Il Lombardia 2017: Race Preview

The race of the falling leaves and the monument that culminates the cycling year, Il Lombardia has stood alone at the end of every season, one last chance for the opportunists of the pack to snatch a prestigious victory.

Esteban Chaves on his way to Colombia’s first ever monument victory in the 2016 edition of this race. CREDIT: IlLombardia.it

With the cycling season all but over and the World Champions decided, early October inevitably sees a big lull in sofa watching motivation. Thankfully, the most visually beautiful race of the season graces us with it’s presence at the end of each long, hard year.

The final monument of the season, this race has often attracted the top talent in the world of procycling, one day veterans mixing it with some of the strongest GC climbers of the peloton. What results is an epic race through ‘falling leaves’, the Autumnal setting of Lombardy proving to be a catalytic battleground for these titans of the sport to wage war upon.

Last year’s edition saw the nation of Colombia finally take their maiden monument victory, Esteban Chaves out-sprinting Diego Rosa and Rigoberto Uran to claim the prestigious victory. This year’s edition sees the race enter slightly different parcours, close to a carbon-copy of the 2015 route, an edition won by the home favourite, Vincenzo Nibali

As well as the ‘Shark of the Messina’, the startlist also boasts various other victors of this great race, Dan Martin and Philippe Gilbert vying for leadership within their own team. Thibaut Pinot, Rigoberto Uran, Diego Ulissi, Tim Wellens and Warren Barguil are just a few of the other names looking to throw their gauntlets into this Autumnal battleground.

The Route: Bergamo –> Como (247km)

The 2017 Race Profile. CREDIT: CyclingTips

Close to an exact copy of the 2015 route, the 2017 edition of Il Lombardia looks to reward those that went well two years previously, advantage Nibali?

With just over 4000m of climbing over 247km, this is a race of endurance; those riders coming to this race looking to bookend their hectic seasons will inevitably come into a bit of trouble, this is a notoriously hard race…

The first 150km shouldn’t trouble too many, the undulating route provoking a reasonably sized breakaway to forge away off the front. As the peloton nears the foot of the Madonna del Ghisallo, the battle for positioning will erupt, the big teams jockeying for poll position at the front of the bunch.

From this point onwards, the peloton will cease to act as one, riders all over the road from the moment they hit the base of the climb. 8.6km at 6.2% doesn’t sound too difficult, but when you consider what’s waiting at the bottom of the descent, this climb becomes all the more pivotal.

The gradual ramps should see a flurry of attacks from the second and third tier riders, all trying to set up a move for their respective team leaders a little later in the race.

The brutally steep Muro di Sormano. CREDIT: Cor Vos

The brutally steep Muro di Sormano comes next, an infamous climb in this region of Italy. At 7km with an average percentage of 8.9%, the climb already sounds like a brute; but when you consider that the final 1.9km average 16%, it soon becomes a nightmare for all riders involved.

Those that managed to hang on over the preceding Ghisallo climb will face even fresher hell here, only the strong will continue on the ‘Wall of Sormano’.

Whilst these climbs are often the gems of this great race, it’s the two climbs closer to the finish that often prove the more decisive. The Civiglio stretches for 4.2km at 9.7%, another test for the pure mountain goats, and the San Fermo della Battaglia for 2.7km at 7.2%, the easier one of the two climbs.

The Battaglia comes just 6km before the finish line in Como, a fast downhill section the only thing separating the riders from the summit and the finish line. Whilst this race features over 4000m of climbing, the real race winning move may more than likely come on this final downhill, rewarding the masterful descenders of the peloton; advantage number two for Nibali?

The final dig for 2017

For the majority of the peloton, this race marks their final outing of the season, one last chance to snatch a result before hunkering down for the Winter. Many riders have failed to really ignite their fires this year, hoping that this race can be their saving grace. Others have had tremendous seasons and hope to replicate this race winning form across the roads of Lombardy.

The final race of the season proves to be many riders undoing. CREDIT: Innring

One thing that will hamper all riders, however, is the distance. 247km at the start of a cycling season is already a tough ask, but at the end of a busy year?! Many riders will be left reeling after tomorrow’s excursions… Youthfulness is also another big factor to consider; not many younger riders perform on the grand stage of cycling’s five monuments, each classic notoriously difficult to perfect.

