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by Matt de Neef
October 5, 2017
Photography by Cor Vos
Il Lombardia, ‘The Race of the Falling Leaves’, is the last of the season’s five Monuments. While the other four Monuments are held over the course of five weeks in spring, Il Lombardia comes in the European autumn, right at the end of the season. In the following preview we consider the course and the riders to watch in this Saturday’s 111th edition of Il Lombardia.
The course for the 2017 Il Lombardia is effectively the same course that was used in 2015. Snaking its way from Bergamo to Como in the far north of Italy, the course covers 247km and comprises roughly 4,000m of climbing.
With so much climbing on offer, Il Lombardia is somewhat reminiscent of the season’s fourth Monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. But the climbs of Il Lombardia are fewer in number than at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but they are also considerably longer.
Race organisers have highlighted five main ascents in Saturday’s race:
1. Colle Gallo (7.4km at 6%): Peaks with 191km to go
2. Madonna del Ghisallo (8.6km at 6.2%): 64km to go
3. Muro di Sormano (1.9km at 15.8%!): 50.5km to go
4. Civiglio (4.2km at 9.7%): 16.8km to go
5. San Fermo Della Battaglia (2.7km at 7.2%): 5.4km to go
Three of these climbs are of particular note. The Madonna del Ghisallo is one of the most famous climbs in the world of cycling and its summit is home to a small church and museum, both dedicated to the history of the sport. The Muro di Sormano is a short but brutally steep climb that has the capacity to shred the field. And the Civiglio is a steep climb that comes late in the race, making for a near-perfect launch pad.
From the top of the final climb, it’s little more than 5km of descending and flat road to the finish line in Como.
It should be clear from the race profile and the description above that Il Lombardia is a race for the climbers. But not necessarily the pure climbers — winning Il Lombardia requires more than just the ability to go uphill fast. It requires great descending, great tactical nous and, quite often, a fast finish.
The long climbs of Il Lombardia thin out the field, leaving only the strongest climbers in the closing stages. From there it’s a case of who’s able to get away on the final climbs, and/or who has the fastest kick from the leading group.
A look back through the history books reveals that of the past 10 editions of Il Lombardia, seven have been won by a solo rider, two have been won from a group of two, and one has been won from a group of three (last year). The most likely outcome this year is that the race will again be won by a solo rider or from within a small elite group.
Il Lombardia is one of the most beautiful races on the calendar, and one that rewards those who excel in hilly terrain.
Perhaps the biggest favourite for Saturday’s race is the 2015 winner, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). In many ways Nibali is perfectly suited to Il Lombardia — he’s a terrific climber, one of the best descenders in the world, and he isn’t afraid to risk it all with a late attack (see video below).
Nibali also brings strong form into the race, having finished second at the Vuelta a España in August, second at the Giro dell’Emilia last week, and third at Tre Valli Varesine earlier this week.
Like Nibali, Uran climbs and descends very well, and he’s more than able to make his way into the winning move in long, hard, hilly races. And like Nibali, Uran has an impressive record at Il Lombardia — he was third last year (in the winning group), third in 2012 and third in 2008. One to watch on Saturday.
Uran (right) was third at the Giro dell’Emilia last week, behind Giovanni Visconti and Vincenzo Nibali.
Dan Martin (QuickStep Floors) is a past winner at Il Lombardia and also has a second, a fourth and an eighth-place finish to his name. Martin’s been quiet since he finished sixth at the Tour de France in July but he’s had an impressive year, with second at Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and top-six finishes in six of the seven stage races he’s ridden this year (including the Tour).
Martin will be another contender come Saturday, particularly if he can get away late like he did to win in 2014. And in good news for QuickStep Floors fans, he’s just one of a few good options for the team.
Philippe Gilbert started his 2017 in nearly career-best form, highlighted by his astounding 55km solo ride to win the Tour of Flanders. He’s a two-time former winner of Il Lombardia (2009 and 2010) and should be considered among the men to watch this year as well.
