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101st Giro di Lombardia - ProT

Italy, October 20, 2007

The season's finale: Lombardia

Race of the falling leaves

By Gregor Brown in Lombardy

Paolo Bettini ready to go for three in-a-row
Photo ©: Cyclingnews.com
(Click for larger image)

The cycling year has seemed to come and go as fast as any, and we find ourselves at the traditional season's closer, the Giro di Lombardia. The 242-kilometre Italian one-day Classic is one of cycling's five Monuments, and it makes an appropriate finale to an exciting season.

This Saturday there will be 185 riders lining up in Varese for the running of the 101st edition of the classica delle foglie morte ('race of the falling leaves'). The famed Madonna di Ghisallo, as well as the climbs of Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia, will help produce a true champion by the race's end along the lake in Como. The winner will have his named etched in the annals alongside the likes of Fausto Coppi (five-time winner), Felice Gimondi, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck and Bernard Hinault.

Initially called the Milano-Milano in 1905, it became the Giro di Lombardia in 1907; rapidly rising to 'Monument' status, especially considering the addition of the Madonna del Ghisallo in the 1920s. The road is now paved but the climb is still an epic. Rising 511 metres in 8.6 kilometres; the climb hits percentages of 14% before reaching the Sanctuary dedicated to cyclists.

In 2004 the race's finish moved from Bergamo to its current finish in Como, where it also finished in the 1960s and 1970s when the race started in Milano. From 2004 through 2006 it started in Mendrisio, Switzerland, but for this year it will begin in the hometown of the 2008 Worlds, Varese. The parcours is completely in the region of Lombardy, taking in the provinces of Varese, Lecco and Como.

Madonna del Ghisallo
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

From Varese the riders will travel towards Como, and then up the western shores of the lake, taking in the climb of Intelvi. Once on the eastern shores of Lago di Como the race will face a climb out Bellano and into Valsassina. After the decent into Lecco, the race's finale will begin in earnest: The race will snake its way north towards Bellagio, turn inland and starting the famed ascent of Madonna del Ghisallo; topping out with 44.3 kilometres to go.

An escape formed of strong men is likely to appear over the top of Ghisallo, but any group of contenders will have to face the final two smaller climbs: Civiglio (15.7 kilometres to go) and San Fermo della Battaglia (5.7). Perfetto: San Fermo is a short and sharp affair that is perfect for a solo bid into the silk-producing town of Como.

"You have that very hard climb in the final, after 250 kilometres; it is quite hard – the San Fermo," Fränk Schleck commented recently to Cyclingnews. The 27 year-old Luxemburger would like to join François Faber as the only two winners from their country. His legs are going well, as evident in a fourth place finish at the World Championships and a win this last week in the Giro dell'Emilia.

Schleck will have to face a whole host of Italians in their own backyard gunning for the last hurrah of the season. Many of the squadra azzurra riders that featured in the World Championships fancy themselves for the win. Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), who led the Italian charge in the penultimate circuit of Stuttgart, passed seven hours on his bike Wednesday in preparation. He will have backing from German team-mate Fabian Wegmann.

Schleck after Giro dell'Emilia
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

The winner of the Worlds, as well as Lombardia, for the last two years, Paolo Bettini, is ready to go for three in a row. After a brilliant showing in Germany, the Quick.Step rider is once again a favourite to win. Perhaps his team-mate, 24 year-old Italian Champion Giovanni Visconti, is on better form, and could be allowed enough freedom for the win. His recent win in the Coppa Sabatini indicates the the legs are there.

Cunego won the race in 2004, and with his win in the GP Beghelli this week he will be considered a top gun for Saturday. Cyclingnews spotted the rider from Verona on the parcours Wednesday. "He is well, and the win last week in the GP Beghelli was good for his morale," explained Directeur Sportif Maurizio Piovani.

"It will be important to race with intelligence, without wasting energy," added the 26 year-old rider to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Filippo Pozzato came oh-so-close to a win in last weekend's Paris-Tours, and he is desperate to utilize his end of season form. His last win came in the Trofeo Matteotti, August 12, and let's not forget his impressive summer stage win in Autun at the Tour de France.

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) had to withdraw from what would have been his last big race as professional racer due to a training incident. His Dutch team will likely look to young Thomas Dekker and Spaniard Oscar Freire. CSC will have an explosive Alexandr Kolobnev heading the charge with the aforementioned Schleck. The Russian finished second in the Worlds and recently won Monte Paschi Eroica.

The battle along the shores of Lago di Como
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

Spain will certainly pose a big threat to the Italians with Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). 'Samu' was in the mix at the Worlds, firing on all cylinders at the Vuelta a España with three stage wins, and finished second in last year's Lombardia. Valverde has never had an impressive Lombardia, but there is something there to indicate that he may want to lay down his mark before the season's door closes.

ProTour battle

As has been documented extensively here on Cyclingnews, there will be a serious battle for ProTour points. Italian Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) thought he had the yearlong competition wrapped up but disaster struck in the form of a three-month suspension from his country's Olympic Committee (CONI). This has left the door open for Australian Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) to score enough points to cleanly take overall title for 2007 – probably the last year that the ProTour will ever include the cycling's grand classics and tours.

Evans needs to finish sixth to get enough points. He will be racing on 'home' roads as he lives near the start, just over the border in Switzerland. "It is the most suitable one-day of the race for year for me, but unfortunately it is also the last race of the year," he stated early on Tuesday.