The final ‘classic’ of the 2014 season takes place on Sunday, October 5: the Tour of Lombardy.
The 256km ‘Ride of the Falling Leaves’ is the traditional season-ender for the European calendar and features a star-studded start list.
Here, we run through the likely contenders for this year’s edition of Il Lombardia.
For more race information, read our in-depth Tour of Lombardy preview.
Joaquim Rodriguez, KatushaLombardy winners tend to come in twos, and last year Rodriguez repeated a feat achieved recently by Philippe Gilbert, Daminao Cunego, Paolo Bettini and Michele Bartoli by defending his title. No rider has won three in a row since Fausto Coppi, but Purito looks well equipped – he looked on descent form in a supporting role at the World Championships last week, has strong teammates in Dani Moreno and Milan-Turin winner Giampaolo Caruso, and the steep percentages at the top of the final climb will play into his hands.
Philippe Gilbert, BMCThe Ardennes quadruple-winnning Gilbert of 2011 has since tempered into a less spectacular but still very strong Gilbert, still capable of winning races like Lombardy. The form he demonstrated riding in support of Greg Van Avermaet at the Worlds means that, despite lining-up alongside a resurgent Samuel Sanchez and retiring Cadel Evans, he’s likely to be BMC’s leader this time round, as he aims for a third career Lombardy win. The new finish suits him perfectly.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Omega Pharma-Quick StepThe newly-crowned world champion will show off his rainbow stripes for the first time at Lombardy this weekend. In his conspicuous new jersey the Pole is unlikely to be allowed to slip off the front as easily as he did in the worlds, but is still a major threat thanks to his mix of climbing, descending, sprinting and stamina. Teammate Rigoberto Uran usually goes well at Lombardy, too.
Alejandro Valverde, MovistarValverde has been extraordinarily consistent this season, but perhaps ought to be disappointed at having not landed a bigger win than Fleche Wallonne or San Sebastian. He could still put that right by winning the Tour of Lombardy, a race he had tended to skip before finishing second last year, but his cautious mind-set means he’s more likely to finish second or third one again.
Dan Martin, Garmin-SharpHaving recently established himself as one of the best classics riders in the bunch, Martin is certainly one to watch, and has excelled here before in finishing fourth last year and second in 2011. He’s not yet a confirmed starter however, and may be suffering from fatigue following an exhausting Vuelta.
Rui Costa, Lampre-MeridaUnburdened from the prominent rainbow jersey, Rui Costa may be able to catch everyone by surprise and pull off a win ahead of the clear favourites. Second at the recent GP de Quebec suggest he has the form, although he has not performed well at Lombardy in the past.
Fabio Aru, AstanaThe tifosi are lacking an outright favourite to cheer on, but could yet bet thrilled by young revelation Aru. An attacking ride at the Worlds and fourth place at Milan-Turin hint at an appetite for one-day racing often absent in grand tour riders – though he may not get the chance to ride if Astana stick to the regulations of the MPCC.
Edoardo Zardini, Bardiani-CSFBardiani-CSF take a strong team with them to Lombardy, which actually looks stronger than their World Tour compatriots Cannondale and Lampre-Merida. Stefano Pirazzi could animate the race and Enrico Battaglin has a quick finish, but Edoardo Zardini looks their best bet after his showing at the Tour of Britain.
Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-SaxoThe recently crowned Vuelta champion carried his good form into Milan-Turin last week, finishing sixth, and has subsequently been touted as a potential Lombardy winner. However, the Spaniard has never performed so well in the longer, more gruelling classics, and seems unlikely to change that aged 31.
Michael Albasini, Orica-GreenEdgeWith Simon Gerrans opting not to ride and the Yates brothers seeking experience rather than victory, Albasini is likely to lead Orica-GreenEdge. He looked very strong in the chaotic last few laps at the Worlds and has decent pedigree in the classics having finished second in the 2012 Fleche-Wallonne, making his a good outside bet.
Full preview for Il Lombardia 2014: info, route, profile, TV guide, past winners and more