Last year the organizers dusted off an old finish in the old part of Bergamo, the short steep climb followed by a screaming descent into the finish looked like it may be a keeper for years to come but instead they have dug deep in their suitcase of old tricks to come up with this thing:
First of all let's make one thing perfectly clear, you could probably send riders out on pretty much any loop in the Lake Como area and it would be a worthy Lombardia course. It would always have enough hills to make it a good race, the climby Monument the calendar needs. But the constant changes does make it a little difficult to know what to expect from year to year and therefore the race never really gets a recognizable character like Roubaix, MSR or Liege. Last years climb just before the finish made a whole new group of riders favorites for the win compared to the format of the the two previous years, with the fierce Muro de Sormanno followed by a fairly easy finale. That was totally dominated by Joaquim Rodriguez (which was probably more down to form than course design). A few years back the race used the combined climbs of Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia to settle the race and back then it was Cunego who ruled supreme.
For this year we are seeing a mix of all these ingredients. The finale will kick off after 172 km ,with the one unchanging element of Lombardia, the Madonna del Ghisallo climb, before the riders hit the the dreaded Muro do Sormanno. Following this the race will then revisit the Civiglio and San Fermo climbs, adding not only difficulty but also some tactical options for the riders. These climbs are challenging both uphill and downhill and they will certainly assure that all does not revolve around the Muro. Back when they were used last they made for great finales and they likely will again, opening up the course for a handful of new candidates. It will call for some very smart riding to win on this course which also looks very hard all in all with the distance considered.
So far so good but the question to me is "why the constant changes?" . It's been this way throughout the history of the race and I have to wonder if that isn't the reason why it is the decidedly least iconic of the five monuments, or at least one of the major reasons? Of course the late date and the general fatigue of the peloton at this point isn't helping but it should be more than that. A course as hard as this in one of the great regions of cycling should really enthuse the cycling fans way more than it seems to do. But to me it is a bit of a faceless race. I'm not quite sure what to expect when I sit down to watch it, I can't even really get up in arms over the ridiculous marketing department namechange that happened a few years ago. Imagine the furor if the ASO had decided to rename their race "La Roubaix", they'd never hear the end of it. But no one has deep enough feelings for Lombardia that the change caused much more than some mild mockery. Perhaps because there is no Poggio, there are no iconic pavé-secteurs, there are no hellingen, no Kwaremont. None of the stuff that stirs people's imagination ahead of the race. Yes we know it will be a challenging race but that is true for so many races. All the things that RCS have done right to make Strade Bianche a classic race they seem to have forgotten when it comes to Lombardia and the race is a little poorer for it and it is a shame because it is generally a race very worthy of its monument-status. It just needs a bit of character to make it more memorable.