Six riders to watch at Il Lombardia

The year's final Monument will pit many of the best climbers in the peloton against each other in Northern Italy

The season’s final Monument is upon us with the climbers and puncheurs fighting it out for the Giro di Lombardia title on Sunday.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali will not be on the start line in Como for the 240km ride to Bergamo, but the winners of the previous eight editions will be present.

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Philippe Gilbert, winner in 2009 and 2010, will ride what is likely to be his final race with BMC and could be an outside shot for the win, while 2011 champion Oliver Zaugg (IAM Cycling) will retire after this race.

But here are seven riders to possibly pin your hopes on. The start list is so good it’s always tough to pick a winner for Il Lombardia, but these seven should all be in with a chance of glory.

Fabio Aru

Fabio Aru showing the effort of an attack. Photo: Graham Watson

Fabio Aru showing the effort of an attack. Photo: Graham Watson

Astana‘s Fabio Aru will wear number one on Sunday in Nibali’s absence and will have the chance to race for his first major one-day win.

The Italian hasn’t offered much in the Classics in Northern Europe in his short career so far but take him back to his homeland and he’s a different prospect. Fourth in the Giro dell’Emilia and ninth in the Tre Valli Varesine show Aru comes into Il Lombardia in decent form.

Added to that his fourth overall in the two-stage Giro della Toscana last week and he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with.

He didn’t race the Giro di Lombardia last year after winning the Vuelta a España, but ninth place in 2014 means that he’s no rookie when it comes to the race’s famous climbs.

Dan Martin

Dan Martin in the Prologue of the 2016 Dauphine-Libere

Dan Martin in the Prologue of the 2016 Dauphine-Libere

Eight places ahead of Aru in 2014 was Dan Martin, who took the second Monument of his career on the run to Bergamo.

It’s been an up and down season for the Irishman since joining Etixx-Quick Step in January. It’s been more up than down, but in the one-day races we’ve not seen the same Dan Martin that won two Monuments in two seasons back in 2013 and 2014.

Third in La Flèche Wallonne was his best result, following it up with 47th in a tough Liège-Bastogne-Liège four days later. An excellent Tour de France set him up well for the Olympic Games, but with few teammates to help him he could only manage 13th on the tough Rio course.

Martin knows the Lombardia course well, though, and has great memories of winning the last time it finished in Bergamo. He’s in a strong Etixx squad, but one that contains several potential winners, so whether he’ll get the support he needs to win again is up for debate.

Rui Costa

Rui Costa 2016 Tour de France_Graham Watson

Rui Costa’s year has been one of two halves. Some excellent results in the spring and early summer has been followed by not very much since the Tour de France.

He finished third at Liège and 10th at Flèche but he’s had to try and ride himself back into form after his post-Olympics break. With his Lampre-Merida changing sponsors for next season, bringing in the Chinese money of TJ Sport, Costa will be keen to impress his new bosses with a win.

It’s exactly the type of race that Costa can do well at, but with only one top-10 finish in his Lomardia career it’s not nailed on that the Portuguese rider will be in contention.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe wins stage three of the 2016 Tour of California

Julian Alaphilippe wins stage three of the 2016 Tour of California

You look at this kind of race and think it may be a bit too much for Julian Alaphilippe and then the young Frenchman comes out and proves us all wrong.

Fourth in the Olympic road race proved that he’s not afraid of a few climbs in the one-day races and he also had another excellent Ardennes season, claiming top-10s in the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne.

His team have another strong challenger in Dan Martin, but Alaphilippe could win the race without much support from his team – he’s that good.

Wout Poels

Wout Poels wins the 2016 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: Graham Watson

Wout Poels wins the 2016 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: Graham Watson

Wout Poels will become the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1972 to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia in the same season if he’s triumphant in Bergamo on Sunday.

He’s a very strong climber and his performance at Liège was an indication of what he can do in one-day races when he’s given the chance to lead.

The Dutchman finished 12th in Lombardia last year, the first time since 2009 that he’d finished the race, and after another strong season with Team Sky, with more responsibility, he’s among the favourites to win in Italy.

Now Sky have the Monument monkey off their back there will be less pressure on the likes of Poels to succeed, so maybe put a quid on the 28-year-old for the win.

Joaquim Rodriguez

Joaquim Rodriguez, Tour de France 2016

Joaquim Rodriguez, Tour de France 2016

Joaquim Rodriguez is an interesting prospect for this edition of the Giro di Lombardia. The Spaniard is a two-time former winner of the race in recent years, so knows the race like the back of his hand, but he’s almost racing against his will at the end of this season.

Purito had planned to retire immediately after the Olympic Games road race, where he finished fifth, but his Katusha team wanted him to ride some more races at the end of the season.

He wasn’t too happy about it, but essentially had no choice but to don the lycra again for a few more days and get back into the racing.

If he’s managed to get some quality training in since Rio 2016 then Rodriguez is a bona fide three-star candidate for the win in Bergamo. The 37-year-old is a quality one-day racer and has shown few signs of showing up as he gets older. With some good warm-up races, Rodriguez could really be a contender.