Il Lombardia preview

The one-day race formerly known as the Giro di Lombardia used to be the last monument of the cycling calendar in mid-October and was affectionately called the ‘race of the falling leaves’. Moved to late September this year, the falling leaves may be relatively few in number this time around but the race  remains a key milestone on the UCI WorldTour. It was first held in 1905 and called Milan-Milan. [So good they named it twice? – Ed] That was changed in 1907 to Giro di Lombardia but the race’s organisers (RCS Sports) have decided that there’s only one Giro – the Giro d’Italia – and have renamed it Il Lombardia.

What sort of race is it?

The race is run largely around the towns of Milan, Como, Varese and Bergamo, although the 2004 edition started in Mendrisio in Switzerland. One constant has been the Madonna del Ghisallo climb that typically appears in the latter part of the race and on which there’s a shrine dedicated to cyclists.

Fausto Coppi holds the record with five wins while Frenchman Henri Pelissier and Irishman Sean Kelly have thrice been victorious. In recent years a number of riders – Paolo Bettini, Michele Bartoli, Damiano Cunego and Philippe Gilbert – have all won back-to-back titles which may augur well for the defending champion, RadioShack-Nissan’s Oliver Zaugg.

2007: Damiano Cunego (Lampre)

2008: Damiano Cunego (Lampre)

2009: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

20010: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

2011: Oliver Zaugg (Leopard Trek)

What happened last year?

Lombardia 2011 podium l to r Martin, Zaugg, Rodriguez (image courtesy of official race website)

Oliver Zaugg (Leopard-Trek) surprised everyone – himself included – when he took off with around 10km to go on the final tricky climb and managed to stay away to solo to victory across the finish line. Zaugg had been pursued by a few small chasing groups from which fellow Brummie Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) emerged as runner-up [Zaugg’s not a fellow Brummie, Sheree is – Ed], while pocket-rocket Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) followed him home for third place. Defending champion Philippe Gilbert, much to everyone’s surprise after his annus mirabilis,  failed to win the 241km race for a third consecutive time, coming in 15 seconds down in eighth place.

Vincenzo Nibali had been in the driving seat after leaving everyone for dead on the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo, 52km from the finish. But he imploded 35km later under the pressure applied by Sky, working for Rigoberto Uran who was himself unable to follow the attack of Nibali’s teammate Ivan Basso. Nonetheless, Zaugg caught everyone off guard with his well-timed attack on the Villa Vergano.

1.. Oliver Zaugg (Leopard-Trek) 6:20:02

2. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) +0:08

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) same time

4. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

5. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-ISD) s/t

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Inox) s/t

7. Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) +0:15

8. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t

9. Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone) s/t

10. Riccardo Chiarini (Androni Giocattoli) s/t

This year’s race

At the request of many fans, this year’s parcours includes the Sormano Wall – the clue’s in the name – which made its last appearance in the 1962 edition. The 251km route starts in Bergamo to celebrate Felice Gimondi’s 70th birthday and takes a meandering, winding route to conclude in Lecco.

The first 75km is largely flat as it heads east from Bergamo before turning back towards Brianza and the first climb of the day, the Valico di Valcava and its 14 hairpin bends – 11.65km at an average of 8% – followed by a fast technical descent.

Next there’s the shortish Colle Brianza climb after 134km and then, just under 20km later, the Muro di Sormano. The first part of the climb averages a taxing 6.6% but the gradient increases substantially in the last 1.9km, with an average of 15.8% and sections at a leg-juddering 27%. If that wasn’t enough, the climb is narrow with several sharp hairpins.

Thereafter, the route follows the southern shores of Lake Como before climbing the iconic Madonna del Ghisallo from Bellagio – 8.6km at an average of 6.2%. Riders pass by the small chapel and museum at the top before swooping down to the finish in Lecco via Villa Vergano -3.25km at an average of 7.4% – which is where this year’s victor, like last year, might just launch his winning attack.

Who to watch

Favourites for victory should be those in the mix at last Sunday’s World Championships road race, including new world champion  Philippe Gilbert (BMC) who will give the rainbow jersey its maiden outing.

Defending champion Zaugg will wear number one and lead RadioShack-Nissan for the last time before he moves to Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank to support team leader and Vuelta a Espana winner Alberto Contador who, having animated the men’s road race in Valkenburg, went on to win Milano-Torino on Wednesday and will be seeking to become the first ever Spanish winner of the race. By the same token, we should keep a close eye on Colombian climbing sensation Rigoberto Uran (Sky) who won Thursday’s Gran Piemonte.

Last year’s podium finishers Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) will look to go one or two better this year. Equally, we might expect Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) to be in with a shout, or maybe Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) will garner some much needed points for our friends in orange. Equally, we might have a repeat of last year with a totally unexpected win from someone who’s looking for a contract for next season.

Il Lombardia takes place on Saturday 29th September. Live coverage will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other live coverage check

Link: Official race website

Friday Feature: VeloEye Francesca Starbuck’s Tour of Britain gallery

Why is it that mostly women are featured on these pages as VeloEyes? We’ve featured work by Roz Jones, Danielle Haex, Roxanne King – and now Francesca Starbuck. Francesca went to stage five of the Tour of Britain earlier this month. (It was an eventful stage, starting and finishing in Stoke. Mark Cavendish started in the gold leader’s jersey and finished 12 minutes down with Bradley Wiggins, who subsequently abandoned overnight, while UnitedHealthcare’s Marc de Maar launched a successful solo break late on to take the stage victory.) She came back with some great pictures – especially of Ladies’ Favourite™ Bernie Eisel. Here is her gallery …

A wink and a smile

Lounging about at the start of the race, Bernie Eisel catches a glimpse of Francesca’s camera (Rob Hayles is lurking in the background…)

So Bernie began flirting. That’s why he’s called the Ladies’ Favourite …

…but now he has his race face on. ‘Whatever happens, Cav will *not* be carrying bidons around!’

“Bernie, Bernie, can you hear me? What is it that makes all the ladies go wild for you?” “Leave me alone Rob, I’m trying to look brooding for the camera.”

Blending in

As with most races, fans can get up close to the buses and the riders before the race. Here, Fabio Sabatini almost blends in with his team bus!

Endura Racing’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke – the Tour’s eventual winner

Rob Hayles and Ned Boulting shooting some segments for ITV

A photographer’s life is so glamorous …

Over the finish line

Stage winner Marc de Maar of UnitedHealthcare

It was a hard stage, as the hangdog look of Christopher Jones from UnitedHealthcare can attest

Samu Sanchez was feeling some pain in his knee by the end of the stage

The gruppetto coming in, including Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, looking thrilled

The elegant Mr Basso was named the stage’s most combative rider and he goes to get his Rouleur prize of a big wheel of cheese. I believe it was something like ash-covered goat’s cheese for this stage …

The gold jersey went from Cavendish to Orica’s Leigh Howard on this stage. He didn’t get any cheese.

All images are © Francesca Starbuck. Follow Francesca on Twitter – she’s a hoot! Thanks for sharing your album, Francesca!