As the dark nights draw in and the 2022 season nears its end, many of the peloton’s biggest stars have already finished racing for the year.
Remco Evenepoel only briefly showed off his new rainbow jersey on home roads at Binche-Chimay-Binche before calling it a day; Wout van Aert finished his exhaustingly competitive season at the Worlds; the injury sustained at La Vuelta a España brought Primož Roglič’s season to a premature end; and Mathieu van der Poel will not race on the road again in 2022 after the acrimonious circumstances of his World Championships withdrawal.
However, there are other top names who have continued to stay competitive even as we enter October, lured by what is one of the toughest and most prestigious of all the one-day classics, Il Lombardia. As the last of the five monuments, it’s one of the biggest prizes in cycling, and boasts a start-line worthy of that label.
TADEJ POGACAR - UAE TEAM EMIRATES
It’s rare that Tadej Pogačar isn’t among the top favourites for a race he starts, and in this case, he has established himself as the sole frontrunner. Recent victories at the GP de Montréal and Tre Valli Varesine confirm his good form, even if a subdued showing at the World Championships and defeat to Enric Mas (Movistar) at the Giro dell’Emilia showed chinks in his armour that were not apparent during his pre-Tour de France purple patch.
Tadej Pogačar (Image: Getty)
That purple patch proved his credentials as a classics rider who could compete in all kinds of terrain from the gravel (first at Strade Bianche), to the cobbles (fourth at the Tour of Flanders) to the relatively flat terrain (fifth at Milan-San Remo), and, worryingly for his rivals, the climber-friendly Il Lombardia parcours suits him better than perhaps any of the other monuments — as was apparent last year, when he rode away with Fausto Masnada to win by almost a minute. Add to that an intimidatingly strong roster of domestiques that includes one-day specialists Diego Ulissi and Davide Formolo, plus Vuelta a España stars João Almeida and Juan Ayuso, it’s clear Pogačar is the man to beat.
JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE- QUICK STEP-ALPHA VINYL
A rotten run of injuries and bad luck has prevented Julian Alaphilippe from ever getting going in 2022, limiting him to just two wins all year. But he hasn’t written off his season just yet, and will compete in what is only his second Il Lombardia since placing second here behind Vincenzo Nibali in 2017 in the hope of salvaging something from it.
Julian Alaphilippe (Image: Getty)
Whether or not he has the legs to do so is questionable. His only real sign of form since returning from his most recent setback at La Vuelta a España was some turns as a teammate in service of Davide Ballerini who took victory at Coppa Bernocchi, and he hasn’t finished inside the top 50 of a race since August. He’ll be hoping there’s some truth to the old saying that form is temporary, but class is permanent.
JONAS VINGEGAARD - JUMBO-VISMA
As the reigning Tour de France winner, Jonas Vingegaard now commands a huge amount of respect in the peloton, and he'll be watched closely by viewers and other competitors alike.
Jonas Vingegaard (Image: Getty)
His record in one-day races in no way compares to what he’s achieved in Grand Tours and stage races, and he failed to finish both Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne this spring. But he has enjoyed some success, placing an impressive seventh at San Sebastian last year, and claimed a victory at the Drôme Classic earlier this season, suggesting he could yet become a force in the hilly classics. This will be his third Lombardia, having placed a respectable fourteenth last year,while riding alongside Primož Roglič; this time, in the absence of his teammate, Jumbo-Visma will be relying on him to compete for victory.
ADAM YATES - INEOS GRENADIERS
Riding his last race before leaving for UAE Team Emirates, Adam Yates is hoping to deliver what would be the biggest win of his spell at Ineos Grenadiers — and, for that matter, of his whole career.
Adam Yates (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
A bout of illnesses prevented him from riding the spring classics this year, but he’s going into Il Lombardia with good form, having placed in the top seven at each of GP de Montréal, GP de Québec, and Tre Valli Varesine. The hilly parcours of Il Lombardia should suit him better than those races, as evidenced by his third-place finish here last year, meaning he could become Ineos’ first ever win of this race. And if he falls short, they have a strong back-up of support riders ready to step up, including Dani Martínez (who was fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège) and Vuelta breakthrough Carlos Rodriguez.
ENRIC MAS - MOVISTAR
Victory at the Giro dell’Emilia has propelled Enric Mas from an outside bet of a high placing to one of the top favourites for victory. Although recognised as one of the best climbers in the world, and in fine form having placed second at the Vuelta a España, Mas has never really starred in the classics before, with twelfth at this season’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège one of his most notable results to date.
Enric Mas (Image: Getty)
He’ll form part of a dangerous double act with Alejandro Valverde, who might yet end his career in style having made the top four in each of Coppa Agostoni, Giro dell’Emilia and Tre Valli Varesine. The veteran Spaniard packs the quicker sprint, so expect Mas to make an attack on one of the hills — and, based on current form, it won't be easy for anyone to follow him.
ALEKSANDR VLASOV - BORA HANSGROHE
Back in the spring, Aleksandr Vlasov looked like one of the most explosive climbers in the world, demonstrating a new-found lethal finishing kick to register multiple high placings at the early season stage races — and, most relevantly of all in terms of his Il Lombardia credentials, place third in the Mur de Huy sprint at Flèche Wallonne. And despite a slow start, the Tour de France also proved to be a success, as he worked his way up in the final week to finish fifth overall.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Image: Getty)
Had he that form still, he’d be an undisputed top contender for Il Lombardia, but he hasn’t been in the mix in the Italian classics this week. Should he again struggle to find his best legs, it may fall on Sergio Higuita to deliver a result for Bora-Hansgrohe, especially considering his second-place finish at Tre Valli Varesine on Tuesday.
He might no longer be counted among the top contenders, but all eyes will be on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan) as he lines up for the last race of his career. A better than expected fourth place overall at the Giro d’Italia this season, plus the fact he’s already won this race twice, means we shouldn’t be too quick to write him off from doing something special.
Another veteran home favourite still going strong, but not yet with any plans of retiring, is Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux). He has both the form (following a third-place finish at Giro dell’Emilia) and the record (three top ten finishes) to be a candidate for a high placing.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) caught the favourites off guard to win here in 2019, and might be flying under the radar once again following an unremarkable set of results going into the weekend. And the French trio of David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Romain Bardet (DSM) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic) can also be expected to be in the mix.