Il Lombardia: The PEZ Preview
Race Preview: The race of the falling leaves, or in Italian ‘la classica delle fog lie morte’. The Tour of Lombardy has a new course this year, but it will still have the top riders fighting it out on a tough profile. Ed Hood takes a look at the runners and riders for Sundays big end of season race.
Back in the ‘good old days’ before the World Tour and ‘Mondialisation’ the Tour of Lombardy was run on a Saturday, the final Classic of the year. The stars would then head for Barcelona for Sunday’s Escalada a Montjuic the famous short hill climb stage race around the Mountain of the Jews on the south side of Barcelona.
We used to go down to Barca every year, watch Lombardy on the TV in a bar on the Saturday then head for Montjuic on the Sunday morning. But alas, the Escalada is no more, last held in 2007; a victim of spiralling salaries for pros who no longer need start money; and Lombardy is now on a Sunday and runs before Paris Tours, which used to precede it, Lombardy having been moved to accommodate a proposed race in China which never actually took place. Some bits of ‘the good old days’ were actually just fine. But forgive the ramblings of a senior citizen and let’s look at this year’s Tour of Lombardy – or il Lombardia as it’s now known. I’m sure there must be a good reason for the name change – it’s just that I can’t think of it.
This will be edition 108 of the ‘Classic of the Falling Leaves’ with Giovanni Gerbi winning the first edition in 1905, no editions were lost to the First World War but there was no race in 1943 or 1944 as World War Two raged in Italy. ‘Recordman’ is il Campionissimo, the late, great Fausto Coppi on five wins – but it was almost six; in 1956 it took the finishing speed of the fastest sprinter of the time, France’s Andre Darrigade to deny a Champion whose Golden Time was coming to an end. Coppi was also third on two occasions with four of his wins coming in straight years 1946 to 1949.
The home nation has won the race on 67 occasions with the most recent being Damiano Cunego who scored his third and final win in 2008 and whose 2004 win makes him the youngest winner at 23 years-of-age. Belgium is a distant second on 12 wins – with Philippe Gilbert netting two of those in 2009/10. France comes third on 11 wins but you have to go all the way back to Laurent Jalabert in 1997 to find the last French winner. Switzerland has won five times, Oliver Zaugg was a surprise/shock winner in 2011 and Oscar Camenzind won in the rainbow jersey in 1998 – but the less said about that, the better.
The Netherlands have won on three occasions – but it’s a long way back to Hennie Kuiper in 1981. Ireland have won three times too; courtesy a certain Sean Kelly; maybe Dan Martin can make it four? Kelly is also the oldest winner at 35 years-of-age. Remarkably for a nation of climbers, Spain has only won twice – with both of those victories belonging to Joaquim Rodriguez, last year and the year before – and it could well become three. Lithuania (Rumsas), Luxembourg (Faber), Russia (Bobrik) and GB with the late, great Tom Simpson have all won it once.
The parcours have changed much over the years with this year’s edition kicking off in beautiful Como then climbing the famous Madonna del Ghisallo to the cyclists’ chapel before heading south, then east to loop around Bergamo – the north of Lake Como is completely ignored – taking in six climbs in the last three hours of racing.
The Colle de Pasta, the Colle Gallo, the Pasodi Gonda, Bracca, Berbenno and finally the ramp up to beautiful Bergamo Alta – the old ‘high’ town on the hill top – before dropping to finish in less than beautiful Bergamo. Total race distance is 254 kilometres with 3000 metres of climbing therein.
As with all previews, especially those late in the year, line ups are often not finalised until close to race day and we may nominate a rider who doesn’t actually start due to fatigue/injury or miss a rider who comes in late.
All 18 World Tour teams start plus seven wild cards including Italy’s hard riding Pro Continental squadra, Bardiani with fast rising home boy Sonny Colbrelli in their ranks. Let’s start with said gentleman in our analysis of the favourites – albeit at the time of going to press, Bardiani had not confirmed his presence. Just prior to the Worlds Colbrelli took out the GP Prato and the Memorial Pantani before finishing 13th in Ponferrada and if he’s there will be one of the favourites, backed by the likes of Zardini, Pirazzi and Battaglin.
Samuel Sanchez (BMC & Spain) has been second three times and once third in this race, most recently runner-up in 2012. He was very good in the Vuelta but will still be smarting from his omission from the Spanish Worlds team and is a man with a point to prove.
Ponferrada podium finisher, Movistar Alejandro Valverde is another Spaniard who’ll be in the mix; he was second last year and of current pros is unusual in that he wins from the start to the end of the season – he’ll be glued to the third Spanish favourite on Sunday, a certain Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). The small Catalan has won the last two editions of the race and after seeing him active in the Worlds finale on Sunday a hat trick is well possible.
And here’s another Spanish name we don’t often quote when previewing one day races – Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). The Vuelta winner rides to try and cement his number one spot in the UCi rankings with aforementioned Valverde some 14 points behind him – both men will be keen to avoid a punishing trip to China for the Tour of Beijing so have more than simply a result in Lombardia on their minds. Contador rides the Wednesday’s Milano-Torino as a warm up, a race which dates back to 1876 and one which the Spaniard won in 2012.
The Valle d’Aosta U23 stage is always a good indicator of potential and when Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy) won it twice on the trot we realised we had a special rider in the slim Sardinian. This year there’s been a podium and stage win in the Giro and a top five with two stage wins in the Vuelta. He rode strongly but no avail for the Azzuri in Ponferrada and has to rate as a favourite over the hills around Bergamo.
Valverde’s Colombiano compadre Nairo Quintana comes back from his disastrous Vuelta in this race – it’s hard to predict how he’ll go but is a man who can grab a result off the back of little racing.
It’s a long, long time since Tom Simpson with the rainbow jersey on his back claimed his beautiful win in the 1965 Tour of Lombardy – almost 50 years. We don’t say that British Champion Peter Kennaugh will emulate his countryman Simpson but given the legs he had in Ponferrada if he can cool his natural aggression just a little then the Sky man could well be in the final selection.
It’s not as long since Jalabert won for France and again we don’t see a win but we do see meaningful participation from France’s Thibaut Pinot (F des J). He left the Vuelta due to illness but has been gathering strong results recently in races like the GP Wallonie and Tour de Gevaudan.
Another French favourite is Tony Gallopin (Lotto) who has bloomed this year after his Tour stage win and spell in yellow. He was among the very best on Sunday in Ponferrada with a sixth place finish – a man on form.
The man who lost his title on Sunday, Rui Costa (Lampre & Portugal) will be eager to finish his season on a high and please his Italian sponsors – the parcours are well in his favour.
And on the subject of titles, Michal Kwiatkowski’s fresh, new rainbow jersey will shine as bright as a beacon on Sunday and his Specialized will have a ‘trick’ paint job to match, no doubt. He’s in great form and with Quick-Step behind him and those multi-coloured hoops around his chest it would be no surprise to see him win.
It’s your last Monument until the Primavera – make sure you enjoy it.
PEZ will be there in force, as the Pez himself boards a plane for Italy tomorrow, to join forces with our resident Italian Alessandro Federico in what will be their first ever combined effort roadside race chase. Don’t touch that dial!
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It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.