Convincing wins in the Giro dell’Emilia and Milano-Torino puts Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) at the top of the pack of favourites for Il Lombardia, the final monument of the season on Saturday. A hilly course suits the Slovenian to a tee, although the triple Vuelta a España winner may face stiff opposition from his compatriot and Tour de France nemesis Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and a super strong Deceuninck-QuickStep team that includes the world champion Julian Alaphilippe.
In his second foray of his second stint in the rainbow bands, Frenchman Alaphilippe will surely put up more of a fight than he did on Wednesday’s Milano-Torino (where he came a lowly 25th after fading on the final climb). Although it remains to be seen which card the Belgian team play, what with Portuguese livewire Joao Almeida and Belgian tyro Remco Evenepoel also up their sleave.
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A solo winner in the rain in Monday’s Coppa Bernocchi, Evenepoel returns to the race where he fractured his pelvis 14 months previously following a heavy crash on the descent of the Muro di Sormano in what was his debut Monument.
“I want to wipe out the bad memory from last year, look ahead and take revenge,” Evenepoel was quoted as saying in the Gazzetta dello Sport this week. "Together with my teammate [Julian] Alaphilippe, I hope to provide a spectacle. And I’m certain that we will."

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Whether or not it’s the QuickStep duo who provide the fireworks, there is sure to be a spectacle on Saturday for the 115th edition of the race. With a fresh route, some seriously undulating roads, and a startlist to rival a Grand Tour, the season’s swansong promises to tick all the boxes. Let’s take a closer look at the race, the route and the riders gunning for glory.

The race

The final monument of the season earned the nickname “The Race of the Falling Leaves” because of its autumnal position in the calendar. Now known simply as Il Lombardia after a fairly recent rebranding, it’s a race wedded to the blue coves of Lake Como and its surrounding foothills of the mountains. It’s also a race synonymous with one climb – and in particular the small church of Madonna del Ghisallo perched on its summit – even if the live TV images in recent years often miss this unique test, which rises above the beautiful town of Bellagio at the end of the finger jutting out into the Y-shaped lake.
“This is a unique site for Italian cyclists,” writes John Foot in his biography of Italian cycling, Pedalare! Pedalare! According to legend, the chapel takes its name from a certain Count Ghisallo. Attacked by bandits in medieval times, he made a vow to the Madonna to build a church in her honour after he escaped. Fast forward many centuries to October 1948, when Pope Pius XII lit a lamp which he named the “permanent flame of the Ghisallo”. This was taken from Rome to Milan by car and then onto the church in a relay of cyclists, with Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali taking on the tough final uphill leg.
A year later, and on the initiative of the parish priest, the same Pope officially declared that the tiny church would become the site of the patron saint of cyclists. Ever since, Madonna del Ghisallo has become a shrine to the sport, with thousands making the pilgrimage there by bike every year. The views are sumptuous and a nearby museum (founded by Fiorenzo Magni) is dedicated to the history of cycling. An annual mass for cyclists of the past is held in the church on Christmas Eve.
Inside the church hang numerous bicycles from the illustrious cycling heroes of yesteryear (including Coppi’s hour record steed from 1942, those used by Bartali during his Tour triumphs of 1938 and 1948, and, more poignantly, the crumpled bike the late Fabio Casartelli was riding when he crashed on the descent of the Col du Portet d’Aspet in the 1995 Tour). Among the many photos and relics adorning the walls of this Aladdin’s cave of cycling is Felice Gimondi’s yellow jersey from the 1965 Tour.
While the route – most notably the start and finish points – of the Giro di Lombardia have changed over the years, the race has never turned away from the Madonna del Ghisallo, the essence of its being. In the words of John Foot: “The Madonna del Ghisallo is a living monument to the memory, the popularity, the beauty and the physical effort of bike riding in Italy. A number of famous riders even got married here. The shrine symbolises the sport’s continuing hold over the popular imagination and its intimate relationship with landscape and history.”
It says a lot about the characteristics of the race that Il Lombardia has been won solo for four of the last five years. The last time we saw a sprint finish was in 2016 when Esteban Chaves out-kicked Diego Rosa and Rigoberto Uran in Bergamo. Since then, Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Bauke Mollema and Jakob Fuglsang have all soloed to glory. In fact, the only other sprint finish of sorts in the last decade was in 2014 when Dan Martin stole a march over his chasers in the final kilometre, taking the win by one slender second as the others fought for second place in the Irishman’s wake.
You have to go back to 2004 for a group of more than three riders coming to the finish together – when Damiano Cunego pipped Michael Boogerd, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans. Two years before that, in 2002, a group of 14 riders contested the win as Michele Bartoli edged compatriot Davide Rebellin.

