The last big race of the season and one of the most beautiful courses, Il Lombardia often has a wistful feel, the anticipation of a great race on a fine course but the nagging feeling that it’s all about to end.
This Saturday’s edition promises plenty with Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard among the top contenders.
The Route: Bergamo to Como via the scenic route with 253km and 4,500 metres climbing. The race changes its course but keeps the regular haunts. It starts with a dash out of Bergamo across the plains for 20km to the first climb, the Forcellino di Bianzano. This is a wide and steady mountain pass on both sides. The road gets harder from Ganda onwards, it’s narrower and more irregular here but with a long way to go it’s not too tactical. Then it’s across to the Forcella di Bura, home of Taleggio cheese before a dip into Brembilla and the Berbenno. All this will have the effect of softening up the peloton, adding a lot of climbing and then the race heads to the swank shores of Lake Como.
With 70km to go the climb of the Madonna del Ghisallo begins. It’s in two parts and the hardest part is the start out of Bellagio with some 10-15% sections. It levels out through Guello before a more tame rise over the top and then a twisty descent down to Asso after which the road heads for Como.
The novelty this year is in the repetition of the climbs around Como. The road to San Fermo della Battaglia is climbed once, then there’s the ascent to Civiglio, then San Fermo again. Of the two climbs, Civiglio is harder but it opens with a long straight ramp up before the ten hairpins starts. San Fermo’s not easy, a tight turn to start with puts anyone ten wheels back in trouble to start with before the narrow road twists up through the woodland.
The Finish: another time up to San Fermo, 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: Tadej Pogačar (UAE) won last year, although on a very different course. He’s still the prime pick because he can win on many terrains, see his win during the week in the Tre Valli Varesine where he took the sprint from a 20 rider group although he did get dropped in a straight uphill contest in Emilia last Sunday too. His UAE team is very strong, helpers like Diego Ulissi, Alessandro Covi, Marc Hirschi or João Almeida are plausible winners too if not this year then another so it’ll be interesting to see how the team plays its cards, presumably to make the race as hard as possible and force a selection where Pogačar has a team mate or two and few rivals are left. That’s all too obvious and many other teams know they’ll need to find a different route to victory.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is in form after two stage wins and second overall in the recent CRO Race but can he stay the distance over 250km here? He’s incisive uphill but much less of a threat in a sprint so he’ll need to launch on the final climbs and ideally arrive solo as playing the odds in a sprint is a tough ask. Koen Bouwan packs a tidy sprint and Tobias Foss brings more options too.
Julian Alaphillipe (Quick-Step) ought to win this race one day. Only 2022’s been a rough season for him by his standards. If he’s due a holiday he might still prefer another week or two of racing as he tries to recover form. He’s suited to the sharp climbs, the twisting descents and has a good sprint from a small group. Andrea Bagioli is a local capable of winning but that would be an upset.
Enric Mas (Movistar) could have put his feet up after the Vuelta but he’s in great form right now having just won the Giro dell’Emilia and in style, dropping Pogačar on the final time up the climb. He’ll find a win in Lombardia harder as there’s no summit finish and the twisty roads will tax him. Alejandro Valverde is a Plan B for the team in his last race and if it’s hard to see him winning as his sprint is not what it was, he can find a way to the podium.
Outsiders include Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) who is in perfect late-season form, just under the radar so he can hit rivals when they least expect it and replicate his win from 2019, team mate Mattias Skjelmose can also make similar moves. Can Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) cope with the climbs, because he’s got a good finish and even if dropped late can slide back into contention.
Bora-Hansgrohe bring a very strong team but how to win, they’ll need to stir up the race early and try moves with Sergio Higuita and Aleksandr Vlasov. They’ll find allies here in Ineos who will also want to get UAE on the back foot in order to increase the chances for Adam Yates and Dani Martinez.
EF Education’s new signing and local Andrea Piccolo is doing well but unproven over this distance, Neilson Powless is more experienced.
Finally Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) bows out and is still capable of a final flourish as we saw with his attacks in the Tre Valli Varesine but a third win is asking too much, Samuele Battistella could feature as well.
|Alaphilippe, Bagioli, Vingegaard, Higuita|
|Vlasov, Valverde, Martinez, Mollema|
Weather: sunshine and some clouds, 23°C.
TV: the race starts at 10.00am CEST with Italian channel RAI broadcasting a show from the start but coverage of the race on RAI and Eurosport/GCN is from 12.30pm onwards with Ghisallo climb from 3.00pm and the finish due around 5.00pm.