'The Race of the Falling Leaves' will be looking a little greener and brighter this season as Il Lombardia finds itself moved forward on the schedule to a midsummer slot just two weeks before the start of the rescheduled Tour de France.
The Italian monument Classic will see the likes of Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Alpecin-Fenix's Mathieu van der Poel take on the undulating Lombardy roads between Bergamo and Lake Como, in northern Italy, on Saturday.
Whether the weather will have much bearing on a familiar course remains to be seen – temperatures of 30°C have been forecast – while the likes of Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who all finished in the top 10 last year, are instead at the concurrently running Critérium du Dauphiné in France this year.
You can read our preview and what to expect from the 2020 Il Lombardia course here.
This is our pick of 10 riders that you can expect to be battling it out for the title in the hills around Lake Como on Saturday.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep)
Evenepoel's march towards Eddy Merckx-like domination continues apace, and after having won all four of the stage races he's ridden in 2020 – two before cycling's coronavirus shutdown and two, the Vuelta a Burgos and the Tour de Pologne since, the young Belgian is rushing headlong into his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, in October as one of the favourites.
Similarly, Il Lombardia will be Evenepoel's first Monument, and although Evenepoel appears capable of soaking up pressure and expectation like a wizened old pro and simply delivering the goods, his winning run has to end somewhere. Doesn't it?
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)
Few riders have more experience of the roads that make up this race than Nibali, and his descending abilities will help to ensure he stays in contact if he finds himself unable to match the pace on any of the numerous climbs.
In a sport that's being increasingly dominated by young guns such as Evenepoel, Van der Poel and Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert, Nibali is the proof that just sometimes an old head on a still-capable body can still win out.
While fourth place overall at Paris-Nice ahead of professional cycling's shutdown in March remains the highlight of his 2020 season so far, the 2015 and 2017 Lombardia champion remains a danger, as Evenepoel acknowledged this week when weighing up his rivals for victory in Como: "He knows the race inside and out. You can never say Nibali is not a favourite."
Nibali has not impressed since returning to racing but it would be wrong to right him off.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
Much has been made of Van der Poel's 'inability' to yet win a race this season, which seems a little premature given that the 25-year-old Dutchman has only nine days in his legs this year, with only four of those having come since the sport's restart following the COVID-19 closedown.
Third place at Wednesday's Gran Piemonte behind George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) suggested that the three-time cyclo-cross world champion is finding his road legs again, but, like Evenepoel, this will be the 2019 Amstel Gold winner's first Lombardia of his career, and therefore nobody should expect too much, even if Van der Poel will expect plenty of himself.
George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma)
George Bennett might just be the man to put a stop to Evenepoel's dominance in the races the Belgian's started at this season as the New Zealander's well-taken win at the Gran Piemonte on Wednesday suggested.
Bennett was a late addition to Jumbo-Visma's Tour de France squad for this year, comparative to the other riders having been picked ahead of the start of the season, but while many of his teammates hone their climbing skills at the Critérium du Dauphiné in France, Bennett is following the Italian one-day schedule, and has been taking advantage of racing for his own chances.
He'd love to be able to add Il Lombardia victory to his Piemonte win before knuckling down to team duties at the Tour in just over two weeks' time.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)
It would be hard to miss the defending Lombardia champion off this list, and Mollema's had a consistent return to competition at the recent Route d'Occitanie and Tour de l'Ain, netting himself second on the final stage and fifth overall at the former, and top-11 places on all three stages and sixth overall at the latter.
The Dutchman will nevertheless be thinking ahead to the upcoming Tour de France, where he'll co-lead Trek-Segafredo with Richie Porte, and therefore may be content to ride in the service of teammate Nibali – a two-time Lombardia champion – whose Grand Tour ambitions lie further down the track, at the Giro d'Italia in October.
Either way, Trek-Segafredo line up in Bergamo with two very strong, proven leaders in Mollema and Nibali.
Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling)
Canada's Michael Woods continues his push for inclusion in EF Pro Cycling's squad for this year's rescheduled Tour de France having restored himself to full fitness following a fractured femur sustained in a crash at Paris-Nice earlier this season.
Might his recently announced move to Israel Start-Up Nation for 2021 count against him in that quest, though?
Either way, Il Lombardia has been a happy hunting ground for the now 33-year-old in recent seasons, with fifth place last year, when he led home a small second chase group, and 13th in 2018, while he was 31st on his debut in 2016.
Woods has only Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo in his legs so far since the season's restart, but he should nevertheless be one to watch.
Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates)
Ulissi was, understandably, disappointed to have to come away from Wednesday's Gran Piemonte as runner-up behind George Bennett, as just a few more metres looked as though they would have been enough for the fast-finishing Italian to catch the New Zealander.
But the 31-year-old Tuscan will fight another day for his UAE Team Emirates squad at this weekend's Il Lombardia – a race that he's tackled eight times before in his career, although he's never quite broken the top 20.
He and co-leader Fabio Aru will have a strong team at their disposal, however, with the in-form Valerio Conti and up-and-coming US star Brandon McNulty, who may even get the opportunity to feature in the finale himself.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
Fifth at Strade Bianche and second overall at last week's Tour de Pologne indicate that Fuglsang will be raring to go when he lines up in Bergamo on Saturday.
He might be hard-pressed to get the better of the young man who beat him to the Pologne title – Remco Evenepoel – but unlike the Belgian, the 35-year-old Dane has the experience of having raced Il Lombardia seven times, and arguably better climbing ability too.
Last year's fourth place for Fuglsang in Como matched his best Lombardia performance from way back in 2010 when riding for Saxo Bank, the year when the race was won by Philippe Gilbert.
Thirty-eight-year-old Gilbert – now back with the Lotto squad with whom he won that Lombardia title a decade ago – will instead ride this Sunday's Tour de Wallonie, and so veterans Fuglsang and Nibali are left to fly the flag for the older generation in the face of a very real threat from a very capable younger generation – and Fuglsang's own Astana teammate Aleksandr Vlasov features among them too.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana)
It might be somewhat of a wild card, this – although they arguably make the best winners – but it's hard to argue with 24-year-old Vlasov's recent excellent form.
He was third overall at the Route d'Occitanie, victory at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge and fourth at the Gran Piemonte earlier this week. Prior to the sport's shutdown, Vlasov was already showing what he was capable of with a stage win and second overall at February's Tour de la Provence, too.
The Russian road race champion is also one-up on a number of riders featured on this list in that he actually has experience of riding Lombardia, albeit only once – last season – when he finished 107th at what was his last race of the season.
Will his current form and this year's summer calendar slot make all the difference, though?
Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos)
The winner of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, Richard Carapaz, would be a strong contender for Il Lombardia on paper, given his Grand Tour climbing credentials, and yet, surprisingly, 27-year-old Carapaz has never started a Monument during his four-year career.
True, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and, probably, Milan-San Remo might not suit the Ecuadorian climber, but Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia may yet prove to be right up Carapaz's steep street.
The big question mark, however, is less Carapaz's lack of experience at the race but more the fact that he crashed on stage 4 of the Tour de Pologne last week – having won the stage and taken the race lead the day before – and was a non-starter for the fifth and final stage.
He escaped with only cuts and bruises, and has had a week to try to recover, but it remains to be seen whether he can be competitive on Saturday. If he's feeling good, however, he provides a very real threat to the likes of Evenepoel, Fuglsang and Nibali.
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