Il Lombardia holds a special place within the race calendar, as the last of the five Monuments and the final World Tour race of the season. The event, known as the Race of the Falling Leaves, does not close out the World Tour season this year however, with the Road Race World Championships taking place later in the month in Doha, scheduled to avoid Qatar’s high summer temperatures. With the course for the World Championship Road Race being pan flat on this occasion and therefore a sprinter’s paradise, Il Lombardia, with its new, seven summit parcours, could be called the de facto climbers’ World Championship race for 2016, with a line up to suit. You won’t find Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel anywhere near this year’s edition in particular, with the new route from Como to Bergamo containing 4,400 metres of climbing over 240 kilometres. That’s 1000 more metres of ascending than the race contained last year when Vincenzo Nibali was victorious.
The first of Il Lombardia’s seven categorised summits is the famed Madonna del Ghisallo, topped with an iconic chapel which doubles up as a cyclist’s shrine, housing a host of artefacts to Italian riders, such as the bike that Fabio Casartelli was riding when he was involved in a fatal crash on a treacherous descent in the 1995 Tour de France. Coming 65km in to the race, the first climb is unlikely to have too much of an impact upon the race overall – that honour will no doubt fall to a 75km stretch of road between the 100km and 25km to go markers, containing five of the seven categorised climbs, two of which are new to the race. Valico di Valcava averages 8%, and is a long climb of almost 12km. Sant’ Antonio Abbandonato, new to Il Lombardia, is half the length of the Valico di Valcava climb, but steeper, with an average gradient of almost 9%. The Miragolo san Salvatore averages a 7% gradient; however the first 2km includes sections topping 11%, making for a tricky climb with the possibility of hurting a few riders.
After the 75km stretch of successive summits, the peloton may feel that the hard work is behind them, however the race organisers have devised a course which will thrill fans right up to the last few metres, with the final, uncategorised and partially cobbled climb of Bergamo Alta appearing just before the route finishes, after a full 25km of descending. This year the race finishes in Bergamo, having ended up in Como the year before, when Nibali took victory. The last winner in Bergamo was Etixx-Quickstep’s Dan Martin. So who is expected on the Como start line this time around, and who has the legs to face the thousands of metres of climbing?
Unfortunately for the Italian home fans, Vincenzo Nibali will not be racing to defend his title; therefore leadership of the Astana team falls to Fabio Aru, who does have a good chance on a course of this profile. Supported by Jakob Fuglsang and Diego Rosa, Aru will hope to keep the race in the hands of an Astana rider.
Dan Martin will of course be looking to repeat his winning 2014 performance in Bergamo, no doubt bolstered by the return to the scene of his victory. Etixx-Quickstep are fielding a strong team for the 110th edition of the iconic Monument, and could feasibly launch a double-headed attack with Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, ably supported by an in-form Petr Vakoc. Perhaps the strongest team on the start line however, are the current leaders of the UCI World Tour team competition, Movistar. Alejandro Valverde heads a star-studded line up of team mates comprising Winner Anacona, Jon Izaguirre, Dani Moreno, Nairo’s younger brother Dayer Quintana, Francisco Ventoso, Javier Moreno and Giovanni Visconti.
Looking to thwart Movistar’s aim of a 4th win in the UCI team competition are the Tinkoff boys, on a final World Tour outing before the team disbands at the end of the season. Tinkoff need 70 points to dash Movistar’s hopes, but this could be a tall order, especially given Movistar’s solid line up, and Tinkoff not fielding two of their star riders – Sagan is of course expected to be focusing on retaining his rainbow jersey in Qatar, whereas Contador, who could have been an exciting prospect on this climber’s parcours, is suffering from a flu-like virus. Roman Kreuziger and Rafal Majka spearhead the Tinkoff line up, with Majka, a former Tour de France King of the Mountain’s jersey holder, eyeing up the 4,400 metres of climbing with a decent chance of placing well. Elsewhere, Ag2r-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet is definitely one to watch in this race; the course suits his style and his form at this late stage in the season remains good. Last year’s runner up, Dani Moreno of Movistar, has both the legs and the team mates to carry him to a strong finish, and Lampre-Merida’s Rui Costa stands a good chance, as does the Columbian Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac. His team will be hungry for a big win after having two riders on the Milano-Torino podium earlier in the week with Mike Woods and Uran himself, and early indications are that his form remains strong.
Bardiani-CSF have had a great few weeks, especially Italian favourite Sonny Colbrelli, who last week crossed the Tre Valli Varesine finish line in first place, ahead of the likes of Nibali, Aru, Gilbert and Viviani. Team Sky have brought a strong squad, including Pete Kennaugh and Ben Swift, with Wout Poels looking to be in race winning form. Supported by Mikel Landa, Vasil Kiryienka and Mikel Nieve, with the excellent tactical mind of Nicolas Roche, Poels has a good chance of a late season podium appearance.
With a host of other big names – Mollema, Schleck, Bakelandts, not to mention Olympic medallists Greg Van Avermaet and Tom Dumoulin, the race looks set to be one of the most exciting of the latter half of the calendar. Those who are disappointed by the Doha parcours – and there have been many critics of the pan flat desert course – will no doubt prefer the climbs, descents, and potential for set-piece battles that Il Lombardia 2016 offers. It’s going to be an exciting race for sure!