Although we still have vivid images from Saturday and Sunday's Paris-Roubaix in our heads, in the WorldTour it's time to look ahead. And, more specifically, towards the north of Italy.
This Saturday (October 6) riders will be busy battling for victory in the 115th edition of Il Lombardia, the last Monument of the season.
The 2021 race returns to its standard autumnal spot (hence the nickname the Classic of the fallen leaves), but it will not be decided on the iconic Muro di Sormano — which is omitted this year. It will still feature 4,500 metres of elevation gain spread among its 239 km, and the route will take the peloton to the top of the highly venerated Madonna del Ghisallo.
For those who are still hungry for cobbles, in the last kilometres there will be a 200m section on the classic Italian city centre's sanpietrini. Nothing to be compared to the Hell of the North, but still something to look forward to after more than 200km of racing.
The 2021 Lombardia will start in Como and finish in Bergamo after 239 km. In between the host cities, the riders will have to climb a total of six iconic climbs. The first ones will probably launch the early breakaways of the day and carve the riders' anaerobic reserves, while the last ones will be a proper test of strength endurance.
The first ascent of the day, placed at km 38, is an authentic piece of cycling history: the Madonna del Ghisallo. Though the climb from Erba is not the hardest one (16.7 km at 2.8% average), it can still work as an early launch pad for attacks. The riders who don't have the winning legs will realise it here.
Following the Ghisallo, the bunch will tackle the first descent towards Bellagio and Lake Como, continuing their effort through Onno, Pare', and Olginate. The second climb is just around the corner, as from Almenno San Bartolomeo they will climb up to the Roncola Alta (9.4 km at 6.6% average). The first ramps will hurt and will go up to 17% max. We can surely expect more action here.
The parcours continue towards Costa Valle Imagna at km 109 (which climbs up to 1,036 metres of elevation), and then down to Ponte Giurino, where the third climb awaits: Berbenno (6.8 km at a 4.4% average and max of 8%).
At 30km and 45km later, the ascents of Dossena and Zabla Alta (both taken from San Pellegrino Terme) will keep riders busy. The first one is 11km long (6.2% average and max 11%), while the second one has an average of 3.5% and max of 10%. With 175km in the legs, even the easier slopes could turn into a stern test.
The day's final climb is the Passo di Ganda (9.3 km with 15% ramps at the end), and it arrives after more than 200 km of racing. We will probably see the decisive attacks here, although the finish line is still far. Shortly after, from Selvino, there's a 12km descent with 19 switchbacks, then a 9 km stretch on flat ground.
But there are still hidden dangers ahead. Before the finish line, the riders will climb up to Bergamo Alta (to Porta Garibaldi and Lago Aperto), where there are ramps at 10-12%. It will be the last opportunity to avoid a sprint finish. The descent to Bergamo is on a large road with good tarmac, but at 2km from the end, there's a tricky bottleneck and a sudden bend. Then, finally, the last km is flat and straight.
On Saturday, there will be many big names and many riders who have recently shown great shape, let's take a look at the favourites.
The world champion will be at the start line, he'll be on the hunt for his second Monument win after Milan-San Remo in 2019. If he arrives in Como with the shape he had in Flanders, he'll be able to stick with the best on the climbs and the finale is made for him (though he was dropped at Milano-Torino on Wednesday).
Alaphilippe's Deceuninck-Quick Step teammate won Coppa Bernocchi this week, where he attacked with 120km to go and then went solo with 30km to go. After having worked for Van Aert at the World Championships (despite the war of words where he said he had winning legs that day), the young Belgian is coming back to Il Lombardia after a crash at last year's race where he broke his pelvis falling off a ravine.
As well as Alaphilippe, Roglič will try to win his second Monument after Liège in 2020. The Slovenian has excellent form: he won the Olympic Gold medal in the ITT in August, his third Vuelta in a row in September, the Giro dell'Emilia last week in front of João Almeida and Michael Woods, and Milano-Torino on Wednesday.
The two-time Tour de France champion is in the same situation as his fellow Slovenian and friend Roglič. He's looking at a second Monument to add to his palmares, as he has also won Liege (in 2021). He didn't have great form before this week, but with a long-range attack at the Tre Valli Varesine (120 km from the end), he's showing the best legs are coming.
Other riders who can do well are Joao Almeida and Mike Woods (who finished not far from Roglič in Emilia), and climbers who can do well on this type of terrain, like Adam Yates (second behind Roglič in the Milano-Torino), Jonas Vingegaard, David Gaudu and Bauke Mollema (who won in 2019).
Tadej Pogačar has shown improving form, whilst Deceuninck-Quick Step have plenty of options. However, we are backing Primož Roglič to win Il Lombardia 2021. After obliterating the opposition at the Vuelta a España, the Slovenian's remarkable run has continued. He demonstrated resilience to defeat Adam Yates at Milan-Torino, which followed his second Giro dell'Emilia victory. Will he make it three in a row on Italian soil?