Jakob Fuglsang becomes first Danish winner of Il Lombardia

The route

Following four successive finishes in Como, Il Lombardia reverses its start and finish towns in 2021. The 239km race begins on the shores of Lake Como and finishes in Bergamo on Viale Roma. In between, there are seven climbs – although none of the familiar tests such as Colma di Sormano, Muro di Sormano or Civiglio – with the lion’s share coming in the last 150km.
The climbs are as follows:
  • Madonna del Ghisallo (after 38.6km)
  • Roncola Alta (9.4km at 6.6%)
  • Berbenno (6.8km at 4.6%)
  • Dossena (11km at 6.2%)
  • Passo di Zambla (9.5km at 3.5%)
  • Passo di Ganda (9.2km at 7.3%)
  • Colle Aperto (1.6km at 7.9%)
The Ghisallo should be a launch pad for an early break, which will built up momentum after the race drops down to Bellagio and hugs the shore of Lake Como and then Lake Garlate. The race comes within 10km of Bergamo before going off on the hilly loop which will decide the outcome.
The climb to Roncola peaks at 10% while the gentler Berbenno comes with 100km still remaining. The longest climb comes after the race passes through San Pellegrino Terme. The entire climb of the Passo di Zambla is 24km but it’s broken up into numerous sections. A short descent after Dossena is followed by an even shorter ascent, a flat section, then the final rise to Zambla Alta with long double-digit stretches near the summit, which is crested with 65km remaining.
A long 25km descent into the Serio valley is followed by the penultimate climb, the Passo di Ganda, where the final few kilometres constantly push 10%. Another technical 16km descent takes the riders back into the Serio valley ahead of a flat run into Bergamo. But one last sting in the tail remains with the closing 1.6km ramp of the Colle Aperto, with its last part taking place on paving stones.
This is followed by a 3km downhill dash down the Viale Giovanni XXIII to the finish – a carbon copy of the finale in 2016 when Colombia’s Chaves took the spoils.

The riders

Former winners Dan Martin (2014), Vincenzo Nibali (2015, 2017) Esteban Chaves (2016), Thibaut Pinot (2018) and Bauke Mollema (2019) all take to the start, although there’s no place for defending champion Jakob Fuglsang. In the Dane’s absence, Astana will put their eggs in Aleksandr Vlasov’s basket, the Russian who came third place in 2020.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) makes his first appearance in Il Lombardia since finishing runner-up behind Nibali in 2017. The Frenchman will be joined by in-form teammates Joao Almeida and Remco Evenepoel (the Belgian won on Monday, while the Portuguese has two podium finishes from his busy week). Fellow Frenchmen Romain Bardet (Team DSM), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R-Citroen), Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) and Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) will be among the outsiders.
The tifosi will be cheering on double champion Nibali in what will be his last race at Trek-Segafredo before rejoining Astana. The 36-year-old won the Giro di Sicilia earlier in the month but did not excel in the Tre Valli Varesine or Milano-Torino. After coming so close to winning Paris-Roubaix, Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) will also hope to cause a splash ahead of his own move to Astana, while Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) are long-shots after coming first and second in Tre Valli Varesine.
While many are eager to see Belgian Evenepoel off the leash, the out-and-out favourites will be the Slovenian duo of Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Roglic has two wins on the bounce and looked in irresistible form as he soared past Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) to win a hilly edition of Milano-Torino.

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Pogacar came third in Turin after being pipped to the line by his future teammate Almeida. But the 23-year-old has a sense for the occasion and you got the impression he was keeping back something in reserve. Unlike Milano-Torino, however, the finish on Saturday comes after a fast descent – so Pogacar may well have to solo to glory rather than rely on outsprinting his compatriot to the line, with Roglic in possession of a more formidable kick.
While Roglic will have last year’s runner-up George Bennett, dependable Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk and Danish tyro Jonas Vingegaard in support, UAE Team Emirates have named a stellar squad in support of Pogacar, including the Swiss Marc Hirschi, Poland’s Rafal Majka and Italian duo Formolo and Diego Ulissi.
Other riders to consider are Canada’s Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), who has two top fives from the Italian autumn classics this past week; Britain’s Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), who came fourth in the CRO Race; Australia’s Michael Storer (Team DSM), following his two uphill scalps in the Vuelta; and Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), three times a runner-up in Lombardia (2013, 2014 and 2019). Meanwhile, Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) rides his last race before retirement. The Irishman took a solid sixth in the Giro dell'Emilia but was a DNF at Milano-Torino after a late mechanical.

Highlights: Roglic emerges from deluxe group to power to Milano-Torino win

The ratings

***** Primoz Roglic
**** Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogacar
*** Julian Alaphilippe, David Gaudu, Romain Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali, Gianni Moscon, Joao Almeida, Adam Yates, Michael Woods
** Benoit Cosnefroy, Thibaut Pinot, Simon Yates, Bauke Mollema, Aleksandr Vlasov, Alejandro Valverde
* Aurelien Paret-Peintre, Gino Mader, Emanuel Buchmann, Max Schachmann, Guillaume Martin, Neilson Powless, Warren Barguil, Esteban Chaves, Michael Storer, Mark Hirschi, Davide Formolo, Andreas Kron, Alessandro De Marchi, Dylan Teuns, Jonas Vingegaard, Dan Martin, George Bennett, Rigoberto Uran, Mikel Landa
Il Lombardia starts at 10.20 and the race is expected to finish around 17.00 – both are local times (CEST).
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