At last, the end of the season. The professional peloton will let out a collective sigh of relief on Saturday afternoon as the Tour of Lombardy finally brings the curtain down on a long and difficult season for European professional cycling.
2008 has been a season like few others and most of the riders on the start list cannot wait to cross the line, or even make it to the first feed zone and draw a line under the season.
Of course there are still some riders looking for some final end of season success, none more than two-time winner Damiano Cunego. The ?Piccolo Principe? of Italian cycling is on the cover of the race manual after winning last year ahead of Riccardo Ricco but the photograph of Cunego is from the world championships as Italian and Lampre team mate Alessandro Ballan shows him the rainbow jersey.
Since winning he bunch sprint behind Ballan in Varese just three weeks ago, Cunego has promised he would get some kind of revenge for missing out on the world title by winning a third Lombardy. If he manages to win Cunego will join legends such as Bartali and Girardengo and Belloni but will still be two victories behind Fausto Coppi and one behind Alfredo Binda.
Cunego will rightfully wear number one in the Tour of Lombardy, with Ballan number two and ready to help his team mate save something from a disappointing season.
Cunego?s biggest rivals will probably be fellow Italians such as Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone) and Giovanni Visconti (Quick Step). Other names to watch include Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, Holland?s Robert Gesink and Alexandre Kolobnev (CSC).
Cadel Evans (Silence) is riding on the roads he trains on during the season and deserves respect for finishing the season so late on, but he is unlikely to be a huge contender, like most of the other big names on the start list. Watch for Dave Zabriskie (Garmin) attacking again in a skin suit, while a surprise could be Francesco Masciarelli (Acqua e Sapone), the recent winner of the Giro del Lazio race.
This year?s Tour of Lombardy again starts in Varese, just two hundred metres from where Ballan jumped away to victory in the world championships. The 242km route cuts across to Lake Como and then climbs the hills around the breathtaking lake. The steep climb to the Madonna di Ghisallo marks the start of the real race, with the Civiglio and then the San Fermo della Battaglia overlooking Como the last chance for attacks.
Any rider who cannot beat Cunego in a sprint will have to get rid of him on the last climb but the Italian is the absolute favourite to end the year on a high. Everybody else will just be glad to have made it to the end of the season.