The leaves on the trees are slowly turning crisp colours of yellow, orange and red, and floating down to the pavement below. It can only mean it is time for Il Lombardia, the final monument of the season.
The Tour of Turkey and the inaugural Tour of Guangxi will complete this year's WorldTour calendar but Il Lombardia will be the final major hit-out for most of the big-name riders in the 2017 season. The route has been reversed from last year, starting Bergamo and finishing in Como, giving the riders the same parcours as was seen two years ago.
Last year's champion, Esteban Chaves, has been counted out of a title defence after breaking his shoulder in a crash during the Giro dell'Emilia. Despite this, four former winners will be on the start line in Bergamo as well as two of last year's podium finishers, giving more potential winners than fingers on both hands. Cyclingnews has whittled the list down to 10 riders to watch this Saturday, October 7.
In the absence of Esteban Chaves, Vincenzo Nibali is the most recent winner to start Il Lombardia on Saturday. It will be Nibali's first appearance at the race of the falling leaves since he won with a solo effort in 2015.
The win was Nibali's first ever monument title, having finished on the podium at Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege three years previously. Il Lombardia suits him best, and he heads into this year's edition as arguably the big favourite with second place at the Giro dell'Emilia and third at Tuesday's Tre Valli Varesine.
Getting outdone by Alexandre Geniez and Thibaut Pinot in the finale of Tre Valli Varesine was a disappointment for the Sicilian but the way that he attacked his rivals on the climbs confirms that he is on form and he will be a difficult animal to wrangle on Saturday.
For the third time in his career, Rigoberto Uran netted the third spot on the podium at last year’s Il Lombardia. He achieved it on his debut in 2008 and took third once again five years later in 2012. This time, Uran will be hoping to do what he hasn't done before and improve on his result the following season.
The 2017 season has been Uran's best in years, with second place at the Tour de France his crowning glory. Third at the recent Giro dell'Emilia is proof of his form and Thursday's Milano-Torino will be an opportunity to fine-tune his form.
A podium is definitely on the cards, but to win Uran will have to shake off his rivals. On his three previous podium visits, he has been done over in the sprint to the line by various riders, and he won't want that to happen again.
Il Lombardia will be the penultimate race for Mikel Landa in Team Sky colours as he sets sail for Movistar in 2018. The Italian one-day race has been an annual feature on Landa's calendar since he made his debut in 2011.
While his record at the race has been far from stellar, it is a parcours that suits his characteristics very well. In all his appearances, he's only twice completed the race, with 21st in 2013 his best performance thus far. The results are not entirely representative of his performances as he has had to play the support role to his teammates in recent years.
This season, his performances should dictate that he is awarded protected status for the race. After helping Chris Froome win his fourth Tour de France, and arguably being in the form to make the podium himself, Landa ended the first part of his season with overall victory at the Vuelta a Burgos at the start of August. After two months off, he will return to racing at Milano-Torino, which will give us an indication if he has been able to get back into shape for the final stretch of the season.
Quick-Step Floors comes into Il Lombardia with several riders that could find themselves at the sharp end of procedures late on Saturday afternoon. Considering his past performances, Julian Alaphilippe is perhaps a wildcard among them, but it would be remiss to underestimate him.
Alaphilippe has only raced the Italian classic twice before, abandoning his first effort in 2014 and finishing 60th last year. This year, he comes into the race with a much stronger run of results and he could easily play a factor in the closing stages of the race. His aggressive style, shown at the recent Vuelta a Espana and the World Championships, is enough to do some serious damage to the other main contenders, it could also propel him to a win if it is timed correctly.
The Giro d'Italia winner has had a superb end to the season with an emphatic victory in the time trial at the World Championships in Bergen. Despite only managing 25th, he looked strong in the road race too, but he admitted to timing his late attack wrong. Had he gone with Alaphilippe a little later, then the story could have been different.
Dumoulin has never won a one-day Classic before, but there is a first time for everything. His best finish at Il Lombardia was 18th in 2013, but he has come a long way since then. Given his recent results, this year is quite possibly his best chance to trouble the podium. His 28th place at Tre Valli Varesine, 25 seconds back from the winner Alexandre Geniez is a solid, if unspectacular, start to his Italian programme. He will hope that there is more to come over the next few days.
Il Lombardia rounds the lake
Fabio Aru has been a rider there or thereabouts in his last two appearances at Il Lombardia. In 2016 he was just outside the top 10 in 11th place, while he managed ninth two years before that. Aru netted his first one-day victory earlier this year when he claimed the Italian national title back in June. On his day, Aru has the ability to claim victory at Il Lombardia, but it all depends on which Aru turns up.
There have been some disappointing performances in the latter part of the season, namely the Vuelta a Espana, but his build-up has seen him finish 11th at the Giro dell'Emilia and eighth at the Tre Valli Varesine this week.
Tim Wellens is one of two cards to play for the Lotto-Soudal team on Saturday, with Tony Gallopin the other. The 26-year-old came close to the podium here in 2014, losing out to Alejandro Valverde and Rui Costa in a multi-rider sprint.
Wellens hasn't been able to replicate that ride just yet, but he has developed a formidable reputation as a one-day rider, and we can expect to see at least one or two attacks from him. He will be disappointed how things turned out for him at the World Championships, but there has secured some good results over the past month, with a win ahead of Gallopin at the GP de Wallonie.
As Wellens told Cyclingnews, Lombardia is a mixture of riders who are just waiting for the end of the season and those hunting a result. According to Wellens, he is part of the latter group.
Thibaut Pinot has had a bit of a mixed bag in 2017, but Il Lombardia presents itself as an opportunity to end the year on a good footing. He has a very good recent record at the race, finishing third in 2015 and taking 14th and 12th in the two editions before that.
Following a disappointing ending to the Tour de France, he came back with victory at the Tour de l'Ain and his recent performances in the series of Italian one-day races have been hugely promising. He finished eighth at the Giro dell'Emilia and was the only rider able to immediately react to Vincenzo Nibali's attack in the closing kilometres of the Tre Valli Varesine. He came close to winning the race, but was edged out by former teammate Alexandre Geniez, who had pulled out a dramatic chase on the descent after the final climb.
Philippe Gilbert is another of the four former winners that will be lining up in Bergamo this Saturday and is another option for the Quick-Step Floors team – who also have 2014 winner Dan Martin in their midst.
After a couple of disappointing final years at BMC, the 2017 season has been something of a revival for Gilbert. He enjoyed a superb cobbled Classics campaign that culminated with a long-range attack to victory at the Tour of Flanders. He went on to win Amstel Gold for the fourth time before a tear in one of his kidneys put a stop to his spring.
Gilbert has won Il Lombardia twice (in 2009 and 2010), and if he were to win another it would put him in the rarefied company of Gino Bartali, Constante Girardengo and Henri Pelissier as three-time winners. Fausto Coppi and Alfredo Binda remain at the top with five and four wins, respectively.
Speaking to the press before the season started, Diego Rosa gave a wry laugh when asked about last year's Il Lombardia before saying that he should have won it. The Italian was part of the three-man race-winning move and did the lion's share of the work to make it stick. However, that work was his undoing as he was overhauled by Esteban Chaves in the sprint for the line after winding it up with just over 200 metres to go.
Riding with Team Sky now, he set out this season with the intent of moving up a spot on the podium in his home monument. Riding for Team Sky has meant much less freedom in terms of going for his own targets, but there have been some decent performances throughout the season.
While his recent results have not been much to write home about, they weren't in the build-up to last year's race either. Whether he can match his 2016 performance remains to be seen.
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