The long season draws to an end and there’s a final flourish this weekend with Il Lombardia this Saturday and the bonus Paris-Tours on Sunday. There’s an autumnal feel as the leaves begin to turn across Europe and still the chance for several riders to define their seasons. Egan Bernal and Primož Roglič can end their triumphant seasons, a win here could settle who has had the better year. Michael Woods is in form to deliver a big result, Alejandro Valverde has never won this race and there’s plenty of contenders for this lively race.
The Route: 243km from Bergamo to Como again but it’s different to last year’s route with the San Fermo della Battaglia climb back on the route, making this a copy of the 2017 route. It’s 4,000m of vertical gain backloaded into the final two hours. The Colle Gallo is a good steady climb of 6km at 6.9%, maxxing at 10% and followed by a wide descent but as ever, or perhaps increasingly so, the Italian roads are full of cracks, ruts, holes and other traps, there’s rarely a chance to look around and enjoy the scenery on a descent. 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 beautiful 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 and hairpins 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 bends to the chapel… and then there’s a pesky false flat that drags on and then a high speed descent with blind bends, some off camber corners and a road surface that’s like a peeling oil painting in places.
Next comes the Muro di Sormano, a climb so steep that it’s hard to attack as even the slightest acceleration takes huge force but this is where the race split last year. With 2km at 15% and 25% for a while. It’s an infamous climb, 1958 Giro winner Ercole Baldini stated it was unnecessary and “beastly, impossible to ride” but today’s gearing makes it 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 and helps enforce the selection made moments before.
After a section around the lake on flat roads to regroup and take stock tactically comes the climb to Civiglio, a 10% ramp all the way up for 4km making it very difficult after 220km, the opening section is a long straight before a series of curves that reward attacks.
The Finish: the race dips into Como but heads out for the decisive 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 with tight bends which flattens out with just over 1km to go.
Primož Roglič is the rider in form at the moment. No longer “the ski jumper”, he’s the now Vuelta winner and has parlayed his form from Sepember into October, taking an ice-cool win in the Giro dell’Emilia last weekend and doubling up with the Tre Valli Varesine this week. Yes the group of contenders were lead off course on Tuesday, but to borrow from the quote often attributed to Napoleon, “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?” and the Slovenian will need fortune to smile on him. Roglič will know this works both ways as it was on the very same roads back in May that he had a mechanical, his team car had stopped for a break, and in the panic to chase back on a borrowed bike he crashed and was sore for the rest of the Giro. Jumbo-Visma bring a strong team likely to light the fireworks on the Sormano; with George Bennett as a handy second card to play.
Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) won the Gran Piemonte at the Oropa sanctuary to show impressive late season form, a week before he’d been off the pace in Emilia. Lombardia will require more finesse as Ineos won’t be able to guide him into the last climb but ever since he was racing with Androni it’s his versatility that has impressed, and a year ago Bernal exploited the descent of the Sormano to bridge up to the leaders, only to crack but he was on the comeback from injury and this time is stronger. Like Roglič a win would cap off a fine season. As ever there’s a strong team and Gianni Moscon’s an outsider too.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) might have won almost everything going but Lombardia’s missing from his palmarès (two second places). In recent years he’s gone in as a big contender but the repeat climbs have just been a touch too much. Now he’s a contender again if he can just stay in contact over the climbs and use his finishing craft to win the sprint from a small group, just like he won the worlds last year.
Michael Woods won Milano-Torino this week in convincing style. He launched seven accelerations on the Superga while others were pacing themselves up and he still had the jump to keep Valverde at bay in the finish. However here the finish is a descent and a flat run to the line and he’s an infrequent winner but perhaps can offer himself a birthday present this Saturday when he turns 33. He’s got a strong team too with Sergio Higuita due a big win after a promising debut this year.
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is another birthday boy and he’s just turned 23. He was arguably too eager in Milan-Torino but the form is there. He can try to repeat team mate Thibaut Pinot’s win from last year but Gaudu’s more of a pure climber and he’s still inexperienced so it’s hard to see the win.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won in 2017 when the same course featured. Only he’s a harder pick this year, he was dropped on the slopes of the San Luca last weekend but Lombardia is less of a straight test of power to weight, he’s more crafty and can exploit the descents. Team mate Dylan Teuns was on the podium last year but his form doesn’t look so good now.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has found winning ways, taking the Tour of Croatia (image by KL Photo) the other day and he’s in form at just the right time and has the punch to win a race like this. Previous winner Esteban Chaves starts and Jack Haig should be valuable in the finale.
Astana bring Jacob Fuglsang who is riding well. Ag2r La Mondiale bring wildchild Pierre Latour. Deceuninck-Quickstep have past winner Philippe Gilbert and these days the course is probably too hilly for him and Enric Mas is a dark horse. Tim Wellens had a nasty crash in Gran Piemonte so Lotto-Soudal’s best hope might be Tiesj Benoot. Trek-Segafredo have a trio to shape the race in Gianluca Brambilla, Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone but the win will be hard. Lastly Dan Martin does his last race for UAE Emirates and he’s won this race before and it’s practically their home race as the squad has long had its HQ in the region and Diego Ulissi could feature too.
|Primož Roglič, Alejandro Valverde|
|Egan Bernal, Michael Woods|
|Vincenzo Nibali, Adam Yates|
|Jacob Fuglsang, Dan Martin|
|Higuita, Benoot, Ulissi, Mas, Latour, Gaudu, Moscon|
Weather: sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 21°C.
TV: the race starts at 10.30am CEST. RAI’s coverage starts at 2.00pm Euro time with live coverage and the international feed starting soon after and the finish is forecast for 5.00pm. Aim to catch the final two hours from the Madonna del Ghisallo climb onwards.