Il Lombardia Preview

Salita del Ghisallo

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.

Gianluca Brambilla

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

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.

48 thoughts on “Il Lombardia Preview”

  1. What kind of hold do Astana have on Nibali that they can make him race in Kaz, rather than here?
    They can refuse to let him ride this race, of course, but surely he could then refuse to ride in Kaz.
    I was never happy about his choice of team and I’d say his new team is even worse and for even worse reasons.
    They also don’t seem to have much grand tour support for him either.
    I’d not be surprised to see them offer Purito a bundle in order to grab his points and a useful domestique in the mountains.

  2. Do Giant-Alpecin really have to worry about World Tour points, though? I thought Dimension Data was without even a theoretical possibility to pass them on the team ranking? Are more than one of the current WT teams at risk?

    • Yes. Since IAM has surpassed Giant, they are now outside the top-16 together with DDD, and they are as such not sure to be WT next season. Given that Bora and Bahrain will have a lot of points, the one team, of those who seek to be WT next season, who won’t, will probably be either DDD or the other team outside top-16.

      In the end, Giant will probably push IAM back outside the top-16, in which case the most liekly outcome is that DDD will be ProConti next year.

      • It’s good to have something for the teams to aim for but Dimension Data seems to have been in the news with strong performances and wins all season. Or is it because we hear a lot about them because of Cav?

        • Team Dimension Data have had several wins e.g. at the TdF with Cav and Cummings. But it’s because of the way the points are allocated, which rewards Top 10 GC placings in stage races (especially Grand Tours) more than stage wins. So for instance Cannondale-Drapac with no WT wins are in no danger of relegation.

          • And the system is okay. A Top 10 GC is more achievement than ONE stage win, plain and simple. Get over it.
            And I saw green Orica jerseys all week in the Italian races and two of them in the top 10 today in Bergamo. DD were exactly where to get some last points today?

          • Debateable if a top ten on GC is worth more than a stage win, but it surely isn’t worth more than 5.
            The points system does seem in need of some changes – until very recently, Cannondale have been all but also-rans.
            For me, the return of teams striving for points is unwelcome – I want to see riders trying to win Il Lombardia, not ensuring they stay in the top ten in order to stave off relegation for their team.
            Still think the entire World Tour idea is meaningless and unnecessary – the individual races stand alone. And they could easily just invite whatever teams they want.
            (Having said that, it seems very unlikely that DD won’t be invited by ASO next year.)

          • Hard to see where – prior to the last fortnight – Cannondale’s points came from at all.
            As you say, though, DD have been stymied by their own lack of quality in WT races – and should have done more to mitigate this.

          • Debatable if 5 Tour stage wins, which get you 100 points, should be worth more than a 3th on the Giro or Vuelta podium?
            I don’t think so.
            It’s debatable if the points system is needed at all, I agree. But all the complaints only cause Cav fans wont get that a sprinter showing up in ONE WT race in one year maybe isn’t enough to earn points if your team has no GC riders at all.
            And btw. Cannondale is way ahead of DD in non-UCI rankings as well.

  3. I was about to launch into a tirade about how race organizers always put too many hills in races these days and how hardly any classics are actually within the capabilities of ‘classics specialists’ anymore, being too weighted towards climbers. But the 20 odd km gap between the last big climb and the finish on a long descent and valley roads seems to offer them the chance of being involved at the end, as opposed to last years course. As a Gilbert fan this is important to me! I think, despite my Gilbert bias, I’ll go with Alaphilippe for this one – pipping Ulissi who seems in good form. I think Orica have a very strong team for this – the Yates’, Chaves, Albasini, and on the basis of his form this year it’s hard to rule van Avarmaet out of it completely. Also of note for me was Dumoulin pipping van Avarmaet up the Muur on the last stage of the Eneco. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a go on the climb to Bergamo Alta. Very much looking forward to my favourite finish destination for my favourite race of the year.

  4. Great preview, thanks! One of our favorite races though we’ve only been able to see it one time live, in-person, back in 2011. For this one we’ll fire up the laptop/VPN/TV combo and enjoy Italian Eurosport coverage (we like Salvo and Riccardo’s commentary) with a cappuccino since we’re in the USA at present.

  5. When was the last time all the Monuments in one year were won by first time Monument winners and by five different teams?
    So far this year we’ve had
    MSR Arnaud Demare (debut M-win) FdJ
    TdF Peter Sagan (debut M-win) Tinkoff
    PR Matthew Hayman (debut M-win) Orica Bike Exchange as now is
    LBL Wout Poels (debut M-win) Team Sky
    There’s a few in Inner Ring’s chainrings who could complete both sets. Will they succeed?

