too excited in a race and burned a few matches too soon, as evidenced by his 15 top-10s this year and only one win, albeit with some mishaps on the way, a crash in Rio, a jammed chain in the finale of a Tour de France stage. But his time is coming, the talent is there. Gianluca Brambilla (pictured) has been on the radar for this race for ages, the course even passes through a place called Brembilla and he was born in the region. But can he sprint? Among the three Alalphillipe has the fastest finish but the team also have Zdeněk Štybar who’s had a quiet season but looked strong in the Eneco Tour, will there be too much climbing for him?
An in form pick is Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian was third on the Superga outside Turin during the week and could help land Cannondale that elusive win in a World Tour race this year. He’s versatile and can sprint from a small group. Moreno Moser and Michael Woods offer back-up plans.
In the absence of 2015 winner Vincenzo Nibali who is racing in Kazakhstan this weekend Fabio Aru is a big draw for the crowds and has been looking strong in recent races. But how does he win this? If this had a summit finish he’d be a strong choice but having to compete with others in a flat finish dilutes his chances. Astana though are very strong at the moment but the same dilemma applies to Milan-Turin winner Miguel Angel Lopez (pictured) and Diego Rosa, all look strong but won’t have things their way in the finish but Lopez is a powerful rider who could just barge clear if the others hesitate.
Movistar are another strong team but would prefer an uphill finish. Alejandro Valverde is starting after illness this week, does this mean he’s weaker or was it a ruse to ensure he’s fresher. Dani Moreno is enjoying a good autumn and Giovanni Visconti can try an attack too.
Diego Ulissi has everything to win, he can climb and sprints well plus he’s in form too. The race is in Lampre’s backyard too. The team aren’t the strongest but they’re adequate to shepherd Ulissi while Rui Costa is a notional co-leader but his form isn’t certain, sixth in the Euro champs in Brittany but a DNF in Milan-Turin.
Team Sky come with a strong team with Wout Poels as a contender rather than a worker. Peter Kennaugh has been visible this week but landing a Monument would be a giant step up while Nicolas Roche could surprise as this course suits him.
Orica-BikeExchange have recent Giro dell’Emilia Esteban Chaves who has shown some versatility in a sprint finish as we saw in the Giro.
Philippe Gilbert‘s won twice here before but how’s his form? It’s looking good with two top-10s this week but he’s not the certainty he used to be. Greg Van Avermaet rides and as we saw in the Massif Central, Pyrenees and then Rio he can climb but the repetition of ascents probably makes this too much for him.
Romain Bardet has looked frisky in recent races and has thrived in this race since his first year as a pro when he went in the early break and as others fell by the wayside he stayed away solo for some time. This audacity is entertaining but it’s also a concern, a incendiary tendency to burn matches early. He can sprint better than some think from a small group and Ag2r La Mondiale have more options with Domenico Pozzovivo, Alexis Vuillermoz and Jan Bakelants who are all in form. They should show but a win seems a big ask.
Finally a few more names. Lotto-Soudal are in a similar position with several strong picks but winning still seems elusive. Tony Gallopin can take a sprint while Tim Wellens (pictured) is good if the conditions go from wet to stormy and can often enliven a race with his bold raids. No daring from Giant-Alpecin who are likely to race with a spreadsheet in mind as they aim to secure a top-10 finish with Warren Barguil, Tom Dumoulin or Sam Oomen in order bank UCI points to avoid World Tour relegation. Androni’s Colombian Rodolfo Torres is in form at the moment. Katusha make Joaquim Rodriguez start, a double winner before but on a course made for him and crucially he’d announced his retirement earlier this year only it seems the points mercato means he may be tempted to race on into 2017 with the Bahrain team and as such Katusha are demanding he keeps on racing so his presence is more contractual than anything else. Last is Matvey Mamykin, named as a neo-pro to watch and that rare sight of a Russian neo-pro who seems to be translating U23 performances into World Tour promise: next to no chance of a win but he’d settle for a top-20.
|Diego Ulissi, Dan Martin|
|Julian Alaphilippe, Philippe Gilbert, Rigoberto Uran|
|Simon Yates, Wout Poels, M-A Lopez, Gianluca Brambilla, Alejandro Valverde|
|Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet, Giovanni Visconti, Jan Bakelants|
|Gallopin, Moser, Kennaugh|
Weather: cloudy with the chance of rain. It only takes a sharp shower to make the wooded descents very tricky but overall conditions look benign with a top temperature of 21°C.
TV: remember it’s on Saturday. the race starts at 10.50 Euro time and is forecast to finish at 5.15pm. The last two hours are live on home broadcaster RAI and on Eurosport around Europe and beyond. As usual cyclingfans and steephill serve up more links and why not aim to watch as much as possible. Not only is scenery stunning but this is one of few great races left this year. It won’t be long until there’s not a single road race on TV for months.