Lombardia Preview

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.

The Contenders

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.

62 thoughts on “Lombardia Preview”

  1. Does anybody else feel like RCS has gone climb crazy?! This race is now far too hilly for a ‘classics’ rider to even bother entering really, and I agree with Baldini that the ‘Crawl of Sormano’ is neither necessary nor entertaining. Also Gran Piemonte yesterday was a boring drag up to the Oropa Sanctuary when it used to be sort of similar to Brabantse Pijl, Tre Valli Varesine is a long grinding uphill finish, Milano-Torino finishes at Superga and Giro Dell’Emilia up at that Basilica. In my opinion the more hilly a race is, especially if it finishes uphill, the duller it is. There is a reason everyone likes the Spring Classics, hilly yes but not mountainous. RCS have had the negative example of Liege-Bastogne-Liege over the last 20 years, and for some odd reason decided to copy it. Obviously this race doesn’t have an uphill finish but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does soon. There must be a monastery somewhere near Como! Is this the Nibali effect? As the only marketable Italian do RCS have to make every race one he is capable of winning? Anyway my top 3 for tomorrow is Woods, Roglic, Bernal.

    • This is the inner ring blog so complaints about mountain finishes risk falling on deaf ears… but I understand. Emilia is always the San Luca basilica and it’s not RCS’s race but you’re right about the inclusion of more climbs with Gran Piemonte changing. They do like to invoke Pantani alot but I think it’s probably a sign that RCS needs the likes of Bernal winning Piemonte in order to add some lustre to the race, compared to it being won from a 20 rider sprint between, say, Ulissi, Higuita and Jesus Herrada. Lombardia has been less hilly in the recent past, eg the finish through Bergamo’s old city included a climb but it was cobbled and short and opened up the field to a wider cast.

      • I think an important point about climbs or better Salita, in Italian, is just how important that word is to Italian cycling folklore. Coppi and Bartali earned their reputations in salita. Except for Moser, the Giro is won in salita for the tifosi. Writing in English eliminates many of the key words that tie in the romance that cycling has in Italy. But riding in salita is the foundation that all Italian cycling is built around. As RCS wants to rebuild Italian cycling, they know the path is to go up, yes, in Salita!

      • It sounds like Italy is turning into cycling boom Britain whereby a race has to be won by the Tour winner for it to be understood. Two races that often get the best and most varied fields are Milano-Sanremo and Amstel Gold, because the parcours gives a chance to riders across the spectrum from a Nibali to a Sagan. I’m not saying Lombardia should be a sprint but Ghisallo-San Fermo would be a better finale for the Como finish. The 2013 Bergamo finish was good. Making it a climb fest makes it defensive and the field restricted to the usual suspect from the GTs.

        • As an unabashed Italophile I’ll leap to the defense of these races, not all of ’em run by RCS so the “RCS has gone climb crazy” claim is a stretch. I did wonder about RCS’ Gran Piemonte route this year (though I love the iconic Oropa climb) vs the past, but I can remember complaints about the old routes not being challenging enough so it’s “damned if you do….” in many cases.
          The other races change their course now and then but keep the traditional bits like Emilia’s climb to the Basilica, another iconic climb I hope they never change.
          For me this is a great time of year, a week of bike races in Italy live on TV (reminds me of my beloved Giro d’Italia) winding up with one of the most beautiful of them all, the Race of the Falling Leaves. Forza Nibali!
          Hang in there Richard S, the spring classics will be here before you know it 🙂
          Note to JCGMD – the plural of climb (salita) is salite in Italian.

    • For sure, as others already mention, cycling in Italy is much devoted to climbs and we all like the spring classics becasuse of their “belgian” style. On the single races I have something to say:
      I think Lombardia has a tradition in being the most climber/GC friendly of the classics, it’s his character.
      In Tre Valli Varesine (not an RCS race) they added an useless final “salita” but we still had Visconti, Skuijns and Vendrame in top5, who are not climbers at all.
      I agree for Gran Piemonte, it was better the old way, to vary a little bit during the week.
      You didn’t mention GP Beghelli (not RCS) that has an hilly circuit but ends with a flat finish.

        • I don’t want to pile-on Richard S, but regarding “As the only marketable Italian do RCS have to make every race one he is capable of winning? ” made me wonder why you think the winner of all three GT’s as well as 2 monuments and plenty of other races needs a course tailor-made by RCS or anyone else to win?

