It’s that time of the year again, the time for the last Monument of the season, the Giro di Lombardia, which also counts for the final World Tour event of 2015. Held for the first time in 1905, it soon turned into one of the most important races of the calendar; a huge contribution to its growing prestige came as a result of the likes of Costante Girardengo, Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi and their memorable victories, as well as the presence of Madonna del Ghisallo, an iconic climb of the sport and home to cycling’s most famous museum.
Even though other races are taking place after Giro di Lombardia (Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, Tour of Abu Dhabi), the Italian Classic is still regarded as the most fitting ending of the year, a race in which riders say goodbye to a great or disappointing season, while others draw the curtain on their career and think about a new beginning in their life. On top of that, it’s an excellent opportunity for many cyclists to save their year or cape off the season with a huge victory, one for the history books.
In 2015, the 245 km-long race sets off from Bergamo, with the revamped route initially leading through the Bergamo plain and then up along the Val Cavallina, all the way to Casazza, for the first climb of this race: Colle Gallo (7,1 kilometers, 6% average). A fast-running descent leads back from Val Seriana to Bergamo; here, the course goes back on flat roads and eventually arrives in Brianza. The course passes briefly across Colle Brianza and descends into Pescate, then heads for Valmadrera and Oggiono. Finally, it rolls past Pusiano and Asso, and drops down into Onno, heading for Bellagio, where the Madonna del Ghisallo (8,5 kilometers, 6,2% average) climb begins.
The ascent has a maximum gradient of 14%, on a wide road, with several hairpins. The descent runs quickly on long, straight stretches up to Maglio, where the Colma di Sormano climb begins abruptly. After a few kilometres with a moderate gradient, a few hundred metres past Sormano, the route turns left to tackle the Muro di Sormano, the hardest section of the Sormano climb (2 kilometers at a 15% gradient), which was introduced in the race half a century ago. The road is tight and very steep, and it runs partly through the woods, with very narrow hairpins and sharp gradients exceeding 25% and reaching almost 30%, after about one kilometer.
After clearing the Colma, the road climbs down into Nesso (initially on apparently flat ground, followed by a very technical descent with several hairpins on a narrowed roadway). Here, the route takes the coastal road that leads to Como. A harsh climb up to Civiglio follows (4,2 kilometers), with steady 10% gradients, which provide an excellent platform for a late attack; the route then descends, runs through Como again, and heads for the final climb in San Fermo della Battaglia.
The last 10 kilometers begin in urban Como and run along wide avenues, up to the railway underpass, where the final climb towards San Fermo della Battaglia begins. The punchy 3,3 km-long hill has a gradient of nearly 7,2%, on a narrowed roadway with a rough road surface and several hairpins, that lead all the way up to the summit (around five kilometers from the finish). The fast and challenging descent runs along a wide and well-paved road, with two well-lit tunnels and two wide roundabouts, and it ends one kilometer before the finish. One last, wide left-hand bend can be found 600 meters before the finish.
It’s been a couple of years since a rider lined-up for the “Classic of the Falling Leaves” as the overwhelming contender for the victory, such as is the case this season with Vincenzo Nibali, but truth being told, the triple Grand Tour winner deserves to be considered the prime pick, because he is in great form – maybe his best in 2015 – and is very motivated to take his maiden Monument, and the first of Italy’s in the past seven years.
Second in Coppa Agostoni, first in Coppa Bernocchi, third in Memorial Marco Pantani, fifth in Gran Premio Industria e Commercio di Prato and first in Tre Valli Varesine – this is Nibali’s palmares in the five races he rode on home turf this Autumn, races in which he had a point to prove following his disqualification in the Vuelta a España. Supported by a very strong Astana outfit, which includes Mikel Landa and Milano-Torino winner Diego Rosa, Vincenzo Nibali – who is one of the finest tacticians of the peloton – will more than sure put on a great attack which he hopes to land him a memorable success in Como.
Two-time Lombardy winner Joaquim Rodriguez appeared to be at a high level for the last World Tour appointment of the season, but he injured his right knee in training on Friday, the scans revealing a big hematoma, and will have to miss the race. Despite this setback, the Russian squad still has a good card to play, the in-form Daniel Moreno, who will get the opportunity to ride the season’s fifth and final Monument as team leader for the first time in his career.
Another good bet for a win looks to be Alejandro Valverde, one of the most consistent riders of the year, and already 2015 World Tour champion. Twice second in the “Classic of the Falling Leaves” at the past two editions, Movistar’s leader comes here after finishing fifth at the Richmond World Championships and hopes to carry that form into the last Classic of the season and thus score a fourth victory in a Monument, following his Liège–Bastogne–Liège treble (2006, 2008 and 2015).
33-year-old Philippe Gilbert – who is lining-up with a team that includes Darwin Atapuma, Dylan Teuns and Samuel Sanchez, the rider he defeated in 2010 – is also expected to make a move in the finale, the Belgian being the last rider to win in Como. 2012 world champion, Gilbert will be happy to see the race return to a hillier terrain, one which is much to his liking. On top of that, people shouldn’t forget he has a good sprint, so if he makes the final selection, Philippe Gilbert can take the victory from that reduced group.
Other riders to look out for in their bid to deliver a big result are Tim Wellens, Adam Yates, Rafal Majka (who is coming here after finishing second in this week’s Milano-Torino), Thibaut Pinot, Jan Bakelants (the impressive winner of Gran Piemonte), Bauke Mollema, Alexis Vuillermoz, Tom-Jelte Slagter (who was enjoying a great run before the World Championships) and 2014 champion Daniel Martin.
– Fausto Coppi is the rider with the most wins, five, between 1947 and 1954
– When it comes to the number of podiums, Gino Bartali is first, having finished nine times in the top three
– 11 countries have had a champion so far, with Italy topping the nations standings (67 victories)
– No rider from outside of Europe has ever won the race
– Longest dry spell of the hosts was recorded between 1988 and 1994
– Paolo Bettini is the last world title holder to win the race (2006)
– Since Damiano Cunego, in 2008, no Grand Tour champion has won the the Giro di Lombardia
– Shortest edition took place in 1942 (184 kilometers), while the editions held between 1964-1975 and in 1978 were the longest ones, 266 kilometers
– Milan, Como, Monza, Varese, Cantu, Bergamo, Mendrisio and Lecco are the cities who got to host the start or the finish of the race
– Biggest ever winning margin was recorded in 1905, when Giovanni Gerbi and Giovanni Rossignoli were separated by 40 minutes and 11 seconds
– Giovanni Gerbi is also the youngest winner (20 years and 176 days), while Gaetano Belloni is the oldest one (36 years and 69 days in 1928)
– Four winners of the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia went on to take the victory in the pro race: Gaetano Belloni, Diego Ronchini, Sean Kelly and Moreno Argentin
– 25 teams (17 World Tour and 8 Pro Continental) will be at the start of this year’s race
– Damiano Cunego, Philippe Gilbert and Daniel Martin are the former winners lining-up for the 109th edition
– The 2015 Giro di Lombardia will mark 2542 days since the last Italian victory in a Monument
– 19-year-old Daniel Martinez is the youngest rider at the start; Davide Rebellin (44 years) is the oldest one
– Eduard Grosu and Serghei Tvetcov will go down in history as the first Romanian cyclists to race the “Classic of the Falling Leaves”