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Notes from the Italian Desk

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Time for the build-up races to the season’s final monument

Desk. Italian. Leave me alone.
Di Agostine/Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Getty

With the Worlds behind us, the season is well and truly winding down, but there’s one more Monument to come, with Il Lombardia on Sunday the 7th. Between now and then, there’s a veritable feast of Italian racing, mostly one-day classics, mostly hilly, and quite a lot of it good for VDS points.

With that in mind, let’s take a canter through the Italian races we can expect to enjoy in this last major block of European racing before the northern nights get longer and the racing moves to warmer climes.

Giro della Toscana

VDS category: 5

Why you should care: This is the only multi-day race on the list, and it runs to a whopping two stages. At time of writing, Steven Cummings won the first stage, but the second is the “Queen Stage” and has a tough old finish, with two climbs into Volterra, a walled city with Roman ruins and a steep ascent. Think of the Strade Bianche finish and you’re in the right area. There’s also an intriguing inter-generational element to this, with Nibali and Bernal finishing in the leading quartet on Tuesday and the favourites to wrap up the overall today.

Flavio Morechetti/Getty Images

Who’s going to win?: Bernal, I think. Nibali’s old legs have two grand tours in them and I suspect he’s running on fumes coming into Lombardia. As for the stage win, Bernal could take that too, and there are a few more who’ll provide competition, but just for larks, I’ll say that Giulio Ciccone takes it, as part of another step towards recovering from a difficult offseason and getting back towards the elite of young Italian climbers.

Coppa Sabatini

VDS category: 5

Why you should care: You know what? I’m not entirely convinced you should. I mean, this is fine, but if you think there are too many races that are all a bit samey, you won’t get an argument from me, and this is probably the one I’d miss the least. Judging by the paucity of WT teams taking to the start, I’m not the only one.

Still, it isn’t a bad race. Run by the same group as Toscana, this one-dayer covers a 54km loop three times, then a 7km loop three times, then finishes with a 1.5km spur off the second loop. Confused? Yeah, me too, but there’s detail if you’re interested. What it boils down to is that they’ll cover 181km and whilst there aren’t any mountains, there isn’t anything flat either, and the finish is uphill.

Who’s going to win?: I can’t see us getting through an Italian autumn without Sonny Colbrelli winning something. He’s taken this twice before and I think he brings up the hat-trick on Thursday.

Giro dell’Emilia

VDS category: 4

Why you should care: This is what Italian autumn racing is for. Decent field, racing at the weekend (the flag drops on Saturday) and a constantly challenging parcours. Also, if you have a conversation about the prettiest race in cycling and this isn’t at least discussed, you’re having that conversation all wrong.

The website remains as Heath Robinson as ever, and my Italian remains pitiful, but the course doesn’t change much year on year. They’ll start in Bologna and take on some serious bumps en route to a closing set of laps up and through San Luca. The uphill finish hugs the Portico to the Sanctuary of the Madonna. It is lovely, but the racing is hard, as last year’s highlights show.

Normally at this point, I explain that there is a women’s race but that I’m ignorant, and then I feel bad. Not this time. I have investigated, and have no sense at all of whether there even is a women’s race. This one is shrouded in mystery, folks.

That stunning portico
DEA/R Carnovalini/Getty Images

Who’s going to win?: Adam Yates had a disappointing Vuelta, but this is the sort of hard-climbing puncheurs race that seems to suit him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept the trophy in the Orica cabinet. The final startlist and weather forecast might alter things, but I think he’s got a chance.

Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli

VDS category: 5

Why you should care: Because sprinters have feelings too.

Ah... you probably shouldn’t. This race clashes with events in France and Belgium, and they’re all pretty weak. This is at least handily located for riders and teams coming off Emilia, but the race is less prestigious, less challenging, and less pretty. Again, no information on the course that I can find, and no idea whether the women’s race will take place.

On previous form, this is a hilly lap race with a descent to the finish. There have been solo winners and small groups, but sprints are more typical. We can hope for a harum-scarum run to the line as attackers try to stay clear of a rampaging peloton. That’d be a fun diversion on a Sunday afternoon.

Who’s going to win?: I don’t know. Thus, Sonny Colbrelli.

Tre Valli Varesine

VDS category: 4 (yeah, I was surprised too)

Why you should care: The list of previous podiums shows that this is a selective race in which the cream has a tendency to rise to the top. They race next Tuesday, and race “Worlds style” with a long approach into a lap. The lap is 13km around Varese and is, as you’d guess, rolling and with an uphill finish. If you want more information, the Emilia jokers are no longer involved so quality publications are disseminated.

Who’s going to win?: They raced the same course last year and a small group fought out the win, with Sonny Colbrelli shocking the assembled tifosi for the win. I see a similar sort of race, but I note that Sunweb are bringing Michael Matthews. I think Bling will challenge his Bergen frustration into a consolation victory that brings scant consolation.

Milano - Torino

VDS category: 4

Why you should care: With apologies to the Emillia, I think this venerable Thursday classic is turning into the best of the pre-Lombardia races, and that’s only partly because it is a [city A] - [city B] race that actually goes between the two places, or suburbs thereof. The fact that Milan and Turin are a little less than 200km apart and separated by rolling hills and some decent climbs is even better. One of these years, I really must make a long weekend of visiting Turin and taking this race in live.

Of more importance for the armchair fan, have a look at last year’s top ten. In fact, if you have the time, have a watch of last year’s finish. Lopez won, with Woods and Uran joining him on the podium and plenty of serious talent in behind. Looks even better with 2017’s exploits to colour our memory, doesn’t it? Similary, in 2015, Diego Rosa came in ahead of Majka, Aru, Pinot and Poels. What you can take from that is that this is tougher climbing than anything we’ve seen in the preceding races.

This is a properly old race (kicking off in 1876, ahead of MSR or Lombardia) but had a steady decline in prominence and then a few years off with organisational and sponsorship issues. Since it came back into the calendar in 2013 it has been run on similar courses, and this year’s effort will be selective throughout, and will finish atop the climb to the Basilica di Superga. Tough climb, nice church.

Who’s going to win?: Startlists are still to be confirmed, but it is likely to be a good climber hanging onto decent form at the end of the season. I’ll go with Mikel Landa.

Basilica di Superga
AGF/Getty Images

Giro del Piemonte

VDS category: 4

Why you should care: Unless I’m missing something, this doesn’t appear to be happening this year. In which case, you probably shouldn’t care too much.

Who’s going to win?: I don’t give up on a format just because it becomes totally impractical. Maybe we should just give Sonny Colbrelli the points, in the style of a pools coupon home win.

Il Lombardia

VDS category: 2

Why you should care: Because it is a jeffing monument, you halfwit.

Who’s going to win?: I think I know, but I’m not going to tell you yet.

You’ll have to