Il Lombardia 2014

05 October 2014

It’s time for the last World Tour one-day race of the season. We should be in for quite a show this Sunday afternoon.

The course
Instead of starting out in Bergamo like in recent years, the race finishes here after 256 km on the bike. The classic Madonna del Ghisallo climb (8.5 km / avg. 6.2 %) is still featured in the race but this year, it comes already after 50 km and won’t be of much importance. From the top of the climb, the following 80 km won’t trouble the riders much. A breakaway will be able to gain a solid gap on the peloton on this long stretch.

Upon reaching Bergamo for the first time, the terrain starts to get more and more hilly. The last 110 km include no less than six climbs. Colle dei Pasta, Colle Gallo and Passo di Ganda all have steep parts towards the top. However, with over 60 km to go from the top of Passo di Ganda, these ascents most likely won’t have a big impact on the final outcome.

After overcoming the short Bracca climb, the riders take on a technical descent before starting on the penultimate climb of the day: Berbenno. The 5.5 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.3 % with parts of 10 %. From the top, there are only 26 km to go. The descent is fast and after a few flat kilometers, the riders face the final struggle of the day.

The finish
In the upper city of Bergamo, the race organizers have found a steep and interesting ascent to determine this year’s race. The climbing starts with about 4.5 km to go. The first 500 meters aren’t very steep with an average gradient of about 6 %. However, as the riders approach Porta Garibaldi, the surface changes. The next 200 meters take place on pebble-paves with higher gradients. This bumpy part will take a lot of energy before the riders turn right onto the asphalt road again. Still, as they do so, the road kicks up with gradients over 10 %, leaving absolutely no room for recovery. The following 600 meters are uphill.

From the top of Bergamo Alta, there are just over 3 km to go. The first part of the descent is very fast on wide roads. Then, with 1.8 km left, the riders turn right in a sharp corner where the road narrows in as they go through Porta Sant’Agostino. After passing under the flamme rouge, there is a tricky 90° left-hand corner. From here, the following 700 meters are straight-out before turning right in another 90° corner. Only the last 250 meters are flat and straight-out towards the finishing line. In case a small group of riders arrives together, it will be very important to get into this final corner in a good position.

Il Lombardia 2014

The favorites
For the last two years, my number one favorite was Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. He won both editions and, once again, the Spaniard is my prime pick. Despite the change of course, the final climb still seems perfect for Purito. Furthermore, he now no longer has to keep a chase group at bay for nearly 10 km. With less than 3.5 km to go from the top, Purito just needs a small gap in order to sail away and complete his hattrick. Katusha has one of the strongest teams in the race ready to help their captain. In Milano-Torino last Wednesday, the Russian team put no less than four riders in top7 with Giampaolo Caruso winning in front of Dani Moreno (3rd), Purito Rodriguez (5th) and Sergei Chernetckii (7th). I think Katusha will let Giampaolo Caruso attack as soon as the final climb starts. He’s in excellent shape and if the favorites spend too much time looking at each other, like in Milano-Torino, Caruso could easily win this race. In case Caruso gets caught, I’m sure Purito will be ready to counterattack on the steep part of 12 %. Then, it will be interesting to see if anybody can follow him. Should it come down to a sprint, Dani Moreno will be the best pick due to his fast finish.

Despite this being an Italian classic, three of the top favorites are all Spanish. Alejandro Valverde won another World Championships medal last Sunday. He’s obviously still in good condition and this race definitely suits him. He doesn’t have the same kick as Purito on the steep gradients but he’s great on the descents and very fast on the line. Furthermore, Valverde is just 14 points behind Alberto Contador on the individual UCI World Tour ranking. After missing out on the podium in the Tour de France, the overall win in the Vuelta a España and the rainbow jersey on home soil, naturally, Valverde is eager to at least top the overall ranking at the end of the season. However, it won’t be easy.

Alberto Contador didn’t take part in the World Championships as he preferred to rest after winning the Vuelta. Still, in Milano-Torino, Contador proved that he’s still in good shape. He hesitated too long when Caruso and Nocentini attacked but he was clearly one of the strongest riders in the bunch. Now, with a little race rhythm back in his legs, Contador is ready to take on Il Lombardia to keep his spot as number one on the ranking. With a descent towards the finishing line, it won’t be easy for Alberto Contador to win this race. Therefore, knowing that he won’t be able to outsprint Valvede, Contador has to attack on the final climb. It will be very interesting to see if he’s still strong enough to drop his rivals before the top and solo away to win. With Valverde as the only rider able to overtake him on the UCI ranking, we might see Contador work together with Purito, trying to drop the Movistar captain. In a sprint, Purito will have no problems beating Contador, who will be happy as long as he keeps Valverde behind him.

Il Lombardia 2014 Preview

The outsiders
It may not be fair not to put down Michal Kwiatkowski as one of the favorites after what he did in Ponferrada last week. However, the last days have been very hectic for the young Pole. He’s obviously in great condition and even though he’s eager to show off the rainbow jersey, he might lack a little focus. This is why I’ve only categorized him as an outsider. Still, don’t be surprised if he puts on another great show and solos away from everyone on the final descent.

Fabio Aru did well at the World Championships last week, working to set up his Italian teammates. In Milano-Torino, the young Italian was amongst the best riders on the climbs. Now, with two tough races in the legs, I expect Aru to finish off his incredible season in style. He’s not afraid of attacking and I would expect him to put in a couple of strong attacks on the final climb. After the recent doping suspensions, Astana desperately needs good news. Today, Fabio Aru is their best card to play and I’m sure he will make a great result.

This is a very open race. Therefore, there are many strong candidates. Riders like Rui Costa, Michael Albasini, Philippe Gilbert, Tony Gallopin and Bauke Mollema all have what it takes to make it onto the podium. Dan Martin too. The Irishman will be eager to take revenge after losing a spot on the podium due to a crash in the final corner last year. If he’s ready after his crash at the World Championships last Sunday, he will be a very dangerous outsider. Also, don’t forget about youngsters like Davide Formolo, Warren Barguil and Julian Arredondo.

My personal joker is Edoardo Zardini. I’ve talked about Zardini numerous times this season and after his recent performances, he deserves another mention. He won the uphill finish on The Tumble in Tour of Britain last month. In Tre Valli Varesine, he finished 8th and in Milano-Torino, Zardini put in several strong attacks on the final climb before finishing 14th. Bardiani-CSF also brings Manuel Bongiorno to this race. Both the young Italians are very strong right now. However, to me, Edoardo Zardini is the best chance of a top result. He’s a born attacker and I’m sure we will get to see him on the final climbs.

For live coverage of this year's Il Lombardia, go to steephill.tv.