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Lombardia: What Do You Think?

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It’s a non-preview preview. More like a conversation.

Nibali wins Lombardia
Autumn Awesome: Nibali in Como
Luk Benies

What do you want me to say about the Giro di.. Oh sweet Jesus, Il Lombardia, that you didn’t already know? It’s back to closing out the season, with a few races in between that allow the fall specialists to hone their craft and turn this into a monumental battle. The course is pretty dialed in. Lots of top guys are around. This is all really good news. It’s probably going to be a great race.

October Malaise

So do you like Lombardia?

Here’s my monument list. Well, here’s one.

  1. Flanders
  2. Lombardia
  3. Liege
  4. Roubaix
  5. MSR

That’s the list of loveliness in monuments. Roubaix is hard to categorize, it doesn’t really even belong. You could move MSR up over Liege but my Belgiophilia sometimes surpasses my Italophilia so whatever. Anyway, here’s the list of Monuments in order of excitement.

  1. Flanders
  2. Roubaix (top two are interchangeable)
  3. MSR
  4. Lombardia
  5. Liege

Sorry Liege. I once rated you as the perfect classic before you turned into a Valverdean nightmare of negative riding. [It’s not that bad, but Flanders-Roubaix are a tough act to follow.]

But otherwise, Lombardia is the race I should love, and have no argument against but still don’t get excited about. Is this why they moved to before Worlds? Maybe it’s just me, but World Championships feel like the big push, the Flanders-Roubaix to Lombardia’s ... Liege. In cyclocross, once Worlds is over the season continues but in a sorta forgettable way. In the arch of the season, it’s anticlimactic.

But it doesn’t deserve to be. It’s got everything you want in a race: Italian roads, Italian passion for the sport, an exciting, challenging finale, and the stature of a monument in terms of people’s interest and what’s required to win (like, be awesome for six hours). It has everything you want in a classic.

Anyway, I’ll be there Saturday morning, I’m down for this. The last two hours will see the Ghisallo, Muro di Sormano and Civiglio climb close to the finish. Drama all the way. It should be a great race. Hopefully one to get excited about.

Rainbows In Town

Speaking of, the World Champ and top-ranked rider in the Podium Cafe World Rankings (and CQ and others) will be there angling to kick off his Rainbow campaign in a big way. The problem is that it’s not as easy as it sounds. The number of world champions who’ve won Lombardia at some point is pretty much all of them from the climbing sect, but the ones who’ve pulled off both in whatever span of time encompasses the two races in a single season is dramatically shorter.

AFP/Getty Images

The most memorable occurrence will likely always be 1996. Paolo Bettini was coming off his first world title (of two) I think a week earlier, or maybe two. But in the meantime his brother Sauro was killed in a car accident, and he showed up to what had been planned as a triumphant tour in a shattered emotional state, which he then took out on the pedals. It was literally unforgettable. I will never forget it.

Prior to that it was Oscar Camenzind pulling the double in 1998. He was eventually a confirmed doper, so I really don’t care what he won in 1998. Before that you have to go back to Giuseppe Saronni in 1982. Shortly after becoming il Fucilata di Goodwood (the Gunshot of Goodwood), Saronni went on to win Lombardia. The details are a bit hazy, since race reports tended to come out in obscure foreign language magazines three months later back then. But it sounds like the sort of thing Saronni could do. Before that, blah blah Merckx blah blah.

Winning both now seems pretty close to impossible. With the spike in cycling media, there’s just so much fame that comes with the world title that whoever wins is pretty wrung out by the time Lombardia rolls around. If anyone can do it, I suppose it’s the Murcian Energizer Bunny. He did take third in Milano Torino yesterday.

And the Rest

The startlist is loaded. Vincenzo Nibali is the defender and he can never be ruled out, though his run of form isn’t great. Thibaut Pinot is probably the favorite based on yesterday’s win at Milano-Torino. Sonny Colbrelli won Gran Piemonte today but has no history of anything at Lombardia. Romain Bardet and Dan Martin are perennial favorites on form. Bauke Mollema, Wilco Kelderman, Gianni Moscon, Egan Bernal (!), any of several Lotto-Jumbos, and Michael Woods are among the names on the betting sheets.

Is this the strongest field in a while? Quite possibly. The mainland European worlds meant a return to normalcy, as opposed to the 2015-16 editions. There’s still more to the season in Asia but for this peloton it’s mostly a last lap.

I’m going with Bardet. He hasn’t had the busiest calendar since the Tour, and his silver medal in Innsbruck was impressive. Sixth in Emilia last week shows he’s focused. And of all the riders in play, I can’t think of anyone who needs a win more than he does. He’s earned it.

Who ya got?