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100th Giro di Lombardia - ProT

Italy, October 14, 2006

Falling leaves to finish season in Como

By Gregor Brown

Paolo Bettini (Quickstep)
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
Click for larger image

The time has flown by and here we are at the end of the season, the last classic of the calendar, Giro di Lombardia. Starting with the Milano-Sanremo in March, also in Italy, the one-day classics have come and gone, leaving us with the romantic special. Lombardia is synonymous with the changing of the seasons and plants changing to a golden hue, hence the nickname 'race of the falling leaves' (or Classica delle foglie morte in Italian).

This year, like Paris-Tours, marks the century edition of the Giro di Lombardia. 99 editions of this autumn classic have been run which have provided the tifosi with epic battles and heroic winners. Riders from Fausto Coppi to Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck to Damiano Cunego have won this classic, climbing over Lombardia's famed Madonna di Ghisallo and etching their names in the annals of this "Monument."

Initially called the Milano-Milano in 1905, it became the Giro di Lombardia in 1907; rapidly rising to "classic" status, especially considering the addition of the Madonna del Ghisallo in the 1920s. Then a dirt road is now paved but the climb is still an epic. Rising 511 meters in 8.6 kilometres; the climb hits percentages of 14% before reaching the Sanctuary at top.

The parcours of the 100th Giro di Lombardia, like the last two years, will start in Mendrisio, Switzerland and finish in Como, Italy. Almost all of the 245km are completely in the Lombardia region. From Mendrisio the riders will travel towards Como, going up and around Lake Como, a small section of climbing around Lecco, before heading to the main attraction. The riders will snake their way north towards Bellagio turning left, starting the famed ascent of Madonna del Ghisallo; topping out with 45km to go.

Before reaching Como, any escape that forms on Ghisallo will face the final two smaller climbs: Civiglio (15.7km to go) and San Fermo della Battaglia (5.7km). Note that San Fermo is short and steep, close enough to Como for a solo bid.

The last classic of the season is also the season's final ProTour event. The race will be more of a parade then a competition for the ProTour, as rider Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) and Danish team CSC have the competition locked. But don't count out the now 'white bullet', Valverde; the kid, could prove to be lethal when the race reaches Como. Nearly three weeks have passed since the world championships, plenty of time for Valverde to plot a revenge for losing the gold in Salzburg.

Even more sentimental, sadly so, is World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick-Step). Since the Italian from Livorno won the World's, he has been dealing with the death of his brother. He could have a lot to get off his mind, and what a better way then stomping his authority all over the Lombardia parcours? Winning last year, in front of Gilberto Simoni and Fränk Schleck, he will have the confidence of returning champion.

After Bettini, Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) is the last returning victor. Back in 2001 The Killer made his mark on the pro cycling scene with the Lombardia win, while this year he could put a nice wrap on the end of his season, including a stage win and Squadra Azzurra glory, by winning in Como. Di Luca, like Bettini and Valverde above, have the sprint speed required after a long day to win this Italian classic.

Looking further afield, there is the duo of Horner and Evans. You might remember these two Davitamon-Lotto riders storming Switzerland in the Tour de Romandie, well, they are back for Lombardia. Aussie Cadel Evans wants a win in his "home" race and American Chris Horner is his trusted ally to help deliver the death blow. Evans bases himself near Varese and these roads are "his" roads, ones that he uses in training. With the support of Horner, expect something special from the Aussie.

Cofidis brings an in-form Cristian Moreni. Present in the escape in Paris-Tours, the Italian should be ready for something special in Lombardia, but perhaps leadership will be turned over to the team's more mountainous man, Bert. Leonardo Bertagnolli has the leg-power to handle the final finishing climbs of Civiglio and San Fermo.

Holland and Rabobank will invest in the strength of Boogerd. The 34 year-old can deliver in this race, second in 2004 behind Cunego, perhaps the century edition of Lombardia will be kind to the Dutch warrior, giving him his season's second win.

Mister Alpe d'Huez, Fränk Schleck, will lead CSC, with the sole purpose of winning. The team's ProTour victory is wrapped-up, leaving their force free blast Schleck over Ghisallo. Finishing third in 2005, the Luxembourger, even at only 26 years-old, has the experience to close out 2006 on a positive.

Euskaltel-Euskadi will bring Samuel Sánchez and the possibility of repeating Bettini's 2005 double; winning Zurich and Lombardia. The young Spaniard showed to be defiant by holding off a chasing group of four over the final 11 kilometres of the Züri Metzgete, and this will be just the grit needed to win in Italy. A late attack from a small group, say over the San Fermo, could see a Sánchez standing on the top step in Como.

Others to watch will be Alessandro Ballan and the entire Phonak squadra. Ballan of Lampre-Fondital may just have something left in the tank; he proved strong in the World's by helping Bettini fight for the eventual win and should be a player. Phonak will be racing in their last major race, so maybe they might make something special happen.

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).