While many of the riders gathering in Bergamo for Il Lombardia are fatigued after a long season and ready to put their bikes and lycra away for a few weeks, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) appears fresh and enthusiastic as if he was just starting his season, despite the leaves falling from the Lombardy trees.
He has ridden both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España this year, recovering from pneumonia in between, but has held onto his form deep into October so he can savour this final week of racing in Italy.
"This week has been very good for me up until now, and there's just one day to go before the holidays, so I very much want to finish on a good note at Lombardia," Pinot said on Friday afternoon after a final ride under a warm autumn sun, happy that the forecast is for similar conditions on Saturday.
"I just hope to have good legs, like I did this week at Tre Valli Varesine and Milano-Torino. After that it’s the race that will decide. I know it’s the race that suits me the best. It’s in a stunning setting, Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places in Europe. I need to enjoy my racing and race where I feel good. And I feel good here in Italy."
Pinot won Milano-Torino after the climb to Superga shook out the best climbers from the peloton. He knows that the 241-kilometres Il Lombardia is far more technical, with the twisting, leaf-strewn descents as important as the climbs of the Madonna del Ghisallo, the double-digit Colma di Sormano, and the 9.7 per cent Civiglio.
Pinot is known to struggle on the descents. He was strong and aggressive on the Civiglio last year but was unable to stay with Vincenzo Nibali on the descent and eventually finished fifth.
"Il Lombardia can be won and lost everywhere," Pinot admitted.
"There are descents which are very technical, and dangerous – we saw last year the descent of the Sormano can be very dangerous. The descent of the Civiglio is very technical, so it can come down to the descents. But the climbs are very hard too. It’s a race which is hard to master, and so a good race to watch."
Pinot and his Groupama-FDJ teammates did a reconnaissance ride on Monday, allowing them to avoid the pouring rain that soaked Italy in Thursday. They rode the stunning road up from Lake Como to the Madonna del Ghisallo and were also reminded just how step the Colma di Sormano is.
"I think the Ghisallo is the first strategic point, I think the race will kick off there," Pinot explained.
"There will be some guys who will try and anticipate any big attacks on the Ghishallo and that will make for an open race even 50-60 km from the finish. The last two hours will be very intense.
"The Sormano is one of the hardest climbs we’ll do all season, maybe the hardest. Above all because we’ll have already done Ghishallo and the lower part of the Sormano is quite long. The Muro part is two kilometres at more than 15 per cent average, with parts at nearly 20 per cent. So it’s a true wall. And then after it comes a vertiginous descent that takes you down to the lake so it’s really two hours of total concentration.
"Lombardia is a race where you can’t really hide. Guys who are not in good condition or not on a good day will be quickly found out, so it will become clear who can win the race."