QuickStep Floors also have Julian Alaphilippe at their disposal, one of the most versatile and exciting riders in the WorldTour today. He can climb, he can descend, he can go it alone, and he can be there in a small group to contest the win (see this year’s Milan-San Remo). Alaphilippe launched one of the most dangerous moves of the recent world championships road race, and likewise at Thursday’s Milan-Torino. He needs to be closely marked on Saturday.
Alaphilippe was on the move in the Worlds road race. He’ll be one of several good options for QuickStep Floors on Saturday.
(Note: last year’s winner Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) would of course be among the favourites were he to start Saturday’s race. As it is the Colombian broke his shoulder blade in a nasty crash in the Giro dell’Emilia last week and has ended his season early.)
Beyond the top favourites for Saturday’s race are a whole host of teams with a real shot at victory.
Wout Poels (Sky) spends much of his time riding in support of his teammates but he might get his chance on Saturday. Poels won the 2016 Liege-Bastogne-Liege when presented with the opportunity, and might be in with a shot at Il Lombardia as well. If not, Sky has several other world-class options.
Michal Kwiatkowski showed his best-ever climbing form at the Tour de France earlier this season and is a proven performer in the biggest races. He can win a sprint from an elite group, and can also get away solo. The Movistar-bound Mikel Landa is one of the world’s strongest climbers and more than willing to go on the attack when the opportunity presents itself.
And then there’s Diego Rosa, who finished second last year after battling his way across to the lead group, and nearly stealing the race with a final-kilometre attack. Another one to watch.
Diego Rosa, then racing for Astana, missed out on winning last year’s race by mere centimetres. He was later criticised by his sports director for his two late attacks.
Lotto Soudal is another outfit with a handful of compelling options, namely Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin. Wellens was fourth in 2014 and brings good form into the race, as seen with his big solo victory at the GP de Wallonie last month. Gallopin was seventh in 2015 and has also shown solid recent form, finishing top 10 at both Canadian GPs and taking second at the hilly Clasica San Sebastian after the Tour de France. Both riders love going on the attack and could feature on Saturday.
Astana had two strong candidates in Fabio Aru and Miguel Angel Lopez, however in the days leading up to the race, Lopez announced that he would call it a season. Aru was ninth in 2014 and while he’s been a little off his best lately, he’s another rider that’s well suited to the rigours of Il Lombardia.
At the time of publication Orica-Scott was yet to confirm its full line-up for the race but Adam Yates seems set to head up the Australian squad. Yates was excellent at Milan-Torino, finishing second just behind Uran after riding strongly on the final climb.
Sunweb was set to bring two contenders to the race in the form of world time trial champion Tom Dumoulin and dual Tour de France stage winner and KOM classification winner Warren Barguil. Dumoulin, who was perhaps the team’s best chance of victory, announced Friday that he would have to scratch his name from the start list due to illness.
For other contenders, consider: Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Tre Valli Varesine winner Alexandre Geniez and Jan Bakelants (Ag2r La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Giro dell’Emilia winner Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Nicolas Roche (BMC).
And while he’s unlikely to win the race, it will still be worth keeping an eye on 20-year-old Colombian Egan Arley Bernal. The Tour de l’Avenir winner will likely head up the Androni-Sidermec squad and could well go deep into the race, just as he did at Milan-Torino on Thursday. One to watch, this weekend and well into the future.
The same could be said of last year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner, David Gaudu (FDJ). Also 20, the young Frenchman was an impressive fifth at Milan-Torino on Thursday and might feature again at Il Lombardia.
Egan Bernal is one of the most exciting prospects in world cycling. Can he have an impact in his first Lombardia?
Being one of the world’s biggest one-day races, Il Lombardia is being broadcast live into many markets. Viewers in Australia take note — the race won’t be on free-to-air TV. Instead you’ll need to get access to Eurosport on Foxtel channel 511 from 12:30am AEST to catch the race live.
Viewers in the U.S. will be able to see the race live via Fubo.tv, while Eurosport and RAI will have the broadcast in Europe. Check out steephill.tv for more information.
If you’re planning to follow the race on Twitter, the hashtag you need is #Ilombardia (note the one “l”).
Who do you think will win the 2017 Il Lombardia? And how will they do it?