The Giro di... uh, mi dispiace, Il Lombardia, is not only the final Monument of the year, but the worst-attended. Italian races all share the characteristic of being overrun by Italians -- that's what happens when you crank out professional cyclists faster than a Toyota plant, and since many of them are allergic to racing abroad, it only gets worse. Il Lombardia is no exception to that rule, as the RCS Invitation Committee has once again rounded up the usual suspects. And as usual a number of the big-name dudes have dropped off, either from injury or exhaustion or just taken their ball and gone home. That's October.
And can you blame some of them? Racing in Italy is always very technical, endlessly undulating, and hard to wrest control from the locals. If you're a sprinter, even an Italian one, fuggedaboudit. If you've done two grand tours and your form is waning, why bother? But if you can still dream, for whatever reason... well, you belong in Milan Saturday. Here's a rundown of who's answering the call. Remeber, for your predictions, head to the Cyclopedia Contest Thread! But let the general discussion ensue here too.
Omega Pharma Lotto
Let's face it, if you're ever going to beat Philippe Gilbert in his prime at il Lombardia, this is your chance. While much of the attention has gone to HTC's final race, Saturday marks the last lap for Omega Pharma Lotto too, as the team prepares to split, merge, and scramble its allegiances. Really, could this team be any more Belgian? Anyway, in the best of times such occasions are marked by fond farewells (see HTC). At OLO these are not the best of times. Gilbert was last seen bitching about his lack of support at Paris-Tours. Gilbert is many things, including the likely winner of this race, but one thing he's not is "strategic team-builder." You don't catch more flies with vinegar, especially when those flies know they don't have to listen to you anymore, starting Saturday night.
Thus far, Gilbert's farewell looks anything but fond, as the team haven't bothered to name two of the eight spots, and the other five are guys like Dockx, De Greef and Willems whose preparation consists of milling around Belgium. Nobody from Paris-Tours, nobody who's been racing in Italy (not that the team showed up for any races there). Gilbert's support Saturday is likely to be close to nothing. Will he need it? We shall see. But if his competitors get breaks up the road that work against him, as they almost must, then Gilbert will be ending his OLO tenure on a very sour note.
Here's an interesting situation: how does Gilbert's next team work with him? If he gets points, they come with him to BMC (in the individual point category) when the UCI starts tallying. Not that BMC, winners of the Tour de France, need many points. And they have plenty of guys in their shirt who are still in play: Greg Van Avermaet is flying after his Paris-Tours win and second in Piemonte today, and an Autumn Double would be a dream come true; Mauro Santambrogio went from 17th in 2009 to 8th last year and has to be considered a guy to watch; and Ballan... eh, it's a harder race now than it was in 2009 when, freshly into rainbow, he came in 14th.
So they have a strong squad, and normally the idea of working for an incoming rider would be no better than a half-baked plan B. But Gilbert is the capo di tutti capi, particularly in this race. BMC's investment in him is presumably massive. You can't apply the normal incoming-but-not-here rider rules. My hunch is they focus on Santambrogio and Van Av unless/until they get to a point where neither of them is feeling it. But if they're in a break with Gilbert, don't look to BMC to try to hurt him.
Thomas Voeckler is on the form of his life, and it hasn't stopped yet. Fourth today in Piemonte, Voeckler was the last man to make the finale... but he made the finale. He's on form. And the harder Lombardia will not deter the grizzled veteran. Vincent Jerome is probably his main man in support; guys like Veillieux and Gautier are barely old enough to drink, and Arashiro is a sprinter, presumably honing his form for the Japan Cup. So not a ton of support, but no matter. Underestimate Tommy V at your peril.
Euskaltel are loaded for this race. Loaded! The weather looks quite lovely for Saturday, perhaps to the dismay of the Euskies, who are accustomed to soggy mountain conditions as much as anyone. Still, Sammy Sanchez and Mikel Nieve lead the charge after top-tens last year. Igor Anton... who knows what to expect from him. He won the KOM in Beijing, so he can climb for 2km at least. Txurruka, Astarloza... it goes on. They're solid, and Sammy can nail the descend-and-sprint finale with the very best.
Farnese Vinny (and the Continentals)
A/k/a Farnese Visconti. He was fourth in 2008 but dropped off a cliff since. Perhaps the race's increased climbs have selected him out. I'm mildly curious about whether a nice sunny afternoon will revive his spirits, but really, I'm more curious as to whether Oscar Gatto can hang.
Of the Italian Pro-Conti teams, Visconti is the most notable name but he'll have some competition from Emanuele Sella (Androni blady blady) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF) for the title of most overrated Italian pro-conti guy. I suppose a foreign pro-conti guy like JJ Cobo or Sandy Casar could make an impression, but I doubt it.
