It's time... one last piece for the Cafe Race Preview Bulletin Board, before the patrons settle in for a winter of endless nonsense (yay!). But for me, there is little to discuss besides the who. What and where? Read Gavia's course description (though avert your eyes before you get to the Jani photo). Here's a sampling:
After another 25 kilometers of flat racing, the real Giro begins, and the final 50 kilometers of the Giro di Lombardia constantly climb and descend. After passing through Onno, the favorites will begin moving toward the front in preparation for the climb to the Madonna del Ghisallo. The road wraps around the hillside and climbs through 9 kilometers of switchbacks to the summit. There sits the iconic chapel which celebrates the sport of cycling. One of the favorites will surely take at dig on the road to the Ghisallo, but it’s still 45 kilometers to race to the finish, so this climb rarely decides the race.
No, that would be the Civiglio, at 20km out, or the San Fermo della Battaglia, maybe 12km from the finish. The race happens in fits and starts over the last hour, which gives riders several places and ways to win: on a climb, on a descent, on the flats or in a sprint. To be a Monument, you must beguile the audience at least a little. Lombardia certainly does that. Anyway, the course remains about the same. And unless you're Count Ghisallo, you still probably can't see the Virgin Mary apparition, but you can see one of three significant churches dedicated to Cycling. Good stuff. Onto the favorites. A word about the ratings... Skillz and Form are weighted, using the 1-5, while the others are 1-3 points. Anywho...
Skillz: Mad. They have nearly renamed the race after him. Couple more wins. 5 points (of 5)
Form: Like Gavia, I'm suspect. Cunego hit the gas in Mendrisio, when he recognized the Evans threat, and... nothing happened. He's not terrible, and has wisely backed off a bit lately, presumably to aid in recovery, but the Worlds were his real goal this year, and I suspect Lombardia is anticlimactic, physically and mentally. Not everyone can peak for months. It's not easy being clean. 3 points (of 5)
Team: Decent enough squad. Alessandro Ballan is the co-headliner, but look for usual suspects like Gasparotto, Tiralongo and Mori to do the lifting. 2 points (of 3)
History: The preeminent Lombardia racer of his time. 3 points (of 3)
Ghisallobecco Says: With his history and everyone watching, he'd have to beat the entire field. Doesn't look like a world-beater to me.
As you can see, this won't be short. You don't have to take the poll before we see you on the flip, BTW...
Skillz: Well, he can climb. And he can sprint. And he can attack. It's easy to lump Lombardia in with Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and say it's a bit too climby for Gilbert, who usually slots in between the Flemish stuff and the Ardennes. But then I see names like Argentin and Tafi on the winners' list, and think, if il Gladiatore can power over these hills, why can't Phil? 4.5 points
Form: Fire isn't as hot as Gilbert right now. 5 points
Team: The startlist still sucks right now, but I'll guess that Gilbert has the best team. Helpers are always nice, but this race offers so much space to attackers that having another weapon is probably the most important. Nobody has two weapons like Silence-Lotto (did I really just write that??). Most teams don't even have one. 3 points
History: He has gone all Cunego on the poor Paris-Tours field, and in doing so has usually skipped Lombardia. 1 point
Ghisallobecco Says: Go ahead. Bet against him. I dare you.
World Champion Cadel Evans
Skillz: Gilbert without the sprint. If Cuddles wants to win, he'll have to go from further out. Apparently he knows how to do that. 4 points
Form: I am a little suspect that he's at his best. I suppose it's possible, but really, how much more can we expect from the guy? 4.5 points
Team: See above. Still can't believe I wrote that. 3 points
History: His best finish is 4th back in his T-Mobile days, though I have no idea what to do with that information. Goes back and forth between top ten and also-ran. But he knows the route very well, and we saw what familiarity did for him in Mendrisio. 2 points
Ghisallobecco Says: A world champion? On nearly top form? Playing decoy? Not bloody likely.
Skillz: Climber supreme. The rest of it... I dunno, he got off to a rocky start but I don't want to overdo the whole Gesink-will-never-be-able-to-descend thing. But not having a sprint is a real handicap here. 3.5 points
Form: Won Emilia, which is the next best indicator of form to, say, a three-victories-in-a-week rampage. 5 points
Team: If Ten Dam is in, then Rabo field one of the strongest teams, for certain. We know about Boom and Mollema already. I rate them just behind Silence, however, because Monuments don't coddle the kids, particularly when it comes to tactics. 2.5 points
History: Bobo has two official Foglie Morte under his belt (15th in his debut), as well as a Settimana Lombarda win and some other nice results in the fall classics. For his age, that's about as much as you could hope. 2 points
Ghisallobecco Says: Last Dutch winner: Hennie Kuiper, 1981. You, sir, are no Hennie Kuiper.
Skillz: Same ol' Samu -- the total package, right down to the last 100 meters. And that descent off the San Fermo della Battaglia would look inviting if he thought for a second that his rivals weren't totally expecting a move. 5 points
Form: Complete mystery. He punted around at Paris-Tours, his only appearance since Mendrisio. Is this a good thing or bad? Who knows? 2.5 points
Team: An asset? I dunno, I never really get the feeling that Sammy excels thanks to his team. 1 points
History: Couple podiums. If he races here long enough, he'll eventually win. Or get too old. 3 points
Ghisallobecco Says: Go ahead. Bet on him. I dare ya.