    • Close, eh? And who would have predicted Orica-BikeExchange would claim TWO monuments in 2016? “Good on ya boyz!” (apologies if this is not correct Aussie-speak)
      And they’re beefing up this team for 2017 with plenty of non-Aussies it seems, but I hope they’re smart enough not to burn this Chavez kid out with too many tough races too soon.

        • Well, it’s not a “classic” in the sense of “Spring Classics” but it’s certainly a MONUMENT, one of five. Too tough for your definition of a “classics rider” to be in contention? OK, but this was far from the too typical “watts vs kg” test and there ARE other Monuments for those guys to aim at, no?

          • I agree – I think some of the other classics are putting in too many hills (and especially a hilltop finish in the case of LBL), but that’s what makes Lombardia stand out.

            Felt for Rosa: Astana seem to be one of those (many) teams who stick with their ‘top’ rider no matter how their form is (Aru hasn’t looked that good of late). Had he been allowed to go with Chavez’s initial move and not had to work on the front for Aru it might have been very different for him.
            Mind you, he’s not going to get many more chances at Sky.

            Worst TV director in a long time – how many more shots of babies, women, random folk: show the race.

          • @J Evans: You shocked me by stating that Rosa has signed for Sky. Is that confirmed? A quick search did not find any results pointing to this except for stories dating back to May that his agent had also talked to Sky.

          • It’s definitely a classic, even if it is an autumn one. Look at the profile compared to those around the turn of the decade. 4500 metres of climbing is a lot, like a major mountain day in a grand tour where it comes down to the best few 8 stone wafers. Time was when Musseuw would enter this race. He wouldn’t have made it out of the car park today.

          • Richard S – not trying to pick a fight here but c’mon, Museeuw won Flanders and Roubaix, each 3 times. He had plenty of opportunities to give it a go at the “Race of the Falling Leaves”..should they have flattened it out so he could win? I think we share a dislike of turning every race into little more than a watts/kg exercise, but Il Lombardia has been far more than that. A glance at the winners list proves it, no?

          • You’re missing my point a little. I’m not saying it should be flat and won by a bigish sprinter type like that. I’m just saying he entered once and came 13th which in itself shoes how things have changed because nobody like that would even think of entering now, and he wouldn’t have made the finish if he did. The last two years have smacked to me of building a course for Nibali and Aru. I’m thinking if Pietro Sagoni and Gregorio Avarmati were the big Italian names today that race would’ve had 2000 metres less altitude gain.

          • Richard S – I think I understand your point, but plenty of race courses have been designed around a particular rider over the years and perhaps RCS is even more guilty of this than most, but a Giro di Lombardia with 2000 meters less altitude gain would certainly get howls of derision from from a different camp. Of all of the 5 monuments, I’d guess Lombardia’s route has probably seen the most variation over its history? As they say, “You can please some of the people some of the time…”

      • Larry, that Chavez kid is already 26 and showed today that he has matured a lot this year, physically and mentally. He did everything right in order to win including timing his sprint perfectly. Still felt for Rosa who was clearly the strongest today. What a display of power and boldness!

        • STS- 26 is still rather a tender age to be thrown to the lions and it’s been plenty of times teams have raced a guy like him to death, ending a career that may have had many, many wins had not the young star been burnt out. I wonder if he’ll still be going a decade from now?

          • Have a look at his profile on PCS.
            OBE have handled him just fine this year. He’s on a great team and hopefully he stays there for a couple of more years at least.

    • OBE took monument number two, but we’ve had the first season of debut monument winners since 2004. That run actually stretches until the 2005 Tour of Flanders, so 7 in a row win by first-time victors. This run goes back to Nibali in 2015 Lombardia.

      • So five debutant Monument winners in a row, six if you include Nibali, all from different countries, two from southern continents and two debutant winning countries (Slovakia and Colombia). The Classics are in good health.

  6. Hi there,

    My family was used to live in Brembilla, excatkt where road is going uphill to the Saint,
    I grew up there so I don’t like it to read it misspelled: it’s SANT’ANTONIO and not Sant’Antononio…
    It’s a marvellous climb…I’m loving it, it’s my favourite…it’s moving me to have the climb in the race. It’s rumoured it will be in a stage with finishing line in Bergamo at next Giro d’Italia.

    Apart the misspelling as usually a wonderful and interesting piece…

  7. Gotta go for Dan to win. When he launches he’s irresistible to watch. I’d also like to see Rigoburto on the podium with Chavito or Bardet.

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