The ‘Race of Falling Leaves’ starts in Como with a tricky opening section that culminates with the Ghisallo climb, a traditional feature of the Giro di Lombardia course. It comes a bit too early in the parcours this year to have a significant effect on the favourites but it may be the launchpad for strong breakaway riders if the early move hasn’t been established.
A section of flat terrain after the climb belies the difficulty of the rest of the course and will provide some respite for the peloton, providing that the break is under control.
The Valcava climb, 9.6 kilometres at nine per cent gradient, with pitches of up to 17 per cent, launches the riders into the very hard second half of the race. The road will either pitch up or down for the next 90 kilometres and this is where the climbers will come to the fore.
Race organisers have opted to add in the climbs of Sant’Antonio Abbandonato and Miragolo San Salvatore, both of which are featuring for the first time in Il Lombardia. The Sant’Antonio Abbandonato in particular looks to be a tough slog, with 6.5 kilometres of climbing at 8.9%, with a particularly brutal middle section, where the gradient stays above ten per cent for over half the climb.
After a short descent the next climb is toward Selvino, followed by a long descent with hairpins. The sharp wall, the Città Alta, rises just inside the final ten kilometres and is often the scene of final skirmishes from riders that want to avoid a sprint finish.
The run into the finish is relatively flat and the race has been decided in sprints from small groups but there is potential to slip clear, as Dan Martin did in the final stages of the 2014 Il Lombardia.
The incredibly hard nature of the course means that the race often runs differently to how one-day races traditionally work, with set courses leaving little variation to the strategy of the teams.
With the easier finish to the race this year than last season, it’s likely the teams with the strong climbers will try and split the race up early.
Key teams often put riders into dangerous moves from a long way out with the intention of using them to support team leaders later.
Quite often there is some doubt about a team’s true tactics, as a lot of riders have uncertain form heading into what for many will be their final race of the season.
Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) is a superb rider and has been for a long time, but this will perhaps be the first occasion that he lines up as the outright favourite for a race.
The smiling assassin has been in top form in the Grand Tours this season with two podium finishes but he’s also adept in one-day races. The course is right up his alley and his current form is tip top, taking a win at the Giro dell Emilia last weekend.
The one downside may be that the Colombian isn’t the best sprinter and with the relatively easy finish, he won’t want to bring the faster finishers to the line with him.
Astana come into the race with the strongest squad on paper and have plenty of options to potentially win the race.
Young star Miguel Angel Lopez is fresh off a Milan-Torino victory, Fabio Aru looks hungry to turn around a poor season with a win here and Diego Rosa has been very active in the other Italian one-day races in recent weeks.
How the Kazakhstani team approaches the race will likely determine the form the race takes and they are normally fairly aggressive with their tactics, so it would be little surprise to see them trying to explode the race from a long way out.
Surprisingly Cannondale-Drapac also come in as a team that others will look to as big players. The squad has been knocking at the door for so long now that they must be wondering what they need to do to win.
Another example of this was at Milan-Torino, where Michael Woods was overtaken in the final kilometres by Lopez, finishing second. Rigoberto Uran looked to be the strongest rider on the day, but only finishing third as he hadn’t wanted to chase his teammate down and watched on as Lopez dropped the Canadian to win.
Uran and Woods again look to be their main men, with the wily Colombian probably the best bet. He has been very active in recent weeks, surging off the front of the peloton at the tail end of hilly classics and he’ll be one to watch for a late attack coming into the finish.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is racing here, something he didn’t think he’d be doing when he announced his retirement, which was supposed to take effect after the Olympics. His team had other ideas and the veteran Spaniard appears to be grumpily complying.
Apart from Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Rodriguez has the most wins of any rider lining up in Como and on top form he would again be hard to beat. Without knowing his motivation and without much form leading in, it’s hard to predict a Rodriguez victory, but if theirs is one race that he would have aimed for in the final part of the season, this is it.
Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) is the exact type of rider that can do well in Il Lombardia, he is a top climber, masterful descender and races aggressively. His second overall at the Tour, along with a stage win to boot was testament to his ability and now he just needs to show that he has what it takes in one-day races as well.
He has consistently been just off the best in Il Lombardia and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but he’s come on in leaps and bounds as a rider this season and it would be little surprise to see him continue that with his maiden Monument victory here.
There are plenty of other riders whose names you can throw into the mix as well and the beauty of the Giro di Lombardia is that the tactics may well play out in such a way that they can win.
The likes of Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Julien Alaphillipe (Etixx-QuickStep) and Greg van Avermaet (BMC) are all riders who will be very hard to beat on this finish and will need to be dropped on the climbs. Maybe a rider like Dani Moreno (Movistar) can pop up and surprise as well, he often spends so much time working for others, but he may get his opportunity here.
The Giro di Lombardia will be broadcast live on Saturday October 1 from 2340 - 0200 AEDT, on SBS TV and streaming online.