          • I don’t think he does, but maybe they think he does. I think Inrng is more on the mark when he suggests they are trying to get GC riders, like Bernal in general. What I don’t understand is, unless you view cycling only through a grand tour prism, why Bernal is preferable to a GVA or even a van der Poel.

          • Dunno what RCS is up to, but I would really like to see the rumors about the hapless Mauro Vegni being replaced by Davide Cassani come true, though it would be IMHO a huge loss to the Italian national team.
            As to Bernal, Italians have developed him as a rider (same with Sosa)…but even yours truly is getting a bit tired of RAI’s talking heads (along with Androni’s Gianni Savio) patting themselves on the back every time Bernal is on-screen.
            Regarding Bernal, Sosa, and INEOS’ new signings for 2020, is the vaunted British team in danger of becoming minority British when it comes to their riders? Do their fans care?

          • Sky/Ineos has been minority British throughout its existence. Its highest Brit-quotient was in the 2012 season, when it reached 34.5% (10 out of 29 riders). Other than that, it’s never been more than 1/3 British. It did reach its lowest point of Britishness this season with 8 out of 29 riders, which is down to 27.5%, but there’s not exactly massive variance.

            Disclaimer: this is based on the rosters listed on Wikipedia, so is only as accurate as those.

            [Amusingly, predictive text wants ‘Britishness’ to be ‘brokenness’, which seems not so far wide of the mark]

          • Tragic autocorrect :’)

            Side note: I think Britishness also has to do with the team leaders. If you have a British winner the team is perceived more British.

          • Well, fair enough. But it still only really seems to stand up if you think that cycling = Tour de France. And that’s really mainly about one rider, albeit bookended by Wiggins and the almost accidental leadership of Thomas.

            Outside of that you’re looking more at the likes of Porte, Kawasaki, Henao, Boasson Hagen, and others being leaders than you are other Brits.

            And it’s hard to what British TdF contender they could sign at this point. They have TGH (unproven) in the wings; the Yateses are settled elsewhere; there seems to be a general expectation that Pidcock will wind up at Ineos at some point, but he doesn’t want to move up yet and in any case would be some way off demonstrating that he could be a grand tour leader. What other Brits could they have signed?

          • More climbs thumbs up.
            Italy thumps up.
            Great race.
            Can’t wait.

            Pinot vs Nibali last year is my idea of cycling perfection, felt like a boxing match, a proper slug fest, then Nibali breaking away for second was the final moment of excitement I needed… Bliss.

            Just wish it wasn’t at the end of the year, dump snore-fest Milan San Remo and put Lombardia in it’s spot! Bunch sprints (even reduced bunch sprints) are great in Grand Tours, terrible in one days for me. I’m a yes for any climbs or at least obstacles that bring character and interest… Paris-Roubaix/Strade Bianchi are the only two onedayraces I find consistently brilliant, Lombardia has given some great moments though and comes up third for me.

            As for other big one days, my stupid one sentence write-ups: LBL hasn’t had a good race since Nibali nearly won, Flanders is always okay and occasionally brilliant (Gilbert’s win), MSR is rubbish except for ten mins, E3/Omloop/DDV/KBK seem to have better races often than their big brothers but are always lesser because of their standing being mini-versions of more illustrious races, be better if they could have more of a unique identity like Bianchi to warrant more attention. I don’t personally particularly care about the history of any of the races, cycling needs to evolve and dump the dead wood.

          • For my money MSR has always been the cycling version of the Kentucky Derby, every year I complain that it’s two hours of coverage leading up to a few minutes of excitement, but every year I enjoy it anyway. I love the cobbled classics but I’ve never been as thrilled watching a race as Nibali’s solo in 2018.

          • As far as lesser known classics go, did anyone watch the Bretagne Classic, nee GP Plouay? Good classics field and a very active race once the break was caught at about 75k.

          • oldDave writes “…unique identity like Bianchi to warrant more attention.” in a post that also includes “I don’t personally particularly care about the history of any of the races” which makes me wonder what he thinks BIANCHI is these days other than history? Their plastic (most of ’em) bikes are made in China while the company is owned by Swedes last time I checked.

          • Larry, any idea who owns Cycleurope? Any idea who Salvatore Grimaldi is?
            Anyway, there is just as much of whatever we can call Italianness in an Oltre as there is in a nice steel bike with a boutique brand name and an attractive background story, so I don’t really mind that the frame is made of carbonfiber that was formed by Taiwanese hands or that the owner lives in a big fancy house in Stockholm.

