Il Lombardia Preview
And to top off the main road season, in Europe at least, is the classic climax of the Italian Autumn classics, Il Lombardia! It's the last monument of the season and one of the most brilliant races of the season, not only taking place in one of cycling's most iconic regions but the profiles suiting the climbers and puncheurs, the diversity of the climbing, the amazing set of startlists and the untouchable list of winners makes it one of the most prestigious races all year round.
With 243 kilometers en route around the lake region it is in any scenario a big race, and adding to that there's more than 4000 meters of climbing, spread throughout the day but mostly in the last half of the race.
The opening half has some climbs but also a lot of flat roads passing through Bergamo and Lecco before the climbs start being race defining.
The first of them, the Madonna del Ghisallo is the opener, we shouldn't see attacks coming here as it's the opener for the favourites and where the real pace setting will start. It's a climb of two halves, the opening 3Km average over 9% and the final 1.3Km again average almost 10%, they are divided by a flat section but one where it's possible to power through. It's summit comes with 64Km to go, damage will be dealt here and following a short descent the hardest climb of the day begins.
The iconic Sormano, through it's hardest side incuding the infamous Muro di Sormano. Again, a climb of two halves, but there's no flat dividing, only a brutal switch of gradients. So, the first 5.2Km average a pretty steady at 6% but then after a switch from the main road, the riders will enter a narrow and steep bit of road, for a whoping 1.6Km where the gradients barely come below 15% - *breathes hard even looking at it* - and reaches 23% almost at the summit. It summits with 50Km to go and the descent that follows is extremely technical (if you remember Laurens de Plus/Jan Bakelants and others crashing down a ravine some years ago)
After a rolling yet quite lumpy section across the lakeside the riders will reach Como for the first time. They will head north and climb Civiglio, another of Lombardy's iconic climbs and was even featured in this years' Giro. It's another steep steep climb, although the ramps do pitch up a bit it's still somewhat constant and it's hairpins lead up to the small locality of Civiglio, where it may be the decisive climb and summits when the riders have 17Km left to race.
Another technical, but this time short descent follows, but unlike last year the race doesn't quite end up there, the race will return to San Fermo della Battaglia before descending back into Como. The ramps do get a bit hard, but I hardly see race-deciding gaps being made in this climb as the previous ones are where differences will be made. Here, there may be collaborations to make moves work or to cancel them, but it's the final chance to create gaps all the way to the finish.
As the final descent leads almost to the line, and it's quite a short and quick run-up, closing down gaps in here will definetely not happen, it will be where the riders will quickly try to get their breath back before entering the final flat kilometer where a solo, or a sprint will take place to crown the final monument winner of the day.
No win and temperatures between 15-20 degrees, a typical fall day in Italy.
I see INEOS pacing Ghisallo, they have strenght in depth but use it as a means to set constant pace, they should push that first climb and then have the race blow up in Sormano, but I see other riders overperform over them. The gradients will be severe and it's a very steep effort at the end of a climb, it was decisive last year and usually is, and I expect it to be again, so who fits those gradients? Well there's Milano-Torino winner Michael Woods, goat-track expert, his form is tip top and this is where he thrives, seeing he has Sergio Higuita who's also been flying and Simon Clarke/Alberto Bettiol as punchy riders who in a great day could be up there too, EF will be in very good position. In that race we've seen also David Gaudu flying, and this season he's rode in a way that reminds of Pinot, and he is also very well oriented for this type of climb, distance may be his dificulty but if he manages to handle it he's a serious candidate.
And the other rider to mention here is Primoz Roglic, THE rider of the season and his form is still high and running, after a maiden Vuelta win he's since won Giro dell'Emelia and Tre Valle Varesine in convincing fashion, he knows these roads and loves the steep gradients, and as a rider that's looked almost flawless all year long it's hard to imagine him far from the front. Besides, Jumbo comes with a mega team including Steven Kruijswijk, George Bennett, Sep Kuss, Robert Gesink and Neilson Powless.
