Sunday, October 6, 2013

No more previews in 2013

My preview of Sunday’s Il Lombardia was the last of its kind this year. My season is over and there won’t be any more previews here in 2013. I want to thank you all for reading during the season - I’m very happy for your kind words! Now I’ll take some days off and then I’ll start planning 2014.

For weekly cycling updates, be sure to follow me on Twitter at @mrconde

Thank you for a great season!


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Il Lombardia - Preview & Favorites

It’s time for the final big one day race of the 2013 season. The Italian Il Lombardia, also known as “the race of the falling leaves”, takes place on the routes from Bergamo to Lecco. There are no less than five hard climbs to overcome on the 242 km and the last one, Villa Vergano, has its top just 10 km from the finishing line.

One of the most spectacular parts of the routes comes after 160 km. On the way towards the top of Colma di Sormano, the riders reach the feared Muro di Sormano. The 1.9 km have an average gradient of 15.8 % and parts of up to 27 %. There are still 82 km to go from the top of the climb and most likely, the peloton will regroup on the following 30 km towards the next climb. Madonna del Ghisallo is 8.5 km long and has an average gradient of 6.2 %. It has a steep part of 14 % in the beginning and after a flat part, the final 1.5 km kick up with 9.5 %. Last year, the race took place in rainy conditions and many have feared the same would happen this time. However, as of Saturday morning, the weather forecast shows it should have stopped raining in Lecco by the time the riders arrive.

Last year, on the descent from Madonna del Ghisallo we saw Vincenzo Nibali, among others, crash on the wet roads and hopefully everybody will stay upright this time. The crashes during World Championship last week took out many good riders and it would be a shame to see the same thing happening in Il Lombardia.
With 12.6 km to go, it’s time for the final struggle of the day. Villa Vergano is only 3.2 km long but has an average gradient of 7.4 %. There are steep parts of 15 % near the top and this is exactly where Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez attacked last year. Nobody could keep up with Purito and being strong on the wet descent, the other riders didn’t see him until after the finishing line. 

Should a small group of riders arrive together, it’s important to know the finish very well. With 750 meters to go, the riders turn right in a roundabout and continues straight out for about 500 meters. Then it’s time for a very tricky S-curve. It’s starts with a  90° left turn and ends with a right curve. There are only 150 meters to go from here and this means first rider out of the last bend most likely wins the rain. If you attack into the sharp left-hand corner and take a take a few risks, chances are you will open up a big enough gap to stay in front all the way to the line.

Like last year, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez is once again my personal favorite. He has had a week to digest the big defeat in Florence and he’s now eager to take revenge and finish this season with a good taste in his mouth. Purito knows that few - if any - can match his kick on the steep part of Villa Vergano and I won’t be surprised to see him solo away to win like he did in 2012. In Florence, he showed to be the strongest climber in the race and Il Lombardia is really a climber’s race. Last year, Purito won the World Tour ranking after winning this race and he’s close enough to Chris Froome to repeat that performance this time. However, it won’t be easy. Froome leads with 80 points and that means Purito has to win or get second while Froome can’t get any points at all. Purito's loyal teammate Dani Moreno showed great shape in Milano-Torino with a strong attack in the final and we can expect Moreno to go hard for Purito in the beginning of Villa Vergano. Katusha has a very strong team for this race and should Purito get caught, Dani Moreno will be able to play his cards in the sprint.

Update: Chris Froome won't start Il Lombardia due to back pains. This means we may end up seeing Purito working harder to secure a Top2 place than to win the race if gets away with only one other rider in the final. Topping the ranking for the third time in a row is a huge goal for Purito and even though he naturally wants to win Il Lombardia, a second place won't be too bad this time. 

The other favorites for the win this Sunday are the same as those for the World Championship. Alejandro Valverde will be eager to make up for his tactical mistake (letting Rui Costa slip away) and it will be interesting to see how Valverde and Rui Costa, now teammates again, will ride this race. Valverde knows he’s most likely the fastest rider on the line should it end in a sprint. Therefore, I would expect Rui Costa to attack on the final climb. However, Rui Costa had problems keeping up with the best riders on the steep parts last Sunday and I doubt he can follow Purito on the final part of Villa Vergano. The best solution is probably to attack early on the last climb and make a selection before the steep part. Rui Costa may even wants to pay back Valverde by working in front of the peloton towards the line. Like some said, Purito should have done in Florence.