          • Eskerrik Asko – you mean these folks http://www.grimaldi.se/org.html? The company that also makes lawnmowers? Bianchi bicycles these days are about as “Italian” as Ridley bicycles are “Belgian”. My point was to understand how someone could like the history of a company like this while discounting all the history involved with a bike race. If Milano-Sanremo was transplanted to Sweden would anything be the same except the name?

          • Oh Larry apologies I wrote Bianchi when I meant Bianche.

            I realise Bianchi’s are made in China.
            I also realise S.Bianche is a younger race than most out there, which was kinda the point I was making.

            I think it’s safe to say if people are posting on INRNG we’re all likely to know both & I guess you speak Italian so this came across as a bigger mistake than one letter might seem, apologies my bad. Although admittedly, the fact I was talking about one day races makes me think you might have made the leap!

            Either way I love Italy and Italian races and enjoyed yesterday, as you’re obviously an Italian lover I thought it might have been a sentiment you agreed with. But oh well. No big deal.

          • Larry T – my first point was that in my humble opinion one doesn’t make a such a big deal about Bianchi being “owned by Swedes” if one knows who is known as “cykelkung” (“bicycle king”) in Sweden.
            My second point was that there is such a thing as “Italianness” and that for some people – like myself – it is a far more important and valid quality than “being Italian”. But I understand that someone who thinks it is a relevant argument that Grimaldi also owns Stiga sees things differently.
            I suppose we don’t have to ask whether you are a Campagnolo or a Shimano rider?:-) We all know what Campagnolo doesn’t make!

        • That’s quite mean but oh well.

          If it made you feel good to write, I understand, I’m sure I’ve done similarly unnecessarily unkind posts here and regretted them. Hope you enjoyed the race.

          Happy to see Mollema win, always love riders who aren’t the best making the most of their talent and getting rewarded. Interesting to see Bernal running Valverde close (ish) in sprint.

          • You took that in good grace. I’m not sure that Richard S deserves to be shown any. He’s pretty rude to anyone whose opinion doesn’t agree with his own.
            I don’t really understand why he’s getting all uppity about Lombardia doing what Lombardia has done for years on end – go up some big climbs around Lake Como. You’d think he’d never seen the race before.
            It is a Monument, which speaks of its age as a one day race, not really as a type of race. Whereas the spring classics can more clearer be categorised as a bunch of races held over hilly terrain or cobbles, which creates an attrition which leads a selection. You can’t stick feathers on a dog and expect it to cluck.
            I can’t say Lombardia has the excitement that some of the classics have. It fails to land that punch of thrilling excitement that usually comes with Paris-Roubaix and others. But it’s the best race we have at this end of the season.
            It was great to see the riders coming out punching their weight after what was a disappointing World Championship – anyway you want to turn it the weather simply killed it as a competition for the men’s teams (though the winner deserved his spoils). Mollema has often been a rider who has flattered to deceive, the early promise of his talent has seen him shuffle backwards from being a GC contender to a Super Domestique, so I’m glad he’s won a big race. He seized a moment of indecision and went for it, carpe diem!

  2. Is there sense that the Vélo d’Or could be decided here? I see it as a tie between Bernal and Roglic at the moment, but a Monument for either would surely tip the scales.

      • It is a rider of the year award. It’s weighted pretty heavily to Tour winners; Lance had five, and Contador has four. Froome, Wiggins and Indurain are other recipients. Typically a classics rider would need to have a stellar season to win; Gilbert’s 2011 and Bonnens 2005.

        Roglic’s worst stage race result this season is a third in the Giro with two stage wins. Bernal got the Tour, Suisse and Paris Nice. Either of them wins Saturday and it’s surely decided.

        Alaphilippe’s a strong third.

        • Yes, it’s the same as the Ballon d’Or prize in football, both are run by L’Equipe with the paper’s cycling magazine Vélo presenting the cycling prize. Journalists around the world are polled for their best riders of the season, the scores are added up and a winner is found.

        • thanks Adam

          sounds basically like a bunch of journos having a meaningless midnight bar room chat trying to decide ‘fruit of the year’ or something, and devaluing the World Champs jersey into the bargain… I guess the fact that I’d never heard of it up to now reflects it’s importance (or maybe I’m just not very well informed…)

          • Both PCS and UCI rankings have Roglic way out in front as the number one rider, with Bernal 5th and 6th on both respective lists also.
            There’s no doubt, in my mind at least, that Roglic is the de facto World Champion.
            Perhaps there should be a more formal and visual recognition of a season’s excellence – a jersey or bands on a team jersey – as opposed to that given after a one-off race?

