WORDS: NICK CHRISTIAN | PHOTOS: PRESSESPORTS/GOMEZ/CORVOS/SWPIX.COM/LAPRESSE
After the success of Top Mañana and Tomorrow’s Worlds, we’ve expanded the franchise of our popular race prediction game to cover all men’s and women’s WorldTour races throughout 2020.
The Rouleur team will be spending hours each week poring over form guides, weather forecasts and stages profiles, all in an inevitably fruitless attempt to give themselves some sort of edge over their rivals.
We stay in Italy for the last one-day race before the Tour de France sucks in every iota of our attention and energy. While the first two big WorldTour races were much later in the calendar than we're used to Il Lombardia, or the Ride of the Falling Leaves, has been brought forward. The traditional final Monument of the season is, for this season only, the second. How will that affect the way it is approached? One thing we know for sure is that Belgian superstar Wout van Aert will not be making it a hat-trick of Italian one-day races, as the Jumbo Visma rider has hopped over the border to dispense domestique duties at the Dauphiné.
Where Milan-Sanremo was a wholly different course to usual (apart from the last 50k), Il Lombardia is almost exactly as it was when Bauke Mollema sloped off to victory last October. Somehow they've managed to add an extra 13km between Colle Brianza and Valbrona, but we can't see that affecting the outcome. What could make a difference, is the temperature (approximately ten degrees cooler than October 12th 2019); that it comes relatively earlier in the season than normal, meaning it's less about salvaging something from the season and more about making an early mark; oh, and that one name on the startlist which wasn't there last year is that of a certain R. Evenepoel. We'll get to him in due course.
For one year only, it's "the Race of the Slightly Yellowing Leaves...."
The Rouleur panel's predictions
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
On one hand, Remco made the rest look like juniors on the penultimate stage in Poland. I keep having to remind myself he's only 20. On the other, look at Il Lombardia's technical demands and history: it's classically a race for grizzled, savvy racers, not whippersnappers. There'll be added pressure and vigilance from rivals too. He'll be confident and close to the victory, but I'll go with the reliable Dane. The Liège champ was unlucky to be off the podium here last year, has the legs and seems to be getting better with age.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck Quick Step)
Much as I'd like to spend my day poring through ProCyclingStats in search of the last Monument-winner younger than Remco, I do actually have more important things to do. I have, however, managed to find out that the very first Giro di Lombardia champion, Giovanni Gerbi, was 20 years and 176 days old at the time of his victory, making him a mere 27 days younger than the Belgian will be on Saturday. So anyway, I think Remco's gonna do it, and even though he's the favourite, and it's not really the done thing to pick the favourite, this kid is the exception to every rule.
Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos)
After our piece on him in issue 20.3 I have a bit of a soft spot for "La Locomotora" and I fancy the Ecuadorian to still be smarting (mentally) from crashing while leading the race in Poland. Hopefully though, he has recovered physically enough to bounce back with another one of his punchy accelerations.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin Fenix)
He may have gotten it wrong on the Poggio, but my chips are on orange for MVDP at Il Lombardia. The form is there, as is the determination, but overwhelmingly, it will be the sight of his cyclocross rival, Van Aert, polishing his rapidly breeding silverware that will get the Dutchman to the line first.
Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos)
The race of the falling leaves already? Well, that came around quickly… Who do I think will win? Remco. Who am I plumping for? Carapaz. Took a cheeky well-won stage in Poland, on top form and maybe – just maybe – can race a bit smarter than the 20-year-old prodigy. It’s a bloody long race after all.
Stuart J Clapp
George Bennett (Jumbo Visma)
Right then... I was going to go for Remco Evenepoel, but I looked up the odds and he’s 2/1 favourite. There’s no fun in going along with that, so I’m going for George Bennett. Not favourite, but certainly a contender following his win at Gran Piemonte.
The Cycling Mole's verdict
I’ll start by looking back at last week… who picked Wout Van Aert for Milan-Sanremo? That’s right, it was me! All the signs were there, but the Rouleur crew were too busy doing team building exercises to notice. To be fair, paintball is quite fun.
This week we’re still in Italy, and it’s another monument. It’s one for the climbers with Il Lombardia. Just like the other races, the heat will have a large impact on proceedings, and there could even be a thunderstorm or two. Remco Evenepoel starts as the overwhelming favourite for the race, even though he’s just 20. Winning this race won’t be straightforward for him, Trek-Segafredo, Astana and Ineos will be looking to isolate him and then launch attack after attack.
Looking at the picks, I couldn’t believe my eyes when the name Mathieu Van Der Poel popped up. Miles must be on the cannabis oil if he thinks MVDP can win this one. The Civiglo climb is 4km at 10%, if MVDP wins this race I’ll happily chop off a finger. Ben and Ian are both on the Carapaz train, but as he crashed in Poland this is a dangerous game. It’s never wise to back a rider who recently had to withdraw from a race. Stuart Joker Clapp is on George Bennett, which is a decent pick as he won Piemonte on Wednesday. That was his first ever professional win, Stu must think they’re like the buses. Andy and Nick are not messing around and have gone with the big dogs: Fuglsang and Remco. Astana look nice and strong and Fuglsang has impressed me in recent weeks, but he just hasn’t quite timed his attacks well enough. Remco is Remco, easily the most impressive young rider I’ve ever seen, he has to be the favourite. Everything points to one outcome, a win for Remco Evenepoel.