The winners of Lombardia, San Remo, Roubaix, Liege and Flanders have more often than not ridden the races before; sometimes as many as 15 times before they finally make their breakthrough (Matthew Hayman Paris Roubaix 2016 Champion). It will take a lot of luck for a youngster to win tomorrow, this is as much a test of experience as it is endurance…

With the 2017 edition of this race set to be a three horse race between Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot and Rigoberto Uran, the responsibility of controlling the race will inevitably befall the teams of FDJ, Cannondale and Bahrain. All three have brought a wealth of riders to complete such a task, a mix of strong rouleurs and secondary attacking options.

Bahrain will look to send Visconti and Gasparotto on the move, paving the way for a Nibali counterattack later down the line. With his descending skills to fall back on, the home favourite can sit back idly and watch the other favourites fight it out among themselves.

Nibali soloes away from the bunch. CREDIT: Pinterest

Pinot has Gaudu as his main wingman, but with Reichenbach now missing from the FDJ lineup, his chances of victory have seriously been slashed. Cannondale will be backing Uran all the way, especially after his win in Torino midweek. He has Bettiol, Formolo and Slagter all at his disposal, three riders who should be relatively fresh coming into this race.

Other teams looking to set the race alight will be UAE and Astana, each contingent boasting a potential race winner in their ranks. Whilst the WT teams will assume control of the race, it may fall to the continental teams to spark the race winning moves, Androni, Bardiani and Nippo all eager to throw their riders into the mix.

It’ll be on the foot of the Sormano where the real attacks start to launch, second tier riders looking to pave a way for their team leaders later on. Visconit for Bahrain, Gaudu for FDJ and Formolo for Cannondale will all be instructed to forge ahead, other teams placing satellite riders into the move with hope that the escape may just stick.

Those that miss the move will see their chances of a win stripped right away; even if the group don’t make it to the finish, they’ll have to commit all their team to the chase to pull them back. A poker game will likely ensue in the peloton, each team bluffing as to when they’ll start to mount a chase.

A late breakaway may just call the bluff of the top teams. CREDIT: Pinterest

By the time the race reaches the final two climbs, it could all be too late…

Whilst the final few hundred metres look perfect for a three up reduced sprint, it’s more than likely that we’ll see a solo victor come into Como. An attack over the summit of the San Fermo della Battaglia giving a rider the best chance of taking victory.

The Contenders

Three riders come into this monument will all eyes on them, all three fresh and ready for battle on the leaf strewn roads of Lombardy. Vincenzo Nibali is a former champion, but both Rigoberto Uran and Thibaut Pinot have found themselves on the podium of this race before.

The home favourite will be licking his lips at the prospect of tomorrow’s route, the organisers seemingly serving him the victory on a silver platter. 4000m of climbing and a technical descent to cap it all off, what more could scream Vincenzo Nibali?

After having missed out on a Grand Tour victory this year, Italian cycling fans are now calling for blood, willing their ‘Shark of Messina’ to his second Il Lombardia win. Bahrain have come to this race all guns blazing, packing more of a punch than any of their grand tour teams in 2017.

Vincenzo Nibali takes the win on an identical Como finish in 2015. CREDIT: AFP PHOTO / LUK BENIES

Enrico Gasparotto, Giovanni Visconti and Franco Pellizotti are three of Nibali’s most trusted lieutenants, all three of them capable of winning this race in their own right. Visconti comes to this race on a stellar period of form, a win in the recent Giro dell’Emilia testament to this.

They may be based in the Middle East, but the core of Bahrain Merida is certainly Italian; they’ll be looking to set the race alight from the off, eager to put FDJ and Cannondale straight onto the back foot.

FDJ will be weary of such a tactic from Bahrain, but with one of their key domestiques Sebastien Reichenbach now out of the race, they’ll struggle to counter such moves. Thibaut Pinot comes to this race after a long period away from racing, fresh for the final monument of the season.

