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99th Giro di Lombardia - ProT

Italy, October 15, 2005

Italians vie for victory in Race of the Falling Leaves

By Jeff Jones

2004 winner Damiano Cunego (Saeco)
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

The Giro di Lombardia, the traditional final classic of the season and the last race of the inaugural ProTour series, will take place for the 99th time on Saturday, October 15. As with last year, the Race of the Falling Leaves will start in the Swiss town of Mendrisio and wind its way around Lake Como before the finish in Como itself. With some modestly sized climbs including the Madonna del Ghisallo (8.5 km) and the nearly 2 km at 10 percent San Fermo della Battaglia near the finish, the race suits the climbers, and it was no surprise that Damiano Cunego won it last year ahead of Michael Boogerd and Ivan Basso.

This year, the tables have turned in Cunego's Lampre-Caffita team, as the 2004 Giro winner has spent most of the season fighting poor form caused by mononucleosis in spring. Instead, Lampre will be riding all-out for Gilberto Simoni, who is finishing the season on a strong note after winning the Giro dell'Emilia last Saturday.

Another rider who has struggled this season, but is certainly hitting peak form now, is the Olympic champion Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), who is coming off a storming win in the Championship of Zurich nearly two weeks ago. Bettini has never finished on the podium in Lombardy, as it's a race that normally comes too late in the season for the classy Italian. But this year might be different, as Bettini is very motivated, and for once doesn't have to worry about defending the World Cup lead.

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas-Bianchi) would love to win Lombardy for a second time after doing so in 2001, but the ProTour leader is also at the end of a long, tough season, where he has been battling for ProTour points since spring. Di Luca showed with his fourth place in Zurich that he is still a force to be reckoned with, but he still finished that day more than three minutes behind the super Paolo Bettini. Also, Di Luca has been having problems with his knee recently, and that could force him to cut his final big race appearance short. In any case, the ProTour is his and he did the necessary work to earn the jersey in April.

If his World Championships ride is anything to go by, Rabobank's Michael Boogerd should figure up there in the placings again, perhaps scoring that elusive victory. Boogerd will have the support of riders like Thomas Dekker, Joost Posthuma and Pieter Weening, all young but strong riders.

On recent form, Domina Vacanze's Mirko Celestino has been doing all the right things in the Italian races to be considered a contendah. The 1999 winner will have to be at his absolute best, but should he make the final cut, then anything is possible. Fassa Bortolo has a mixed bag, in what will be one of its last races as a team. Young gun Lorenzo Bernucci and the more experienced Kim Kirchen and Juan Antonio Flecha will hold the end up for the silver team.

Francaise des Jeux missed out on a victory in Paris-Tours last week when the Philippe Gilbert/Stijn Devolder breakaway expired in a negative energy wormhole on the Avenue de Grammont in Tours last Sunday, but Gilbert may be able to make amends in Lombardy. Devolder is the weaker climber of the pair, and will probably miss out on the honours in the Falling Leaves race, but his late season form is very good.

Gerolsteiner has Davide Rebellin and Fabian Wegmann as starters, but the former is definitely off his best form, while the latter might have a better chance of making the cut. It depends on how the team tactics work out.

Last, but by no means least, are climber/sprinter Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), who should normally be suited to a race like Lombardy, and Luxembourg champion Frank Schleck (CSC), who has been in great form in the recent races. It would be no surprise to see Schleck on the podium in Como on Sunday.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the Giro di Lombardia live, with coverage starting at 15:00 CEST (Europe)/9:00 EDT (USA East)/6:00 PDT (USA West)/23:00 AEST (Australia East).