Preview: What you need to know about the 2020 Il Lombardia

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In a normal season, Il Lombardia would be the last of the five Monuments, raced in October. But 2020 is far from a normal season, and this year, Il Lombardia is Monument number two, scheduled for this Saturday, August 15.

Here’s what you should know about the 114th edition of Il Lombardia.

This year’s course has been shortened by 12 km.

Organisers announced earlier this week that Il Lombardia will cover 231 km in 2020, rather than the 243 km that was originally planned. It’s not clear exactly why the change was made, but all of the race’s main features remain intact.

Held in the Lombardy region in Italy’s north west, the race starts in Bergamo, 40 km north east of Milan, and finishes in Como, on the shores of the lake of the same name.

There are six notable climbs on the menu.

The race’s main difficulties are spread throughout the race as follows:

177 km to go: Colle Gallo (7.4 km at 6%)
116.2 km: Colle Brianza (finishes with 2.8 km at 5.3%)
64 km: Madonna del Ghisallo (8.6 km at 6.2%)
50.5 km: Colma di Sormano inc. ‘Muro di Sormano’ (5.1 at 6.6% then 1.9 km at 15.8%)
16.7 km: Civiglio (4.2 km at 9.7%)
5.3 km: San Fermo della Battaglia (2.7 km at 7.2%)

From the top of that final climb, there’s a couple of kilometres of descending and then roughly 1.5 km of flat road to the finish in Como.

Il Lombardia is normally won by a solo rider.

Of the last 10 editions of Il Lombardia, eight were won by a solo rider who got away late. Of the remaining two, one was won from a group of three (Esteban Chaves in 2016) and the other was won with an attack from a group of nine with 500 metres to go (Dan Martin in 2014). Expect a solo winner or a small group at the finish again on Saturday.

The race normally unfolds in a pretty similar way each year. The early stages will see a breakaway get clear and enjoy some time out front, before the pace starts to increase in the bunch. There’ll likely be a selection of some sort over the Madonna del Ghisallo and Colma di Sormano climbs as the race heads towards its final 50 km.

The second of those climbs features a brutal section near the top known as the Muro di Sormano (“The Wall of Sormano”) which is a punishing 1.9 km at 15.8% (see the feature image above). Something is bound to happen there, whether it’s a small group (or solo rider) that goes clear, or a thinning out of the peloton into an elite bunch. And then there’s the Civiglio.

This steep climb often plays a deciding role in Il Lombardia. Peaking just 16.7 km from the finish, and being quite steep, it’s a great launch pad for a late attack. Vincenzo Nibali attacked there to win in 2015, Thibaut Pinot did likewise in 2018, and Baume Mollema did the same last year. Expect the climb to have an impact again on Saturday.

Mollema winning the 2019 Il Lombardia.

The final climb, the San Fermo della Battaglia, might serve to split up a small group if one arrives there together, but history tells us the race is more likely to have been decided by that point.

Remco Evenepoel could well continue his perfect season.

Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has done four stage races this year: the Vuelta a San Juan, the Volta ao Algarve, the Vuelta a Burgos and the Tour of Poland. He’s won all four of them. His nine victories for the year are easily the most of any rider in the world, and that’s all from a 20-year-old. He’s an exceptional talent.

At the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour of Poland it was solo victories on lumpy stages that paved the way for overall success. His Tour of Poland stage win was particularly emphatic — he attacked with nearly 52 km to go, then rode solo to the finish to win by nearly two minutes.

Evenepoel winning at the Vuelta a Burgos.

The Belgian is already one of the best in the world at riding away from the bunch in hilly races, and it would be no surprise at all if he did so again on Saturday, even though he’s on debut.

Trek-Segafredo has three riders that can win it.

Trek-Segafredo has an embarrassment of riches for Saturday’s race. Not only do they have two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali and last year’s winner Bauke Mollema on the startlist, they also have gun climber Giulio Ciccone. All three have the ability to get away on their own late on Saturday, and any of the three could feasibly win the race.

All three have shown good form at different times this season, so it will be fascinating to see how Trek-Segafredo plays its cards. Nibali appeared to be riding for Ciccone at Gran Piemonte on Wednesday (Ciccone finished ninth) but that might well change on Saturday.

Vincenzo Nibali won Il Lombardia in 2015 as Italian road champion.

There are plenty of strong climbers with a shot at victory.

Here are just some of them:

George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma): After winning Gran Piemonte on Wednesday, the Kiwi should start as one of the favourites. He’s arguably in career-best form, as shown on Wednesday, and with his fifth at Vuelta a Burgos, and fifth at the recent Tour de l’Ain (behind Primoz Roglic, Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana, and Steven Kruijswijk — all Grand Tour podium finishers). Expect a late attack from Bennett who will lead Jumbo-Visma on Saturday, before switching back into super-domestique mode for the Tour de France.

Bennett winning Wednesday’s Gran Piemonte.

Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling): The Canadian was fifth last year and could well improve on that this year. He’s a terrific climber, particularly on the steep stuff, and his descending has improved significantly in recent times. He too will be dangerous if he can get a gap late.

Richard Carapaz (Ineos): The Ecuadorian had a topsy-turvy Tour of Poland, winning stage 3 to take the overall lead, before crashing out on stage 4. If he’s recovered sufficiently, he’s a very good chance on Saturday.

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana): The Dane is in typically impressive form: he was fifth at Strade Bianche and second overall at the Tour of Poland just last week. He was fourth at Il Lombardia in 2019 (and back in 2010) and he showed with his win at last year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege that he’s well and truly capable of getting away solo in hard, hilly Monuments.

Fuglsang winning the 2019 Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Alexsandr Vlasov (Astana): It’s been a breakout year for the Russian neo-pro. Wearing the colours of national champ he was second overall at Tour de la Provence (behind Quintana) with a stage win, third at La Route d’Occitanie (behind Bernal and Pavel Sivakov), he won the Mont Ventoux challenge (ahead of Richie Porte), and was fourth at Gran Piemonte on Wednesday. The 24-year-old is a massive talent with big things ahead of him.

Vlasov winning on an uphill finish at the 2020 Tour de La Provence.

On the subject of Astana, it will be worth keeping an eye on Basque rider Alex Aranburu too. In what is his first WorldTour season he’s finished second at Gran Trittico Lombardo, seventh at Milan-San Remo on debut, then sixth at Gran Piemonte. Another exciting prospect.

Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) The German champ won Paris-Nice before the coronavirus lockdown and returned with third at Strade Bianche. He can certainly climb, and he will certainly be in the mix on Saturday.

Schachmann winning the opening stage of Paris-Nice en route to overall victory.

Mathieu van der Poel is working into some good form.

Since the season restart, the Alpecin-Fenix maestro has finished 15th at Strade Bianche, 13th at Milano-Torino, 13th at Milano-San Remo and, on Wednesday, third at Gran Piemonte. The Dutchman seemed to cope well with the many tough climbs throughout Wednesday’s race, which could bode well for Saturday. He could win solo or from a small group.

Who’s your pick to win Il Lombardia on Saturday?

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