Going out with a whimper. They always were a sprinters' team, weren't they? Cavendish "leads" the charge, for the first 60km or so, at least til they pass near his house. Siutsou is perhaps the leader, or one of the Velitses, but there's no indication that they should be rated a threat.
Ah, now we're talking threats. And I don't mean Pozzato (though I may be the last person on Earth interested in what he can do here). Dani Moreno is coming off a win today in Piemonte. J-Rod is on form (6th in Emilia) and seems like a guy who could do well here, though three DNFs in four years doesn't speak well. Paolini, you know he'll hang around. Gusev? Meh-ybe. DiLuca? How does a former winner not get a spot? Never mind...
Jakob Fuglsang is a perennial threat here, and after finishing strong in the Vuelta he's been biding his time. Max Monfort is more of a fringe player, but assuming he's working for Fuglsang, that's a nice foundation right there.
Huge, huge team. Cunego owned this race for a couple years. Scarponi was second last year. Still, the former is on his way back from Beijing (was he naughty?), and the latter hasn't raced much since dropping out of the Vuelta. My sense is that they'll like this race better in September next year. Teams that are stretched a bit thin, chasing UCI points, will appreciate the move more than the mega-squads who can go wherever they need to be, and when.
Another big player here, with Nibali the presumptive leader and Basso the show pony. Basso was third way back in 2004, but ... let's not go there. Let's just hold out hope for one more Sylvester Szmyd Smackdown on the Madonna, come what may.
Yet another threatening, deep squad. Maybe the startlist isn't thin this year after all. Pablo Lastras was outstanding in Lombardia last year, making the podium. Rui Costa is a total dark horse, having finished 25th in his Lombardia debut two years ago. Marzio Bruseghin is a mirage though -- an Italian all-round climber who hasn't raced here in ages, and hasn't raced this year since the Vuelta.
Meh. Kiserlovski is pretty awesome but I suspect his debut won't be easy. Tiralongo? Gasparotto? Not seeing it.
Chavanel? Terpstra? This might have been a dark horse team before they added the Colma di Sormano. Not anymore.
Gesink's absence is killing them almost as much as me. But Rabo always have interesting bodies to throw at any race, and this is no exception. Presumably Barredo and Mollema are the leaders, coming 9th and 13th last year. Mollema just missed out on Emilia (2nd), so the whole taking-over-for-Bobo thing is going pretty well. Then there's the support: climbing ace/dark horse Ten Dam, several veteran regulars, and young fliers like Kruiswijk and Slagter. Many DSs would envy such a squad. And probably deploy it better.
Who's Manuele Boaro?
Rigoberto Uran (Uran) is a trendy pick, and not for nothing. Third in Emilia and Quebec. Twelfth in Lombardia last year. Still only 24. Movistar would be massive if they'd hung onto the Colombian budding star. Thomas Lofkvist is also going reasonably well at the moment, and loves him some Italian uphill racing, though he's never done anything here. Plenty of veteran help on hand -- Gerro, Rogers (!), Knees. As usual, Sky will be heard from. As long as they want to win.
Full disclosure, Tom Danielson was in a dream I had last night. Nothing too weird, I was just at a cross race watching the pros roll in, and he was in the back of the top ten. He's not on the roster here, presumably training for Koppenbergcross in a few weeks. Who is on the roster, though, is pretty interesting. Dan Martin is the clear leader, right? Um... not necessarily. While someday he'll make a strong impression on this race, his form doesn't seem especially explosive. Christophe Le Mevel is quietly putting out some solid efforts, though, including 11th at Emilia. Pete Stetina is another guy to watch, although more for future reference perhaps than right now. And while it probably doesn't make an impression here, I still love that Sep Vanmarcke and Johan Van Summeren are on hand. Feels like April again...
With Horner out (dammit), Jani Brajkovic presumably leads the team, and as usual the Shack know how to round up some climbers. Brajkovic was once runner-up here, and the fact that they've since upped the climbing shouldn't hurt him. Ben Hermans, Tiago Machado and Haimar Zubeldia round out the "you never know" squad for the last official appearance of the Shack.
Marco Marcato is one of those guys to watch, but he'd have really been a guy to watch on the old, less punishing Lombardia circuit. He's on fire, he's young, gotta be full of confidence after a fantastic season, and his support is nothing to sneeze at: Wout Poels, Thomas De Gendt, Devo, Carrara. But the climbing might be beyond him, in which case they'll be looking for plan B.