Vincenzo Nibali finished just outside of the podium last Sunday. I’m sure few would disagree to the fact that Nibali was the strongest rider in the race and I expect him to do very well in Il Lombardia too. Like Purito, Nibali is eager to take revenge. He’s in great shape right now but like other riders without a strong kick, the Astana captain has to time his final attack perfectly if he wants to win this race. Many people say that it will be an advantage for Nibali if it rains again this year. However don’t forget that Vincenzo Nibali has crashed numerous times on wet descents. Last year, in Il Lombardia, he went down on the descent from Madonna del Ghisallo and in the Giro d’Italia this year, Nibali crashed again on a wet descent. Same thing happened last Sunday, which obviously made Nibali scared of taking risks in the final when Rui Costa attacked. Nibali is said to be one of the best riders on the descents, especially if it rains, but maybe it’s time to reconsider that statement. That being said, I won’t be surprised to see Vincenzo Nibali attack on the descent from Villa Vergano. He knows he has to get away alone in order to win and I’m sure he will try.

Together with Purito and Rui Costa, Dan Martin was one of my personal picks for the win last Sunday. The Irish climber had all the qualities needed to win but like many others, a crash ruined his chances. Afterwards, Dan Martin said he was feeling very good on the bike during the race and luckily, the crash didn’t cause him any injuries. This means the Garmin captain is now ready to fight again and I have big hopes for him in this race. Dan Martin is good on the climbs, he’s explosive and he’s fast on the line. In Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he outsmarted Purito in the final and we may just get another fight between the same two riders this time.

Il Lombardia is the last race I’ll preview this season and of course I have a couple a couple of jokers for you. The first one is Domenico Pozzovivo. The pint-sized Italian finished 6th overall in the Vuelta last month and after a short break, he showed still to be in great shape in Milano-Torino. On the final climb, Pozzovivo was - im my eyes - the strongest rider in the race, having no problems following the attacks the final 3 km. However, Pozzovivo is not very strong in a sprint and this also why his chances aren’t great this Sunday. I think Pozzovivo is one of the few riders able to stay close to Purito on the steep part of Villa Vergano but I can’t see him outsprint any of the other favorites. A podium place is probably the best Pozzovivo can do with a finish like this but that would also be a good result. Together with Carlos Betancur, Ag2r has a very strong duo for the final climb.

Some point to Philippe Gilbert and Peter Sagan as the favorites but I doubt they will be able to stay with the favorites on the final climb. It’s true that Gilbert has won this race before but let’s be honest, Gilbert is not as strong right now as we have seen him in the past. Also, unlike the last many years, the climbers are now in tip-top conditions thanks to a tough World Championship course. Usually, their season would already be over but now they are all peaking. I’m sure this will make a huge impact on the race. Personally, I will be surprised if a climber doesn’t win Il Lombardia.

Other good jokers for the win are Diego Ulissi, Thibaut Pinot and Alberto Contador. Ulissi is in great shape right now but as I’ve mentioned many times; he’s not good on the descents. Especially not if it rains. However, Ulissi is very fast on the line and he’s probably one of the very few riders in the peloton able to outsprint Alejandro Valverde. Thibaut Pinot hasn’t won a single race this season and naturally, he’s eager to change that fact. He came out of the Vuelta in good shape but like many others in this race, he probably needs to solo away in order to win. The same goes for Alberto Contador. I was a bit disappointed by Contador last Sunday but in Milano-Torino he showed to have found his climbing legs again. He wasn’t on top of his game but if he keeps on progressing like that, he should be among the first riders on Sunday. Team Saxo-Tinkoff also has in-shape Nicolas Roche and Rafal Majka (2nd in Milano-Torino) on the start line and they should be able to snatch up a good result. Also, look out for riders like Simon Clarke and Franco Pellizotti. Clarke did very well last Sunday while Pellizotti showed in Milano-Torino to be in great shape. 

For a super-super joker, look to Louis Meintjes. The young South African rider finished second in the U23 road race last week and showed on the Fiesole climb how strong he is right now. Alone he bridged the gap to Matej Mohoric and even though he couldn’t stay with the strong Slovenian rider on the descents, he managed to keep the peloton behind him all the way to the line. In Milano-Torino, Meintjes joined a couple of attacks on the final climb and he is now very eager to find out what he can do against the elite this Sunday. We can’t expect this young man to win Il Lombardia, but if Louis Meintjes can make Top15 it would be a huge result for him and his wildcard team MTN-Qhubeka.

For live coverage of Il Lombardia go to