Il Lombardia Race Preview: Two stunning Italian Classics down and now we move on to the climbs of Il Lombardia. Wout Van Aert dominated Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo, but the ‘Classic of the Falling Leaves’ is a much different proposition. Ed Hood runs his experienced eye over the history, the course, and picks his betting-card of the re-scheduled Monument.
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Roger De Vlaeminck wins his first Tour of Lombardy in 1974 ahead of World champion Eddy Merckx
In the days of my youth it was the ‘Tour of Lombardy’, and all about names like Merckx, Gimondi, De Vlaeminck, Moser – those were the days…
The late Felice Gimondi in Il Lombardia
But ‘the world turns’ and now it’s ‘Il Lombardia’, but whatever it’s called, if you’re a serious cycling fan then you should make the pilgrimage to one of the greatest cycle races on the planet at least once in your life.
You must see the Lago di Como and stay at Hotel Il Perlo.
We pose the key questions about this magnificent event which was first run in 1905 with only the 1943 and ’44 editions succumbing to the Second World War, this being edition 114.
A railway crossing wouldn’t stop Fausto Coppi
# Can we still call it the, ‘Classica delle Foglie Morte?’
‘Classic of the falling leaves,’ nope – it’s high summer in La Bella Italia – the weather channel reports temps around 30 C degrees.
No leaves, but it will be sunny
# Is it really the most beautiful of the five Monuments?
Until you’ve stood up there on the Ghisallo climb and looked out over Lake Como and the mountains you’re not qualified to answer; but in my opinion; ‘without any doubt.’ The Pez himself agrees.
The new 2020 profile
# Why do you have to be a climber to win it?
* Colle Gallo, 763 metres at 54.4 kilometres
* Colle Brianza, 533 metres at 114.8 kilometres
* Madonna Del Ghisallo, 754 metres at 168 kilometres
* Colma Di Sormano, 1124 metres at 180.5 kilometres, incorporating sections of 25% gradient
* Civiglio, 613 metres at 214.3 kilometres
* Fermo Della Battaglia, 397 metres at 225.7 kilometres which comes just five K from the finish line in glorious lakeside Como.
I think that clears that one up?
The new 2020 route
# So is the legendary Madonna Del Ghisallo ascent still relevant?
The climb whilst relevant and beautiful is no longer decisive, it’s too far from the finish now. The organisers fight an ongoing battle with traffic conditions to preserve the best percorso in this region which has some of the most congested roads in Europe, especially given the new summer time race date.
Madonna Del Ghisallo – ‘No longer decisive’
# Who’s the ‘recordman’ for the race?
As you might imagine from a race so steeped in history it’s the ‘Campionissimo,’ Fausto Coppi who holds the record of five wins – and it was close to being six, in 1956 it took the fastest sprinter of the day, France’s Andre Darrigade to deny Coppi his sixth victory. And it’s fitting that two other ‘Campiones,’ Alfredo Binda and Gino Bartali fill second and third spots with four and three victories respectively.
Il Campionissimo – Five time Lombardia winner Fausto Coppi
# What happened last year?
‘Big Dutch Diesel’ Bauke Mollema timed his moment to perfection, left a hesitant lead group, chugged onwards and held out from climbing aces Valverde and Bernal. Mollema returns, but Valverde and Bernal both ride the Dauphine in this bizarrely constructed season.
2019 Il Lombardia
Bauke Mollema last year
# Do the previous year’s races give us any clues?
Prior to Mollema, in 2018 it was French Cavalier, Thibaut Pinot demonstrating his not inconsiderable climbing talents – but the Groupama-FDJ man has other business this year as he tunes up for le Tour at the Dauphine. Can he win Le Tour? – for the race and French Cycling it would be the best thing in decades; but that’s for another preview.
Thibaut Pinot in 2018 – Not in 2020
Home Boy, Vincenzo Nibali won Lombardia in 2017, reminding us that on his day he’s pretty special, he also won in 2015 and was second in 2018 – he’ll be at the Bergamo start on Saturday.
Maybe Chaves, if he rides
Esteban Chaves gave Colombia her first Monument win in 2016 but as we went to press we’re uncertain where he’ll be on Saturday. Ireland’s Dan Martin won in 2014 but is another man who’ll be searching for his Tour climbing legs in the Dauphine.
Dan Martin – Another missing winner
# And you think that this year’s race may be one of the most hotly contested editions?
The race’s usual October date means that even with the best will in the world, many of the peloton are thinking of their winter break – unsurprisingly, given the January start to the season many riders have to accept. This year the re-booted season is only a few weeks old and the peloton is full of ambition – especially with many riders in need of a fresh contract for season 2021.
There will be a battle on Saturday – But will there be spectators?
# New Wave or Old Guard?
The name on everyone’s lips is that of Remco Evenepoel, if he wins at 20 years-of-age he’ll be the youngest since the late, great Jempi Monsere of Belgium who won in 1969 at the age of 21 years and 33 days. The Vuelta a San Juan, the Volta ao Algarve, Vuelta a Burgos and Tour of Poland have all gone the way of the young man who draws comparisons with Eddy Merckx – that’s every stage race he’s ridden this year.
Remco – Top favourite
He’s no stranger to one day success either, having won the Classica San Sebastian in 2019; the other favourites will be all over him like the proverbial ‘cheap suit’ but when the Sormano pitches to 25% they’ll either be able to live with him or they won’t.
Mathieu Van Der Poel hasn’t set the world on fire in 2020… Yet
Another of the ‘Young Turks’ who rides is Mathieu Van Der Poel whose progress this season has been solid if not spectacular – and on the Sormano those 14 kilos he gives away to Remco won’t be helpful.
A third Lombardia win for ‘The Shark’
The ‘Old Guard’ makes up the rest of the favourites – Vincenzo Nibali perhaps the most obvious, he can get up the hills with the best and is the best on the descents.
Michael Woods – The hilly course should suit the Canadian
EF’s Canadian climber, Michael Woods is no ‘youngster’ at 33 years-of-age but came late to the game from his original sport of running. As a man who’s stood on the podium of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a super-hilly Worlds, he must be classed as a favourite.
Jakob Fuglsang has the form at the moment
Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was fourth last year and this year has won the Ruta Del Sol, pre-Covid; he was fifth on the ‘white roads’ and second to Remco in Poland.
Michael Matthews – 3rd in Sanremo
Aussie Michael Matthews (Sunweb) is no ‘pure’ climber and doesn’t have a great record in Lombardia but he’s hard to drop and very hard to best in a sprint after a tough race, witness his Montreal and Quebec World Tour race successes.
Outside bet – Ulissi
Can we cite Diego Ulissi (UAE and Italy) as a favourite? Maybe?
Wout has had his fun – Now Remco
Just one name, Ed? Remco.
# Keep it PEZ for everything Il Lombardia: Race Report on Saturday and more news in EUROTRASH. And you will find live action SteepHillTV. #