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Lombardia: Cunego and Gilbert clash in season's final battle

Gregor Brown

A battleground for one-day racers

Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) tops the favourites for Saturday's Giro di Lombardia

Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) tops the favourites for Saturday's Giro di Lombardia

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The Giro di Lombardia will end the season with a bang Saturday along Como's lakefront, in Italy. Damiano Cunego wants to make amends for Worlds and take a fourth Lombardia win, Philippe Gilbert wants to add another "Monument" to his season and riders like Filippo Pozzato are out for revenge.

It's a perfect place for the last win of the season. Giro di Lombardia is one of only five Monuments in cycling, it boasts the gruelling Madonna di Ghisallo climb, and its last 102 winners are some of cycling's greatest.

Madonna del Ghisallo

Giro di Lombardia debuted as the Milano-Milano in 1905 and took on its current name two years later. Organisers introduced the Madonna del Ghisallo in the 1920s. The 8.6-kilometre long Ghisallo was first unpaved, making the gradients even hard to handle. The climb hits 14 percent grades near Mulini del Perlo as well as features more tough sections before reaching the Ghisallo's sanctuary to cyclists.

The race has finished along the lakefront in Como since 2004, where it also finished in the 1960s and 1970s when it started in Milano. Mendrisio, Switzerland, home of this year's Worlds, hosted the start from 2004 through 2006.

This year, the 242-kilometre race starts in Varese, heads towards Como and then travels around the lake. It climbs to Intelvi and Bellabio in the first 160 kilometres of the race.

Reaching Lecco, the race follows a narrow and windy lakefront road towards Bellagio, current base of Emilia winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank). The race enters his critical stage from Bellagio, the Madonna del Ghisallo (511m of elevation gain), Civiglio and San Fermo climbs.

Only the strongest riders will remain at the front going past Ghisallo's sanctuary, with 44.3 kilometres to race. Civiglio (at 15.7km to go) and San Fermo (at 5.7km to go) will decide the winner.

Cunego (Lampre) won last year with a risky solo move on the descent of Civiglio. He finished solo, 24 seconds ahead of Slovenian Janez Brajkovic (Astana) and Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) on Como's Lungo Lario Trento.

Cunego ready for four?

If Cunego wins the Giro di Lombardia, he will tie with legend Alfredo Binda and place himself behind only Italian Fausto Coppi (five wins). Belgian Gilbert (Silence-Lotto), who just won Paris-Tours, is one man standing in his way.

Italian Champion Pozzato (Katusha) tried to chase down the winning move of Gilbert in Paris-Tours, but came up short. "I haven't said my last word for this year. I'm fit enough for Lombardia," said Pozzato in Tours.

The World Championships' top three are all Lombardia favourites: winner Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Alexandr Kolobnev (Saxo Bank) and Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne). Evans showed off the colours of his world champion's jersey perfectly for his first appearance in it.  He helped teammate Gilbert win Coppa Sabatini.

Young riders Gesink, Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) and Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia-HTC) finished first through third at Giro dell'Emilia Saturday, proving they could have the strength to win their first Monument. Gesink has climbed Ghisallo numerous times on training rides around his Italian base. "I want [to win] Lombardia," he said.

Australian Simon Gerrans (Cervélo TestTeam), Russian Serguei Ivanov (Katusha) and Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-NGC) will get over Ghisallo without problems and could challenge for the win.

Other favourites are Astana's Alexander Vinokourov and Brajkovic, Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Nick Nuyens (Rabobank) and Stefano Garzelli (Acqua & Sapone).