He’ll have youngster, David Gaudu, to call upon when the race gets tough; but with little experience and youthful legs, it’s doubtful whether the Frenchman will be able to provide much assistance. On the tougher stages of the Giro, Pinot proved his worth solo, taking the fight to the strongest GC contenders without much support from his team; he’ll have to replicate such a feat tomorrow.

A Giro stage win has seen Pinot go from strength to strength this season. CREDIT: AFP PHOTO / Luk BENIES

Of the three favourites, he has the stronger sprint, should he need to use it… He’ll surely be looking to drop the other two on the steepest climbs however, using his fresh legs as an advantage over both Uran and Nibali.

Rigoberto Uran will be eager to double up for Colombia and with his recent win in Milano-Torino, this certainly looks likely. Whilst we’ve started to see Uran’s progression as a Grand Tour rider, at his core he’s still a classics rider through and through.

What Uran excels at is timing, never expending too much energy on fruitless attacks. He’s a master at sitting in the wheels and picking the right moments to launch, his winning move in Torino testament to this. With David Villella and Tom Jelte Slagter at his disposable he has a wealth of talent on the attack, both of them possible foils for an attack later on in the race.

It’s highly unlikely that these three favourites will be able to run away with the race tomorrow, especially considering the calibre of riders filling up the ‘outsider’ spots. Whilst Michal Kwiatkowski may be wearing the number one for Team Sky tomorrow, it’ll be Wout Poels leading the charge in the business end of the race.

Uran takes an impressive win in the midweek Milano Torino, a sign of things to come? CREDIT: RoadCyclingUK

His climbing in the Vuelta a Espana was incredible, second only to that of Chris Froome, if he can replicate that on the Wall of Sormano he’ll surely put the three favourites into difficulty. Another Dutchman looking to plant his flag in Lombardy is Trek’s Bauke Mollema, another rider experiencing some big wins in 2017.

His stage win in the Tour de France was not too dissimilar from tomorrow’s parcour, a tough climb just kilometres before the finish leading onto a fast descent. Whilst he may not be as explosive as the other pure climbers, Mollema has seemingly found a talent in slipping away, riders often not clocking his attacks.

Another rider looking to launch one of these ‘surprise’ moves is Warren Barguil, the ‘darling of France’. He’s had a long season and is still a relatively young rider so his chances tomorrow may seem a bit slim; but on the attack he can be one of the most deadly riders in the bunch and may just capitalise if given enough rope.

Lotto Soudal and Quickstep are two teams with a strong roster to boast, Tim Wellens, Tony Gallopin, Dan Martin and Philippe Gilbert all lovers of this one day race. Wellens will pray for some rain as Gallopin prepares himself for a reduced sprint, Martin will look to attack the steepest sections and Gilbert will eye up an interesting move on one of the valley sections.

Will two time champion Philippe Gilbert be able to muster the strength to snatch a third tomorrow? CREDIT: Cor Vos

As all these riders battle it out at the head of the race, there will be one or two lurking in the wings, ready to pounce when the favourites show any signs of weakness. Damiano Cunego, Diego Ulissi, Adam Yates, Fabio Aru, Pello Bilbao and Julian Alaphilippe may just feature before the race reaches it’s climatic end…

Race Prediction

An experienced racer on home soil, Ulissi is the big danger tomorrow. CREDIT: VeloNews

Diego Ulissi to outfox the main favourites and take the win in a dramatic attack over the summit of the final climb, soloing to the finish in Como to take the biggest, and most emotional, victory of his career…

The Final Preview

With Il Lombardia the final race on (my) pro cycling calendar, it’s time to call it a year on these day by day cycling previews! I hope you have thoroughly enjoyed a 2017 full of previewing action, from stage by stage analysis of the early Ruta del Sol race, to in depth rider insights into races like the Tour de France and Tour of Britain; the blog has gone from strength to strength!

That isn’t it for the off season however, I’m sure something will pop out of the pipeline very soon, whether it’s the return of Rider Battles, more pro rider interviews or even a few more guest features, be sure to stay tuned to InsideThePeloton over the Winter period!

All that’s left to say is one final thank you, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I’m doing now without your continued support; InsideThePeloton is as much as you as it is me, let’s continue this upward growth right into the 2018 season!