Known as the ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ for its Autumn slot in the calendar, the race is one of the oldest in cycling have had its first edition way back in 1905.
It is also one of the most prestigious, classified as one of the five ‘monuments’ of cycling, and, traditionally being the final big race of the season, offers a chance for riders who have endured difficult seasons to save their year and go out on a high.
One such rider hoping for redemption this year is Vincenzo Nibali. His Tour de France and Classics campaign did not go according to plan, and since his controversial expulsion from the Vuelta a Espana last month the Italian has had to recalibrate his goals, with his home race Il Lombardia emerging as his revised main late-season target.
Having shown some form by winning the Coppa Bernocchi and podiuming in a couple of other Italian semi-classics victory looks within Nibali’s sight, and his bid to finally win a first monument (having come close in both Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milan-San Remo in 2012) in front of the tifosi looks set to be the most exciting talking point going into the race.
He’ll benefit from this year’s revised route, which looks considerably tougher than last year’s. The super-steep Muro di Sormano is back, and is likely to cause a considerable selection in its key position around 55km from the finish. As is the Civiglio, which will provide attackers one more platform to make a move just before the final ascent and descent of San Fermo della Battaglia juts prior to the finish.
With defending champion Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) unlikely to be in top shape following the crash that forced him out of the Vuelta, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is one of the leading favourites, particularly since two-time winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) withdrew at the last minute due to injury.
Valverde – for whom Lombardia remains one of the few major hilly classic he has never won – has the form to add yet another major result to his bursting season palmares.
Valverde tends to manage the tricky transition of recovering from the Vuelta to reaching top shape at Lombardia. However, it remains to be seen whether other riders who rode for GC in Spain earlier this month, such as podium finisher Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who has also finished third before in Lombardia in 2013, long-time red jersey wearer and potential dark horse Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), and overall winner Fabio Aru, who looks set for a supporting role subordinate to Astana teammate Nibali, can pull something off.
Similarly, for those riding those riding on the back of last weekend’s World Championships, jetlag might be a factor. Those who opted to skip the event may therefore have an advantage, such as 24-year old Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), who has shown great form this second half of the season with overall victory at the Eneco Tour and a win at the Grand Prix de Montreal, and French duo Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r).
Others to look out for include ex-world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep), who looked in good shape in Richmond; his teammate Rigoberto Uran, who has a good record in this race having finished third in both 2008 and 2012; Rui Costa, who was third here last year; and two-time winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who is hoping to repeat his 2009 and 2010 success.
And then there’s Britain’s Adam Yates, currently on a rich vein of form having won San Sebastian and finished runner-up at the Tour of Albert and the Grand Prix de Montreal. Although the pressure will be off for him to deliver a result, the other favourites would be unwise to give him any leeway.
Il Lombardia 2015
When: Sunday, October 4
Where: Bergamo to Como, Italy
Status: UCI WorldTour
Il Lombardia 2015: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
CCC Sprandi Polkowice
Trek Factory Racing
Il Lombardia 2015: TV Guide
British Eurosport will be showing live coverage of the race.
Sunday, October 4
2.30-4.45pm, Il Lombardia LIVE, British Eurosport
6.45-8.15pm, Il Lombardia highlights, British Eurosport
Il Lombardia: Recent winners
2014: Daniel Martin
2013: Joaquim Rodriguez
2012: Joaquim Rodriguez
2011: Oliver Zaugg
2010: Philippe Gilbert
2009: Philippe Gilbert
2008: Damiano Cunego
2007: Damiano Cunego
2006: Paolo Bettini
2005: Paolo Bettini
Il Lombardia: Last year’s top 10 (2014)
1. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp in 6-25-33
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1 sec
3. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida
4. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
5. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing
6. Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEdge
7. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
9. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana
10. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale at 14 secs