        • Except that it is an award is supposed to be an award for all riders, including women, but somehow Annemiek van Vleuten is the only female nominee. It’s never won by a female rider, not even Jeannie Longo or Marianne Vos.

          Of course consensus in the Netherlands is that AvV should win.

    • “Miracle” is one way to describe Valverde’s many years at the top. There are others, particularly as it refers to a few years in there.

  3. It’s not often one can find fault with IR but the CRO Race was not A Yates first stage race win. He won the Tour of Turkey in his first pro season.

    Since Milan Turin Gaudu must be fed up of those criticising him for lack of restraint. If he can apply that lesson surely he would merit an extra chainring or two.

  4. Love this race and it’s been a great build up with the smaller races in Italy leading into this. Nibali for me, he’s the expert at it.

    • They’ve shaken up the calendar to bring some of the races after the worlds and into the Lombardia build up, it creates a mini-series of autumnal classics and better still more are on TV now and they’re an easy watch, eg you can tune in for the final 20-30 minutes of Emila, Milan-Torino and Gran Piemonte and get your fill of the action.

  5. Strange to see chainrings for Moscon and Latour but not even a mention for Quintana and Landa. Explained by lack of form, low late season motivation, or the Movistar Valverde factor? They both must have more potential for a race like Lombardia than Moscon.

  6. Interesting point about this being UAE’s other “home” race. Which makes sense given the Lampre heritage pre-2017.

    I appreciate your regular articles on what the WT/PT teams’ sponsors do. Wonder if there’s an article in where they’re from, and how that influences their character? Apologies if that’s something you’ve already considered and discounted – I recognise it’s not the reader’s place to make requests.

  7. I think Formolo can be a surprise too (if he is surprise still after many top10-s and LBL+national champ). He is really good on the long races.

  8. Can’t see past Roglic, but all Classics have an element of luck, which is why I like them more than the GTs.

    I have enjoyed the last cluster of Italian races. They work well together. IMO it works well when races cluster, Flanders being the prime example. Paris Tours looks good as well. Then a well needed rest. Cheers Mr Ring.

  9. I love the Giro di Lombardia (as was), partly because I used to live in the area. Its position at the end of the calendar also makes it unmissable, since there’s so little left until the end of January.
    This edition didn’t disappoint, and I loved the unexpected explosiveness of Mollema’s attack. Having said that, I hope that, if InRng does a ‘the moment the race was won’ post, there will be a photo of the leading peloton prevaricating. They were so spread out across the road that it reminded me of the famous picture taken on Mt Etna 18 months ago.

  10. Another great win after last year. I really enjoy this race, for its history, its reverence for the deceased with the tolling bells at Madonna Di Ghisallo, and the ensuing parcours with the distinctive Muro Sormano, Civiglo and chase down to the line. The last two years have been exciting finals with popular winners.

    And fair play to Baulke Mollema who really hit the group hard with that searing attack and held on magnificently.

    And a final thank you to inrng and the community here. Long may we enjoy the high standards of this excellent blog and forum. Enjoy your autumn.

  11. Something I love about Lombardia are the people that have won recently, Pinot, Mollema, Chaves, Martin, Nibali, I like that recently it’s started to reward rides who *(in 1day races) have not won a huge amount but deserve the respect a monument brings as they’re all great riders who rarely (in 1day races) get the rewards their talent deserves.

  12. A real pleasure to watch the final week of Italian racing culminating with a fitting climax at Lombardy. Always good to see an aggressive rider win his just deserves, and radios proving ineffective in such terrain. Legs and brains are always the best ingredient for real racing. The two young Ineos (Automotive) youngsters showed what some of the present stage race stars could maybe aspire to – G. Thomas anyone.
    There appears to be a welcome change in both fresh blood and attitude. Long may it continue.

    • Were race radios not working yesterday then, or just patchy?
      Trek’s second late season win in the ‘fog of war’?

      Yesterday was almost a perfect juxtaposition of Valverde’s one day career.
      A very canny, clever racer who is so dangerous from a reduced group that his presence nearly always reduces it to an uncooperative Brexit-like mess but a racer that so rarely makes a lone move from any distance beyond the finishing line being in eye sight!

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