Thursday, September 27, 2012

Preview of Giro di Lombardia

After a long and very interesting season it’s now time for the last big race in 2012; Giro di Lombardia. It’s “the race of the falling leaves” but despite it being the end of the season we still have a lot of great riders ready to fight for the last big win and important WorldTour points. Last year Oliver Zaugg took his first professional win ever when he soloed to victory in Lecco, but something tells me that we will see one of the favorites taking the win this time.
Muro di Sormano.
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There is no way around it. The way he won the World Champions last Sunday, Philippe Gilbert is the big favorite for a wonderful double to end off the season. Gilbert has already won the race twice in the past (2009 and 2010) and the way he has been building up his shape towards the World Champions, I’m sure he wil be ready to take his third Lombardia win. It’s true that the added “Muro di Sormano” probably will make a selection a lot earlier than normally, but with a strong team around him and about 100 km to go from the top, Gilbert shouldn’t have any problems staying in front. 

BMC sports director Rik Verbrugghe told Sporza that 2012 had been an “off-year” for Gilbert and you know you’re talking about a real champion when two Vuelta stages and a World Champion title still is being looked at as an off-year. Gilbert will be eager to end this season with another win and the way I see only a few riders can do anything against that.

One of them is Damiano Cunego. Starting the Vuelta España six weeks ago Cunego’s aim was - like Gilbert -to ride the Vuelta in order to be in the best shape possible for the World Champions. Unfortunately for Cunego, halfway through the race the Italian federation implied their new “clean policy” leaving Cunego out of the roster for Limburg. Cunego kept on trying to hit the right breakaway though - being one of the most aggressive riders in the beginning of the stages - but without any luck. Now it’s time for revenge. Missing out on the World Champions on a route that suited him perfectly, Cunego really wants to show what he can do in Giro di Lombardia, a race he has won three times already. Last year he came to Lombardia just a few days after Tour of Beijing and without jetlag this time I will very surprised if he and in-form and team mate Diego Ulissi won’t have their saying in the final on Saturday afternoon.

Villa Vergano - 7,4% avg.
9,5 km to go from the top.
Another strong candidate for the win is Alberto Contador. I must admit I didn’t put Contador down as one of the favorites before his win in Milano-Torino, but now it would be stupid not to. Despite the scale showing 2,4 kg more than in the end of the Vuelta España, Alberto Contador still managed to drop everyone when he attack on the last kilometer and soloed to his first one-day-race victory ever. Last year Oliver Zaugg managed to go solo on the last climb (Villa Vergano) and keep his lead all the way to the line. Contador knows he doesn’t stand a chance in a sprint against riders like Gilbert, Cunego and Purito, but if he can put in another attack like the one in Milano-Torino on Villa Vergano he will be very difficult to catch.

Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez is also a good pick for the win and together with team mates Dani Moreno and Alexander Kolobnev, Katusha have one of the strongest teams in the race. Last year Purito attacked too late on Villa Vergano and had to settle with third place. This year he finally won his first Classic in Fleche Wallone and being so close to the overall win in both the Giro and the Vuelta I’m sure he will do anything in this power to end this year with a win and a good taste in his mouth. Another thing to boost Purito’s morale is that a top place in Lombardia most likely will give him another overall World Tour win as Bradley Wiggins seems to be out of shape right now.

As always this late in the season it’s all about who has most left in the tank and that means we often see outsiders shine. I find many good jokers on the start list but as said, I think it will be one of the favorites taking the win. Still, I would like point out guys like Lars Petter Nordhaug and Carlos Betancur. Both riders are changing team next year (Nordhaug to Rabobank and Betancur to Ag2r) but that fact hasn’t benched them for this classic. Nordhaug showed at the World Champions that he’s in great shape when he was with Edvald Boasson Hagen on Cauberg in the final. Nordhaug was just about to bridge the gap to the chasing trio, a move that probably could have given EBH the rainbow jersey, but missed out in the end. With his win in GP Montréal earlier this month there is no doubt though that Lars Petter Nordhaug is in great shape right now and being a disappointed in Team Sky for not fighting to keep him on the team I could imagine he is eager to show them they made the wrong call when they let him go to Rabobank.

Carlos Betancur showed great he is ready for Lombardia when he took 5th place in Milano-Torino, arriving with Purito after a strong finish, and despite having Danilo Di Luca on the team, I think Betancur is Acqua e Sapone’s best chance of a good result this Saturday. Betancur won the hard stage to Frabosa Soprana in Giro di Padania a couple of weeks ago and taking 9th place in Lombardia last year, he sure knows what it takes to be there in the final. 

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