As October approaches and the days start to get shorter and the temperatures colder, the cycling season begins to wind down. But not before the significant matter of Il Lombardia, formerly known as the Tour of Lombardy or Giro di Lombardia, the last of cycling’s five one-day monuments which takes place this Saturday.
Compared with the other five monuments, the it is something of an outlier. Whereas Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege are all held within five weeks of each other during the spring, Il Lombardia takes place a whole half a year later.
And unlike the Spring Classics, the Ardennes Classics or the World Championships, it doesn’t form part of a series of high-profile events – a trio of other Lombardy-based races known as the Trittico Lombardo may precede it, but aren’t WorldTour-ranked and fall well short of the prestigious reputation.
Part of what makes it such a respected race is just how difficult it is. Like any good long-lasting classic, it’s very long (241km this year), and is renowned for the severity of its climbing, which this year is even more pronounced with a total of 4,400 metres of climbing spread across seven different summits.
The most famous of those is the Madonna del Ghisallo, a hallowed place for cyclists known for its chapel at the top and the cycling museum that lies within. As the first climb of the day it is unlikely to have much of an impact regarding how the race plays out, however; instead, the five successive climbs situated between the 100km to go mark until 28km to go will be crucial.
These climbs are likely to be attritional and thin out the race into a select number of riders capable of winning. But the real decider will be the Bergamo Alta, the short (1.2km) steep (average gradient of 7.9 per cent) hill that is tackled after 25km of downhill and flat respite following the previous climb, and is summitted just 3km from the finish.
Punchy riders like Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), as well as former two-time winners Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) will be hoping the race remains altogether by the foot of this climb, on which they’ll plan to launch explosive attacks.
But keeping the race controlled before this point will be a big ask, given all the climbing beforehand. The start-list is full of strong climbers who could make attacks stick on such lengthy hills, and could ride away from the rest of the field if a cohesive group is formed.
One such rider is Wout Poels, who proved himself capable of winning high profile monuments by claiming Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the spring, and is backed up by a strong Sky team featuring Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Kennaugh and Leopold Konig.
Among their main rivals are likely to be Astana, who, despite the absence of defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, could animate the climbs with attacks from the likes of Fabio Aru, Olympic road race silver medallist Jakob Fuglsang, Diego Rosa and recent Milano-Torino winner Miguel Angel Lopez.
Any moves of the sort will likely be covered by Etixx-QuickStep and BMC, who bring with them squads of similar strength, including 2014 winner Dan Martin and Gianluca Brambilla for the former, and Samuel Sanchez and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet for the latter.
Orica-BikeExchange also look very strong, with British duo Adam and Simon Yates riding together alongside Vuelta podium-finisher Esteban Chaves.
Other riders may not be part of such strong teams, but nevertheless possess the individual talent to contest for the win. The absence of Movistar’s star man Alejandro Valverde may actually aid last year’s runner-up Dani Moreno, who as a result will go into the race as outright leader.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) finished fourth here two years ago and is the kind of rider the others can’t afford to let slip off the front, while Bauke Mollema’s (LottoNL-Jumbo) San Sebastian win recently outlined him as a contender.
Tour de France runner-up Romain Bardet was testing his form with attacks at Milano-Torino, and, despite not usually targeting one-day races, a man of Alberto Contador’s ability cannot be written off.
Il Lombardia 2016
When: Saturday, October 1
Where: Bergamo to Como, Italy
Status: UCI WorldTour
Il Lombardia 2016: TV guide
Eurosport 1: 1.30-4.15pm LIVE coverage of Il Lombardia
Eurosport 1: 6.55-8.25pm highlights of Il Lombardia
Il Lombardia 2016 teams
BMC Racing Team
CCC Sprandi Polkowice
Il Lombardia previous winners
2015: Vincenzo Nibali
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
Il Lombardia: last year’s top 10 (2015)
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 6-16-28
2. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 21 secs
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 32 secs
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 46 secs
5. Diego Rosa (Ita) Astana at same time
6. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky at same time
7. Tony Gallopin (Ned) Lotto-Soudal at 56 secs
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEdge
9. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky at same time
10. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx-QuickStep at 1-10