PEZ Preview: Giro Di Lombardia 2006

The curtain rises in March on the Italian Riviera with La Primavera, Milan – San Remo, and it slides back down with the leaves in October at the Tour of Lombardy. The Giro di Lombardia is a “Monument”, one of five historic races which form the very soul of the sport. La Primavera and Lombardia plus Paris – Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and Liege – Bastogne – Liege are the holy quintet. PEZ takes a historical march through the long history of the Race of the Falling Leaves.

But hey! It’s stats you want, not flowery prose, right? We make it edition number one hundred, the race ran uninterrupted right through World War One and only missed ’43 & ’44 during WW Two.

Five wins for Coppi…that’s not a bad record.

‘Record man’ is Fausto Coppi (Italy), before my time, but one cool guy with five wins between 1946 and 1954. It took French super-sprinter, Andre Darrigade to stop an aging Coppi from making it six in 1956…

Merckx’s record at Lombardia was much better than at Paris-Tours: 2-0.

‘I’ll Campionissimo’s’ successor, Eddy Merckx (Belgium) is well in the mix with two wins in ’71 & ’72 plus two seconds and a third.

It’s a very testing course based around the mountains and lakes of Italy’s most northerly province with a spikey profile and stunning scenery…

Perhaps more than any other race it has been affected by the Lance-inspired, “all your eggs in the Tour basket” syndrome.

From the 60’s to the 80’s the roll of honour was the cliched “who’s who of cycling”, but in this case it was true. Gimondi, Hinault, Kelly, Merckx, Monsere, Moser, Motta, Saronni and Van Springel’s names all appear on the trophy.

The most famous chapel in all of cycling graces the route of the Giro di Lombardia: the Madonna del Ghisallo.

The last 15 years or-so have seen the likes of Laurent Jalabert, Danilo Di Luca and Pascal Ricard win, no quibbles there. But during the same period we’ve seen some winners who have precious little else on their palmares and who it’s hard to get excited about (We won’t name names).

Michele Bartoli has two wins to his credit: back to back in 2002 and 2003.

After Bartoli came the Kid, Kid Cunego that is.

Last year, Paolo Bettini finally won the Classic that seems to fit him best.

However, the last few years have seen a resurgence and with Bettini, Cunego and Bartoli (twice) as the last four winners dignity is definitely returning.

The Anglos have fared-well in Lombardy and it’s the usual suspects. In 1965, with the rainbow jersey on his back it was the classiest rider ever to pull-on a GB jersey, Tom Simpson who rode his white Masi, sprayed to look like a team Peugeot to the very top of the podium.

We miss you Tommy.

It was to be 18 years before English was heard again on the podium. Sean Kelly scored the first of three wins in an event made for a hard-man who raced and won from when the first flag dropped in February until the last bouquet was thrown to the crowd in October.

As well as his ’83 triumph he took victory in 85 & 91 with a second place in 86 for good measure. That first win was one of the all-time great classic finishes with the best riders of their generation spread across the finish line where Kelly just shaded Greg Lemond (USA) and Adri Van der Poel.

Ok, so this picture isn’t from Lombardia, but can you seriously pass up this gem of Phil Anderson? He’s got a 3rd Place finish at Lombardia in 1986 to his credit.

Australia’s Phil Anderson, a very consistent classics performer notched third in 1986 and “our” last podium appearance was Max Sciandri’s third in 1993. I know he was Italian then, but he’s a Brit now so I’m claiming it.

Lombardy has always been a race where the world champion, anxious to end his season with a flourish and endorse the right to the maillot arc-en-ciel, rides well. Despite the recent personal tragedy of his brother’s death, Paolo Bettini, if he rides on Sunday he’ll be there to win.

Sammy Sanchez is Ed’s pick for glory.

Winner at Zurich, Samuel Sanchez (Spain & Euskaltel) is on fire and he can get up – and down the hills with the best. Let’s hope for a great race and a winner to match.

Jered is going with Tin Tin Rebellin, & The Pez himself picks DiLuca.

Frank Schleck’s form seems to be coming to a very fine point just in time for Lombardia.