Giro di Lombardia 2015: Preview

Dan Martin took the win at Il Lombardia in 2014. Image via roadcycling.com

This weekend brings with it the last race on the UCI pro calendar, the Italian classic the Giro di Lombardia. Before we get too carried away with reflections on what was a memorable season, let’s enjoy one last slice of the action in the so-called Classica delle Foglie Morte.

The profile of the 2015 Tour of Lombardy.This year’s race starts where last year’s ended, in Bergamo. The race organisers have devised a new and challenging finish for the riders, centring on a fast descent to the line after a punchy pair of climbs. The real meat of the day’s racing should begin at around 170km (out of a total of 245km) when the riders reach the ascent of Madonna del Ghisallo. Harder climbs will have come before and others will follow, but this is a likely spot for a small group to have a go at breaking away, with relatively realistic hopes of a win. By the time the race favourites (in a probably much-reduced peloton) reach the summit of the Colma di Sormano, we could see an early breakaway’s lead whittled down to something manageable or eroded completely, as opportunistic attacks from the stronger climbers reshape the race. What’s more, there’s a technical and twisting descent to be managed over the other side of the Sormano, making it perfect ground for a rider of the calibre of Valverde to cause big splits in the group.

At around 20kms to go we have the penultimate climb, the Civiglio, and soon after that is the San Fermo della Battaglia. These two final ascents do, in some respects, closely resemble the final pair of climbs from the early season Italian monument, Milan-Sanremo. In that race it is the Cipressa and the Poggio which inevitably determine the final selection, and we usually see a depleted bunch rolling down the slopes of the Poggio to the flat run in to Sanremo. We can expect a similar situation at the end of this year’s Lombardia in Como.

It will remain to be seen which of the stronger sprinters — if any — can endure the harsh gradients of the Sormano and last until the final push. The final monument of the season is most likely to be contested by an elite mélange of climbers and puncheurs, all looking to end their seasons on a high. Whilst, at the time of writing, we are looking at only an incomplete start list, we have held up our ears to internet rumours and media hearsay, and we’ve composed a short list of likely candidates for the Lombardia win.

Looking down the list of punchier riders who could capably tackle these great climbs, attention is drawn to a handful of riders who showed signs of late-season form in last week’s world championship road race. Rui Costa rode a strong race, particularly in the final kilometre as he charged after Sagan. It wasn’t to be for him, but a ninth place finish shows promise for the Portuguese rider on this much hillier course. He only marginally beat Philippe Gilbert to the line, another rider who has had a mixed season but seems to have the late form for a strong performance this weekend.

But beating them both to the line and taking fifth and sixth on the day were Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans, respectively. Gerrans, for his part, has had an injury-fraught couple of years, and must be hungry for another one-day race win; sixth in the world championship race is huge, and the fact that he seemed to be racing against his own teammate, Michael Matthews, is surely a sign of his appetite. Valverde’s name in connection with these parcours is inevitable. In fact, the real surprise will be just where he chooses to attack. He could go long or look to split the group on the earlier technical descents, or else try to stay invisible until the last climbs. If he gets over with a reduced bunch at the head of affairs, there will likely be very few riders who can match his turn of pace at the line.

Other riders who were also in the road race but didn’t necessarily play a part on the day may well yet feature on the run in to Como. Julian Alaphilippe has been riding well, as has Michael Albasini, and both are well suited to a one-day race like this. Vincenzo Nibali might also want to prove himself one last time this year, having done little of note since he was disqualified from the Vuelta last month. And whilst Joaquim Rodriguez was unspectacular in the world championships, the course clearly didn’t suit him, his history in Lombardia cannot be denied, with wins in both 2012 and 2013, and this year’s route suits him well. However, Purito would have preferred a bit more uphill kick towards the line, and will have to display some strong descending skills if he wants to stay away for the finish in Como.

Outside the world champs, there are a number of other key names to consider. Last year’s winner Dan Martin will want to feature once more, and he rode a brilliant Vuelta until an accident knocked him out of the tour on stage 8. If he’s feeling fresh he’ll be sure to ride hard, and has the descending skills that could take him all the way to the line. The same going for Simon Yates, who has been less prominent than his brother Adam this year, but who seems to be Orica GreenEdge’s pick for a team leader this weekend. It remains to be seen whether Yates or Gerrans ends up being the rider in the right move for the Australian squad, but the young Brit Simon certainly has what it takes to make the podium here. Other riders of a similar skill set who are likely to be at the start-line including Tom Jelte-Slagter, Domenico Pozzovivo, Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot, Warren Barguil, and Sergio Henao.

Two strong and punchy riders might also be worthy of a mention, though. Tony Gallopin was attentive in the recent road race, and took seventh overall. Couple that with a strong classics campaign this year, and you have a potential podium candidate for Il Lombardia. Stronger still is Greg Van Avermaet. GVA faded half a kilometre too early to hit the podium in the world championship race, but his move was the one which ignited Sagan’s burners, and which shaped the rest of the race. He took third in both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders this year, and second in Strade Bianche. It would not be surprise of the century to see Van Avermaet make it into the winning move, and with a good sprint on him he stands a decent chance of podium.

This list is already exhaustive, and we haven’t even mentioned the likes of Kwiatkowski, Majka, Frank, Gesink, Landa, and Schleck, all of whom have shone at one point or more this year. But in closing we’d like to make a special mention for Davide Rebellin. At 44, he’s no spring chicken, but he has a good history both within this race as well as most other Italian classics. He recently took the win in one of the recent minor one-day Italian races, beating a certain Vincenzo Nibali to the top spot of the podium. He won’t be as marked a man as other riders like Valverde, which might give Rebellin the right opportunity he’ll need to sneak off the front and steal a huge win. It would be a tall order, but stranger things have happened in cycling.

Time for our picks. Last time around, Chris and Andy took the top steps on the podium with Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews in the world’s road race; James lagged a little with his pick, John Degenkolb. Here’s what we’ve come up with this time.

Andy is going with Vincenzo Nibali on this one. He’s never been out of form all season, and has the additional impetus of wanting to prove himself the better Astana captain over his comrade Fabio Aru. Always one to attack on a descent, this course could have been designed with Nibali in mind.

Chris is opting for Alejandro Valverde. Valverde’s finished second in this race for the previous two years, and, whilst he showed signs of fatigue at the end of La Vuelta, he only suffered on the uphill finishes. With his combination of climbing, descending, and sprinting skills, Valverde has a great chance of finally taking this monument.

James will be rooting for Julian Alaphilippe. Alaphilippe was second at both La Flèche Wallonne as well as Liège-Bastogne-Liège earlier this year, and has proved himself in all manner of one day races. He was a non-finisher in last week’s world’s road race, which could be seen as a sensible effort to conserve energy ahead of the bigger target, Il Lombardia.

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