It’s been nearly a six month wait since we left off at Liège-Bastogne-Liège but we’ve finally arrived at the fifth and final of the Monuments of cycling for 2016, the 110th edition of Il Lombardia in Italy.
In between, the Grand Tours were packed with plenty of drama, farce and controversy – from Steven Kruijswijk’s crash in stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia that cost him almost assured victory to ‘Kitegate’ at the Tour de France which brought Adam Yates crashing to the ground.
Then at the Tour we watched Chris Froome’s attempt to qualify for the Kenyan Olympic distance running team on Mont Ventoux. More recently ‘Cut-offgate’ at the Vuelta a España nearly resulted in the elimination of 90 riders.
Saturday’s Il Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy) is nicknamed ‘the race of the fallen leaves’ appearing in the European Autumn. The race kicks off at Como on the edge of the picturesque Lake Como and follows a tough but beautiful course over 241km to the finish at Bergano.
Climbs such as the Madonna Del Ghisallo, Sant’Antonio Abbandonato and Valico Di Valcava can ramp up between a 12 to 17 per cent gradient in places. And there’s lots of climbing to do – all 4,400 metres of it – so it’s really a race for pure climbers and puncheurs alike.
The final 3.4 kms is a downhill run into Bergano with a few tricky turns and an old city gate to negotiate.
Reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali is giving this year’s race a miss probably in favour of sharing a coffee with George Clooney on the terrace of the actor’s lake side villa.
Favourites: Esteban Chaves (ORICA-BikeExchange)
The Australian ‘couch peloton’ adopted Colombian rider Esteban Chaves as an honourary Aussie during this year’s Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. What’s not to love of the ‘smiling assassin’?
He was runner up at the Giro, third place getter at the Vuelta and more recently won the Giro dell’Emillia in Italy for the Australian ORICA-BikeExchange team.
Chaves finished eighth in last year’s Il Lombardia and we may just see a grin from ear to ear somewhere on the podium on Saturday.
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick Step)
At just 24 Julian Alaphilippe along with riders Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot is part of something of a renaissance in French cycling in recent years. His biggest win is this year’s Amgen Tour of California.
He put in a respectable fourth in the gruelling Rio Olympic road race and is no stranger to the one day classics podium as runner up in the previous two editions of La Flèche Wallonne and 2015’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
He’s still young but surely his time has come to collect a monument?
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)
37 year old Spanish rider Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriquez is a former back-to-back winner of the 2012-13 editions of the race. He gave this year’s Tour de France a good shake with three top four stage finishes including second to a much younger Romain Bardet in a mountainous stage 19 and finished seventh in the GC. He finished fifth in the road race at the Rio Olympics.
Rodriquez retires at the end of this year and he may just celebrate a win here with a real purito (little cigar).
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
The 31 year old Belgian rider has had a great season winning Tirreno – Adriatico, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, Stage 5 at the Tour de France, and to top it off, gold in the ridiculously tough Olympic road race.
Season over? No way, GVA has what it takes to go all the way.
Daniel Martin (Etixx – Quick Step)
The Irishman won this race in 2014 and the final approach to the finish in Bergano is a carbon copy of that course.
Fast forward to 2016 and Martin has had a solid season with third place finishes in the one week stage races Volta Catalunya and Tour curtain-raiser Criterium du Dauphine, plus third in the one day classic La Flèche Wallonne and ninth in the Tour de France GC.
Ireland has had a good showing at Il Lombardia in the shape of Sean Kelly’s three wins in 1983, 1985 and 1991. With a bit of luck Martin may just top the podium.
Il Lombardia caps off the UCI WorldTour calendar for 2016 but don’t miss the UCI Road World Championships coming up in Doha between the ninth and 16th October.