What's Cool In Road Cycling

Il Lombardia ’11: The Contenders

Preview: The 2011 pro race season comes to its proper end on Saturday, with the 105th edition of the race called “Il Lombardia”, otherwise known as the “race of the dead leaves”. A new route, a mix of classic and new climbs, and Italian pride will make for a race worth watching. Ed Hood serves up our preview…

One of my buddies asked me for advice on how to chase the 2011 Tour of Lombardy, I said that he should be sure to think about using the ferries on Lake Como to ‘head them off at the pass’ – I can almost hear him thinking; ‘why would I want to do that?

I hadn’t studied the route when I gave that advice – the 2010 loop around the north of Lake Como and the long run down the east coast of the lake are history; the Ghisallo stays – it has to, it’s the stuff of legend – but the parcours are dramatically altered.

There’s a new start in Milano – the traffic chaos will be the stuff of nightmares – and a new finish in lakeside Lecco.

2011 shows off a redesigned circuit: the start & finish near Como and run up the west side of the lake have been replaced with a flat run up from Milano, a concentration of climbs around the bottom end of the lake and the finish in Lecco.

Albeit, the race has the same character, long at 241 kilometres, hilly with a big helping of small, twisting, technical roads – especially on the lake shore road section opposite George Clooney’s Villa in Como.

There are five major climbs, the Valcava at 78 kilometres, the Colle Brianza at 123 kilometres, the Colma di Sormano at 159 kilometres; with the Madonna summit coming at 45 kilometres to go – around one hour of racing.

The final 100kms hold most of the climbs, and that stinger at Vergano should deliver an exciting finale.

The final ascent, which the official press release reassuringly describes as the “short but grim” Villa Vergano is 3400 metres long with the top just nine kilometres from the finish, there are six kilometres of descent and three kilometres of flat road before the finish in Lecco.

Before we look at the favourites, let’s remind ourselves of the stats for the Classic of the Falling Leaves: this will be edition 105 of the Monument, it was first run in 1905, Fausto Coppi – touch your forelock in respect – is ‘Recordman’ on five wins, contributing to a total of 67 Italian wins with Belgium a distant second on 12 victories.

The weather could be balmy autumn sun or big grey clouds clinging tenaciously to the wooded mountains – if it’s the latter then the number of finishers will plummet but the main protagonists stay the same.

Thursday’s Giro del Piemonte gave us more clues as to who the ‘super favourites’ for Saturday wil be, Katusha’s Dani Moreno (Spain) won there and Piemonte form usually carries to Lombardia.

Just behind him was the man who triumphed in last weekend’s Paris-Tours, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC & Belgium), he was six minutes down last year and isn’t known as an anti-gravity man – but form is form and the hardy Belgian has had a strong season.

Piemonte isn’t the only late season Italian semi-classic to have taken place; the Giro dell’Emilia and GP Bruno Beghelli have already been run.

Young Colombian Carlos Betancur (Acqua e Sapone) took Emilia, he has the form and motivation, but Lombardy is six hours, not five – one for the future.

The Beghelli was won by a man who’s anything but a newcomer, ‘Pippo’ Pozzato; it hasn’t been the best year for the man who defines cool, but he’s nearly escaped those nasty Russians at Katyusha and will be looking forward to his pasta being properly ‘al dente’ at Farnese Vini.

Pippo is a man who rides as much with his head as his legs – both are good; watch him for him on Saturday, especially with the new finish.

As Pippo moves in to become main man at Vini Farnese, so Italian champion Giovanni Visconti moves out and along the Med to Spain and Movistar – the man from Torino is a genuine competitor, he was winning in the Insubria in February and was third behind Pippo in the Beghelli; he’s been close to the podium in Lombardia before, he’ll be in the mix on Saturday.

Sky’s Rigoberto Uran (Columbia) made the podium in Emilia and showed strong form in the Canadian World Tour races; he was 12th last year and we can expect better, this year.

Carlos Barredo & Vincenzo Nibali make chase in 2010’s cold wet edition.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas & Italy) was one of the few to offer resistance to Philippe Gilbert in 2010’s Lombardia until he fell afoul of a rain slick descent – but he got up to finish fifth.

He had a tough Vuelta, its October and a long time since the Giro di Sardegna back in February – Lombardy needs the head and the legs, we’ve already said.

At 40 years old and back from a suspension, Rebellin still has a fire burning.

A man who has both is Italian veteran Davide Rebellin (Miche) – yes, we know he was suspended for doping, but make no mistake that the UCi will still have him on the microscope slide, so unless he’s as crazy as Ricco, we must assume he’s clean.

And, as Alexander Pope said; ‘to err is human; to forgive, divine,’ in other words, he’s done his time.

The man from San Bonifacio is now 40 but this year has won the Trei Valli Varesine, the Trofeo Melinda and was second in the Pantani and Sabatini as well as fourth at Emilia – that makes him a favourite in my book.

Scarponi dueled with Gilbert in 2010.

Michele Scarponi (Lampre & Italy) like compatriot Nibali had a rough Vuelta, a man in the Visconti mould, attacking and never far from the podium – but maybe the season has been too long, even for Scarponi?

Team mate and compatriot Damiano Cunego has won Lombardy three times – three years ago it looked as if Campionnissimo Coppi’s five wins were in danger, but Cunego’s star waned – until this year when he began to sparkle again with a close second to Leipheimer in Suisse and a top ten in the Tour; he’s been quiet since, but you can never tell with the little Veronese.

Lombardia 2008: Cunego’s third win – when he dropped everyone on the harrowing descent of the Civiglio.

Portugal’s Rui Costa (Movistar) took a stage in the Tour and won in Montreal – he’s another man on the way up and a podium is well possible.

Staying on the Iberian Peninsula, a man who could revel in a largely downhill finale is Euskaltel’s Asturian Olympic champion, Samuel Sanchez who has few peers when the tarmac drops, but one top 20 was all he could take home from Canada in races which should have suited him – it’s a long season.

Nicolas Roche’s stage win in Beijing could be a sign that Irish eyes are smiling – the parcours in Lombardy certainly suit his cousin Dan Martin, Garmin’s Birmingham Irishman.

He’s moved on again in 2011 with that Vuelta stage win – and been top ten in Lombardy, maybe this year?

But who’s going to win? I hear you ask.

How many wins does Gilbert have this year? We’ve lost count, but count on him to be there for the finale this Saturday.

It was always going to be difficult for Philippe Gilbert (Lotto & Belgium) to win in Copenhagen; he needed wind and rain to do that – so we can’t assume that he doesn’t have the form; and he continues to win just about everything he sets out to.

I’d but my money on the Belgian but won’t be surprised if a ‘young blood’ or Pippo steals it.

Print off the start sheet, buy a bottle of grappa and bung the wife and kids some cash to go shopping – then settle down in the arm chair and promise yourself you’ll be on the Ghisallo, one day.

Ciao, ciao.

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