Tucked away at the end of the season, just after the fanfare of the Road World Championships, it’s easy to overlook just how prestigious a race the Tour of Lombardy is.
Despite being one of the five ‘monuments’ of road cycling, ‘The Race of the Falling Leaves’ (Sunday, October 5) occupies an unusually isolated position in the autumn period of the calendar. Whereas Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege all take part within five weeks of each other, the fifth and final monument takes place some six months later as the season comes to a close.
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As such, Il Lombardia is a race often contested by a different set of riders than those who starred in the Ardennes Classics. In terms of route and length it is similar race to Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but the only riders to have won both in the same season are Eddy Merckx and Moreno Argentin. It is difficult to reach peak form twice in a season, especially in the modern peloton where riders specialise for specific races, so many of those who starred in the Ardennes are winding their seasons down by this point.
That said, recent editions of the race still boast a high-calibre list of winners. Joaquim Rodriguez, Philippe Gilbert, Paolo Bettini and Michele Bartoli are names that sit comfortably alongside the likes of Sean Kelly, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali in the race’s long, illustrious history.
For its 108th edition, the route has undergone considerable change. The peloton will start rather than finish in Como, and will head eastwards to the finish line in Bergamo.
The basic principles of Lombardy remain the same – at 256km the race will retain its punishing distance, while a series of hills ensures this is still one for the puncheurs. But the climbs that defined recent editions, like the race-winning platform Villa Vergano, are excluded, while the iconic Madonna di Ghisallo is tackled much earlier in the route.
Instead, other climbs have been promoted as the key moments of the Tour of Lombardy. The Colle Gallo, for instance, is the first of five accents included in the final 90 kilometres, while the Berbenno – featuring a maximum gradient of 10% – is summited a tantalising 26 kilometres from the finish.
The most pivotal climb, however, is likely the Bergamo Alto. Starting just five kilometres from the finish, most of the favourites will probably wait until here to make their move, as, with a three kilometre descent taking them to the finish, anyone who makes it over the top with a gap will fancy their chances of making it to the finish.
The Bergamo Alto looks set to play a similar role to that of the Cauberg in the last two editions of the Amstel Gold. Like that climb the Bergano Alto is located very close to the finish line, is steep, with an average gradient of 7.9%, and not very long, lasting approximately 1.5 kilometres.
Philippe Gilbert won Amstel Gold in the spring by attacking on the Cauberg and riding solo to the finish, and that looks like the template for winning in Lombardy too. But that’s not to say a longer effort couldn’t be successful – Roman Kreuziger won in the Netherlands a year before by going clear 17 kilometres from the finish, while Michal Kwiatkowski’s successful surprise attack at the Worlds last week may encourage similar manoeuvres.
One rider who could profit from such a move is Peter Kennaugh. Without an obvious leader Sky may give the Manxman more freedom to ride for himself, and the strength he displayed at the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships suggest he could cause an impact, should he time his efforts well.
The parcours is likely to be too steep for Sky’s other British starter Ben Swift, but it will be interesting to see how well the Yates brothers, Adam and Simon, handle the extra distance in a race that appears to suit them. 2014 may come too early for the 22-year olds, but both of them have the potential in the future to become the first British winner here since Tom Simpson.
Tour of Lombardy 2014: Route
When: Sunday, October 5 2014
Tour of Lombardy 2014: The teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
IAM Cycling (wildcard)
Trek Factory Racing
Tour of Lombardy 2014: TV guide
Live: Sunday October 5, 14:00 – 16:15, British Eurosport 1
Tour of Lombardy: Recent winners
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
2004: Damiano Cunego
Tour of Lombardy: Last year’s top ten
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha in 6-10-18
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 17 secs
3. Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo-Tinkoff at 23 secs
4. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 45 secs
5. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Astana at same time
6. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 55 secs
7. Pieter Serry (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
8. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli
9. Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin at same time
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