The leaves are failing, the days are getting shorter and as October begins, the European road racing season is winding down, with a series of one-day races.
While the 2017 UCI WorldTour will officially end with the Tour of Guangxi (Oct 19-24) in China, Saturday's Il Lombardia and Sunday's Paris-Tours symbolically mark the end of the European season. Some minor races continue deeper into October, with the new Tacx Pro Classic in the Netherlands (Oct 14) and the Chrono des Nations (Oct 15) but after eight and a half months of action, all the racing will be done by the time the route of the 2018 Tour de France is presented in Paris on Tuesday October 17.
World champion Peter Sagan, Tour de France winner Chris Froome and WorldTour ranking leader Greg Van Avermaet have already ended their seasons but many others will be in action this week in the final races in Italy, Belgium, Germany and France.
The Grand Tour riders and climbers will enjoy the warm Italian autumn and have headed north to the Lombardy region after riding the Giro dell'Emilia and the Gran Premio Beghelli at the weekend. They will ride the Tre Valli Varesine on Tuesday, Milano-Torino on Thursday and then the big one, Il Lombardia – the final monumental Classic of the season – on Saturday.
The sprinters opt for flatter roads and cooler weather as they chase a final victory of the season. On Tuesday they can choose between the Binche-Chimay-Binche/Mémorial Frank Vandenbroucke in Belgium and the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro in northwest Germany. There is also Paris-Bourges on Thursday before Paris-Tours and the expected sprint finish on the famous Avenue de Grammont on Sunday.
Cyclingnews will have live coverage of the Italian races, plus full race reports, photo galleries and exclusive news and interviews.
The Tre Valli Varesine was traditionally the third and final race of the Trittico Lombardo in August but the Varese race has found a new later niche in the calendar after being refused a place in the revamped WorldTour.
This year's race marks the 97th edition and the 192km route again ends with nine laps of 12.8-kilometre circuit in the city similar to the one that hosted the 2008 World Championships. Alessandro Ballan won that day and the rolling course and the steep climb up from Lake Varese should again prove decisive in deciding if an attacker can stay away or if a faster finisher takes the glory.
Vincenzo Nibali dominated in 2015 before going on to win Il Lombardia and the Sicilian is back this year and appears to be on equally good form after his second place to Froome at the Vuelta a España. Teammate Sonny Colbrelli gives Bahrain-Merida plenty of options, with Giro dell'Emilia winner Giovanni Visconti also among the strong squad.
Also on the start list are Giro d'Italia winner Tom Dumoulin and his Sunweb teammates Michael Matthews and Warren Barguil. Nairo Quintana leads Movistar, while Michal Kwiatkowski, Wout Poels and Gianni Moscon are part of a strong Sky squad. Fabio Aru will race in his Italian champion's jersey in one of his last races for Astana, while Rigoberto Uran leads Cannondale-Drapac and Steve Cummings headlines the Dimension Data line-up.
13 WorldTour teams will be in action, with the Italian Professional Continental teams adding an extra dimension as they fight for points in the season-long Coppa Italia to help their chances of a wild card invitation to the 2018 Giro d'Italia.
2016 Tre Valli Varesine winner Sonny Colbrelli. Photo TDWSport.
Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) is the big favourite for the race that remembers the troubled but hugely talented Frank Vandenbroucke who died at just 34. Gaviria will have support from a strong squad that also includes Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar.
The 195km course heads to Chimay and then ends with four laps of a rolling circuit that includes two sections of pavé in the final 1,500 metres and a rising finish.
2016 winner Arnaud Demare (FDJ) will not be in action but the race has attracted four WorldTour teams, with Moreno Hofland, Nikolas Maes, Maxime Monfort leading the Lotto Soudal squad.
The German one-day race will be Marcel Kittel's final outing in Quick-Step Floors colours before his move to Katusha-Alpecin in 2018 and promises to be a sprinter's battle royale. Also on the entry list are André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and even Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin).
Milano-Torino was first organised in 1876 and will celebrate its 98th edition this year.
The 186km race starts south of Milan and ends with two laps of a hilly circuit that includes the 4.9-kilometre climb to the finish at the Basilica di Superga overlooking Turin.
Colombia's Miguel Ángel López (Astana) has ended his season and thus will not return to defend his 2016 title. While Nibali will likely skip Milano-Torino to carry out a final recon ride for Il Lombardia, Dumoulin, Quintana, Aru, Uran, Pinot, Mikel Landa, Kwiatkowski, plus Quick-Step Floors duo Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe are expected on the start line. The eventual winner will automatically be a favourite for Il Lombardia.
Michael Woods and Miguel Angel Lopez on the attack in the finale of Milano-Torino. Photo: Bettini
Cyclingnews will have a full preview of Il Lombardia later this week.
The Italian Classic is affectionately known as 'the race of the falling leaves' for its tough route through the autumnal Lombardy hills. Il Lombardia is considered the hardest one-day Classic of the season due to its race profile and the 111th edition of the race promises to be thrilling finale to the Italian autumn races.
The 2017 route starts in Bergamo and finishes in Como. The 247km route includes over 4,000 metres of climbing and the finale of the race starts with the legendary Madonna del Ghisallo climb up to the cyclists' chapel and museum. It is followed by the incredibly steep Muro di Sormano after 190 kilometres, with the Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia climbs expected to decide the final winner and podium places.
The likes of Philippe Gilbert and Nibali have used the San Fermo della Battaglia climb to attack and drop their rivals before going on to the blast down the descent to the finish on the shores of Lake Como.
The French Classics is no longer part of the WorldTour but remains a prestigious final victory opportunity for every sprinter in the peloton.
Fernando Gaviria showed his vast range of talents in 2016 by making a late, powerful attack on the Avenue de Grammont instead of waiting for the sprint. He faces serious competition this year from Cavendish and Greipel, who surprisingly have never won Paris-Tours. Both are keen to end the European season on a high after injury, illness and doubts about their sprinting disrupted their summer. Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) will also be contenders.
Of course the sprinters and their teams have to control the race across the flat plains of France and then the late attacks in the hills outside of Tours. Alexis Gougeard, Oliver Naesen and under-23 world champion champion Benoit Cosnefroy are just three riders who could disrupt the sprinters' end of season party.
Photo: Getty Images Sport