So, if Sormano doesn't decide the race
If it doesn't, it opens the race quite a bit. Although Civiglio is a brutal climb, it's a tad shorter, and the distance comparison to Superga is a good indicator that some riders have a bigger chance of being up there in the end, Tiesj Benoot the first name that comes to mind, alongside Tim Wellens they'll be hoping for a more controlled race so they can take advantage of their power in the final section of the race instead of battling the road. Alejandro Valverde too of course, he's light and looks in good form but honestly he doesn't seem to have it, beaten by Woods in Superga I see him struggle against the likes of the more pure climbers who will surely light up the race soon. However, with a possible Mikel Landa joker to play and a solid sprint he's never discounted to be on the podium in the end.
As I previously mentioned, I expect INEOS to pace early on, it's their move. Bernal will benefit from the more steady racing, he's won Gran Piemonte yesterday, don't get me wrong it was a strong win, but competition was far from the best and he's raced this past week and been beaten by the other climbers, and he's not exactly a specialist in those grades. However in Cipressa he should be more in his turf, I'd have Sosa as a better option if it blows up in Sormano, Tao Hart and Diego Rosa should be more than enough support for them. The same applies to Nibali, a specialist in this race he can never be counted out, but his form is even lacking more, he doesn't seem to currently have the kick, his right-hand man Damiano Caruso should be of good help, but perhaps a bet on Dylan Teuns could be worth it.
Several other teams have multiple options, I'd have Adam Yates a big candidate for the win, he's had an underwhelming season but recent results have been good, if he has a good day he could be up there in Sormano, but he also has the right skillset to keep it going until the end, Jack Haig and former winner Esteban Chaves will surely be of main support, and I'm interested to see what Matteo Trentin is capable of doing, although of course I don't expect him to be fighting for the win. Trek come with a triple threat, Ciccone should be leading and targeting another strong result and the Mollema/Brambilla combination should give a lot of versatility that we've seen used in the classics so far, the same may be the case from UAE with Daniel Martin more suited for the longer climbs but Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa with a better punch and sprint consistency. Astana have Jakob Fuglsang, although he's not as sharp as he's been this season he's still a card to consider but I would see Gorka Izagirre leading as he's flying, with Ion and also Davide Villela interesting cards to play.
Finally there's the Specialized teams, Bora have a huge array of cards although none seem perfect at the moment, however with a recovering Max Schachmann, support is needed for a group containing Rafal Majka, Emanuel Buchmann, Patrick Konrad and Davide Formolo, and Deceuninck have Enric Mas, with an eye for the classics specialists, maybe Philipe Gilbert and Bob Jungels could pull of somewhat of a surprise, with Remi Cavagna and James Knox possibilities too via breakaways.
Some outsiders to take into account
So to finish it off, the real depth of the race is lined out in here. The riders previously mentioned should fill in most of the top spots but there are lots of riders remaining that could do so and not be exactly surprises. AG2R with Pierre Latour and Mathias Frank, coming in with very good form in to the race, Androni have Andrea Vendrame but I would pay very close attention to Fausto Masnada, home rider tomorrow. Giovanni Visconti too to wrap up the PCT situation alongside the Russians Nikolay Cherkasov and Alexandr Vlasov, there's also Roman Kreuziger and Michael Valgren who are both a combination of climber and classics rider, Ilnur Zakarin for a one-time shot like he did in the Giro and to wrap things off Sunweb come with Wilco Kelderman and Chris Hamilton, and also Marc Hirschi who will be looking for his limit in the longer climbs.
⭐ Ciccone, Sosa, G.Izagirre, Fuglsang, Ulissi, Benoot, Majka, Mas, Landa
My call is for a Primoz Roglic win. Worlds ITT, I picked Kung for the win, he had a disapointing performance but a smashing road race. Roglic is having a similar situation, currently in flying form with a mega team, I wouldn't tout him stronger than Woods in Civiglio but the lenght of Sormano and his sprint ability will give a bigger edge in comparison with the competition.
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