Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Giro di Lombardia: Race Of The Falling Leaves

With Philippe Gilbert now crowned World Champion, any major road racing is fast becoming slim pickings. This Saturday though will see the final 'monument' of the year play out in front of a mass of fans at the Giro di Lombardia in Lombardy, Italy, with a backdrop of beautiful scenery and autumnal colour. The race has been criticised for some slow editions with racing that doesn't live up to the standard of the other 'monuments' such as Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders - but 'The Race Of The Falling Leaves' is an altogether different type of race and what it lacks in spring grit it makes up for in a glorious stunning visual display of meandering streets, steep climbs and often brutal autumn weather, though with a calendar change from mid-October to the end of September may change this...

The race has a long history dating back to 1905 where it appeared on the calendar as 'Milan-Milan' before it's name change to Giro Di Lombardia in 1907. Past winners reads like a who's who of cycling including the likes of Eddy Mercx, Fausto Coppi, Bernard Hinault, Francesco Moser, Sean Kelly and more recently Philippe Gilbert who will be looking to put his new rainbow stripes at the top of the podium again this year. The route has been chopped and changed regularly over the years though it still lives up to it's title as 'The Climbers Classic' as up-hill sections continue to define the race. The most infamous climb of the day is the penultimate one named after the Patron Saint of cycling as the church of Madonna del Ghisallo sits atop the climb which begins in earnest near Bellagio. The peloton here will be greeted with a shrine and a small museum containing religious and cycling related objects. The riders then face the final 3.4km climb 'Villa Vergano' which isn't long but is steep and it's this climb which proved to be decisive in the 2011 edition. The climb is followed by a 3km descent to the finish which means riders have to work hard to maintain any time-gaps they take going over the top. 

It's a challenging route and anybody who thinks an undeserving winner will take glory here then it simply isn't possible. Gilbert will be looking to give his jersey an outing but there are plenty of others in contention for this race with many ending their season here, including Alberto Contador who will be looking to end his mixed season on a high. In fact the race used to make for a fantastic ending to the season but with the UCI constantly extending an already long season with not such enthralling races in China, it's become a little diminished in stature. The end of the season is now much more of a hit and miss affair and it has to be said, lacks any race of defining excitement or conclusion.

It's unfortunate circumstances shouldn't take away from the fact that this is a race well worth a watch and should see some attacking riding. If for nothing else this race is worth viewing purely for the scenery and often makes for some of the best photographs of the cycling year. 2010 was a vintage year for Lombardia which saw riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Giovanni Visconti put in repeated attacks over the final rain drenched 50km's around Lake Como with Philippe Gilbert and Michele Scarponi finally shedding the field with 30km's to go and battling to the finish, in which Gilbert emerged victorious. Here's hoping for a similar race to lift the 'end of season blues', if only for a day...

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