October 12, 2019
Start: 10.30am (CEST)
Finish: 4.40pm (earliest), 5.26pm (latest)
Il Giro di Lombardia, La classica delle foglie morte, the race of the falling leaves, might receive less attention than the spring Monuments but to many it is the most iconic, and most beautiful, of them all.
One reason for this is the chapel of Madonna del Ghisallo. One of the few permanent fixtures of the route, it sits at the top of an 8.5 kilometre climb overlooking Lake Como.
The chapel was sanctified in 1949 by Pope Pius XII, who declared it the site of the patroness of Italian cyclists. An eternal flame, carried there by a relay of riders including Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, burns inside. The chapel, and a more recently built museum, have welcomed thousands of pilgrim cyclists in the decades since.
Born in 1905 as “the Autumn Classic”, the once flat Tour of Lombardy soon evolved into a chance for climbers to redeem their seasons, attracting those eager to roll the dice one last time before turning in for the winter.
It is the least interrupted of the classics, with the only gap falling between 1943 and 1944. Italians dominated the race for its first half century, when Belgians and other nations’ riders got the hang of it. But even in latter years, the locals have never had to wait long for a race win, the six editions between Cunego in 2008 and Nibali in the 2015, the tifosi’s driest spell.
For a few years from 2014, Il Lombardia alternated its starts and finishes between Bergamo and Como. The race seems to have settled into more of a routine in the last few years, however, with Bergamo hosting the Depart, and the Madonna del Ghisallo taking its traditional place towards the end of the race.
The Madonna is the third climb on the course. The first two won’t affect the race too much, but the Colle Brianza will nevertheless call for a not insubstantial 14-15 minute effort.
The Colma di Sormano is the real bruiser, however. An average 9 per cent gradient, distributed across seven kilometres and 18 separate hairpins, takes the riders up to the highest point of the race. The Tour of Lombardy then descends to Nesso, the last two climbs and the finish-line in Como.
2018 Thibaut Pinot (Fra)
2017 Vincezo Nibail (Ita)
2016 Esteban Chaves (Col)
2015 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita)
2014 Daniel Martin (Ire)
2013 Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa)
2012 Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa)
2011 Oliver Zaugg (Swi)
2010 Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
2009 Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
2008 Damiano Cunego (Ita)
Fausto Coppi 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954
Alfredo Binda 1925, 1926, 1927, 1931
Damiano Cunego 2004, 2007, 2008
Gino Bartali 1936, 1939, 1940
Gaetano Belloni 1915, 1918, 1928
Henri Pelissier 1911, 1913, 1920
Sean Kelly 1983, 1985, 1991
Costante Girardengo 1919, 1921, 1922
This Year’s Contenders
Saturday’s startlist points to a proper poker match at Il Lombardia, as a host of teams take their seats around the table with a handful of cards to play.
Reigning champion Thibaut Pinot won’t be racing, which puts the attention on the fact that all three of 2019’s Grand Tour champions will be lining up in Bergamo. Of those, with his victory at Giro dell’Emilia, Primož Roglič looks to be in the best form, and hungry to add a Monument to his palmarès.
Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali will ride in Bahrain-Merida colours for the final time on a course that’s very similar in profile to his previous victories.
Julian Alaphilippe will be looking to bookend the season with his second monument which would be his 13th victory of the season. The Frenchman struggled at the World Championships in Yorkshire – though who didn’t? – and would otherwise go into the race as firm favourite.
As well as Roglič, Jumbo Visma will start with a cavalcade of climbers, any one of whom could cause trouble for Roglič’s rivals. Other teams who will be starting with strong squads include EF Pro Cycling, who finished second and third on Saturday with Michael Woods and Sergio Higuita respectively, and Ineos, who will have options including Michal Kwiatkowski, Ivan Sosa and Gianni Moscon.
Alejandro Valverde, who has twice finished second in the race, will be targeting the top step in what could be his last real chance.
Others deserving mention include Warren Barguil, 2016 winner Esteban Chaves and – what the hay – Italian champion Davide Formolo.
Safe to say, we don’t make predictions, and we never will.
Finally though he won’t win, a shoutout to Laurens Ten Dam, who bows out of cycling after Saturday’s race. One of the coolest guys in cycling has had a long career in service to some of the world’s best riders. The sport’s loss will be barbecuing’s gain.