The road season draws to its traditional close with the running of this Sunday's Giro di Lombardia (a.k.a. Tour of Lombardy), aptly nicknamed the Race of the Falling Leaves. If the season seems like it's running out of gas... well, it is, but plenty of teams and riders know to save something for Lombardia, one of the true jewels of the sport. So however tired they may be, the Pro Tour will likely turn out one last memorable day.
On the flip...
Basically, the race has been run 98 times, beginning in 1905, generally around Lake Como in the Italian province of Lombardia stretching from south of Milan to Switzerland. Lombardia is home to sub-regions Bergamo (think Paolo Savoldelli), Varese (think Ivan Basso), and other historical cycling hot-spots, not to mention several familiar alpine passes and the dripping-with-cycling-lore Madonna del Ghisallo. Cycling has tentacles spread all over the Boot, but Lombardy can make a case for being the heart of Italian Cycling.
Back to the race, it says something that its most prominent champion is Fausto Coppi, topping the list with five wins, just ahead of Alfredo Binda. Legend Sean Kelly won thrice; Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault only won twice; Hennie Kuiper once. Since 2000 (setting aside that year's win by doper Raimondas Rumsas), the palmares have gone to native headliners Michele Bartoli (twice), Damiano Cunego, Danilo DiLuca, and defending champ Paolo Bettini.
The course gets tinkered with slightly, and historically was focused more on Milan, but this year will mark the third consecutive time the race kicked off in Mendrisio, Switzerland, just across the border, while coming to the traditional finish in Como. The Madonna is the most famous spot, but coming at km 190 of 250, with two more climbs to go, it often forces a decisive -- but not quite final -- selection.
Who do ya like? Everyone is talking about Bettini, the newly crowned world champion who is now suffering deeply the loss of his beloved brother. If the story departs from this narrative, I'll be shocked, even sad. But the quality of the field will be immense (Boogerd, Valverde, Rebellin, etc.), and as the great Dino Buzzati once said about Cycling, "men are wolves."
Coverage is not on Cycling.tv, as far as I can tell, but Versus will be doing a same-day hour that afternoon. I might even have to boycott the media and try to watch it fresh on the 8-hour delay. But those who want to live-blog here, one last time this year, will of course have a home.