Skillz: What skill does he bring to the table besides climbing? Language? Basso's hallmark is consistency, which is why he's known for long stage races, not classics. 3 points
Form: About what you would expect, riding near the front without making anyone too nervous. It has been a long season though, which probably hurts after missing the last two. 4 points
Team: Usual suspects, who ride like gangbusters on home soil pretty much every day. He lacks another real weapon, but Szmyd, Zaugg, Carlstrong, etc. will be visible up front, where he needs them. 2.5 points
History: Third in 2004, for what little that's worth. But he's on familiar turf. 2 points
Ghisallobecco Says: This race is at least four stages too short for him.
Skillz: Another Spaniard with the full-on package, though his sprint isn't top-five. 4 points
Form: After his Worlds bronze, he has fallen off the map. It's always hard to distinguish resting from sucking, particularly at this time of year. So I'll split the difference. 2.5 points
Team: Juggernaut. Apart from the fact that everyone can climb, he has Rigoberto Uran (3rd last year) as a second weapon. The only question is whether his soon to be former team is all that devoted to J-Rod's efforts. 2.5 points
History: Meh. He's been there. 1.5 points
Ghisallobecco Says: Hmm... do I smell a Katusha on-road alliance brewing here?
Skillz: No better or worse than everyone else here who doesn't win many sprints. His best days usually come in Italy. 3 points
Form: Looked great in Emilia up to the last km. He's had a fair number of race days since August 1, but if he was good last weekend, I wouldn't be shocked if he was good one more time. 4 points
Team: The usual assortment of about five guys you could picture winning, though I'd be shocked if any of them did. 2.5 points
History: First appearance in four years. 1 point
Total: 10.5 points
Ghisallobecco Says: Last Swedish winner: hang on... it's on the tip of my tongue...
Skillz: Like so many others. History of near misses suggests it's a bit long for him. 3.5 points
Form: Always peaks this time of year. 4 points
Team: Visible from outer space. 1 point
History: A 4th and 9th so far. Obviously he likes being here. 2.5 points
Ghisallobecco Says: Coming close year after year doesn't mean you'll eventually win.
Skillz: Not exactly a climber, but he might just eek out the ascents here. If so, the rest of the work is right up his alley. To me, he's a real sleeper. 3 points
Form: Rock-solid. 4th on the Grammont, won his prior start at the Memorial Cimurri. Otherwise nursing his form. Just a guess but I suspect he is one of the more highly motivated people at the race. 4 points
Team: Do you count Rodriguez? Otherwise, it's perfectly solid. 2 points
History: Mediocre. Maybe I'm getting all excited about nothing. 1 point
Ghisallobecco Says: If Pippo is a great rider, he gets over the hump and wins this race someday. And if he's just what he is, then he comes close and falls back. In other words, I have no hair gel jokes here...
Skillz: Hm, for all his autumn exploits, he has never cracked the top ten here. Maybe the descents don't like him? Maybe he's worried about slipping out on falling leaves? 2 points
Form: Ripping. Worlds silver medal, seventh at Emilia. No two better data points than that. 4.5 points
Team: Assuming all is tranquillo, he has a huge weapon in teammate Fuglsang, at least until the latter runs away with the race. Usual assortment of great helpers (Jens!). 3 points
History: Bubkis. Why? 1 point
Ghisallobecco Says: You are what your results say you are. In this case, a bizarre world championships elite men's road race specialist.
Skillz: I am getting tired... He goes up and down, hammers a lot, and can sprint. If experience is a skill, that's the one he's missing. 4 points
Form: Even better than his teammate's. Second at Emilia. 5 points
Team: See above. 3 points
History: Nuthin. 1 point
Ghisallobecco Says: Uh oh...
Skillz: People like him enough. Like Pozzato, if he gets near the line, he's trouble. 2 points
Form: I dunno, he left a lot on the road over the last 6 weeks or so. 2 points
Team: Knights of é are the can-do team of 2009. 2 points
History: None. He's usually kicking ass at the Jayco Herald Tour this time of year. 1 point
Ghisallobecco Says: Finally! A favorite who really isn't going to win!
Skillz: More of the same, non-sprinter version. 4 points
Form: Seems pretty good, though the Worlds were three weeks ago now. 3 points
Team: Someone has to stop Vinokourov. Is that a motivational tool? 2 points
History: Reigning champion in his mind, or at least til someone told him last fall to put his arms down. 3 points
Ghisallobecco Says: Another climber with a mixed history. Please make it stop.
Whew! That took a while, but then it's a Monument. Here is your final tally, in the precise order of finish:
- Gilbert 13.5
- Evans 13.5
- Cunego 13
- Fuglsang 13
- Gesink 13
- Brajkovic 12
- Sanchez 11.5
- Basso 11.5
- Visconti 11
- Lovkvist 10.5
- Rodriguez 10.5
- Kolobnev 10.5
- Pozzato 10
- Gerrans 7
So who ya got? Take the poll.