Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has already scored enough points to top the 2015 UCI WorldTour rankings after racing for 85 days this season, and he is widely considered the favourite for Sunday’s Il Lombardia.
The Classic of the falling leaves has again changed routes, starting in Bergamo and ending in Como, with a series of tough climbs in the final 100km of the 245km race.
Last year Daniel Martin won in Bergamo, outsprinting his breakaway rivals after a group formed on the road to the city. This year the race heads east, with more climbing in the finale, making it arguably a tougher and more selective race. The Madonna del Ghisallo climb and the iconic Cyclist’s chapel returns as a key point in the race, kicking off the finale of the race, followed by the super steep 1.9km at 15.8% up Muro di Sormano, the five-kilometre long Civiglio and then the final San Fermo di Battaglia climb overlooking the finish in Como.
Valverde has never won Il Lombardia but was second in 2013 and 2014 and has been consistent in both hilly Classics and Grand Tours since his ban for his involvement in Operacion Puerto ended in 2012. He won La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the spring, before finishing third in the Tour de France and seventh at the recent Vuelta a Espana. He was fifth in last week’s World Championships in Richmond, despite the cobbled course not suiting his lightweight build. Valverde can count on support from Giovanni Visconti, Andrey Amador, Joaquin Rojas, Javi Moreno, Ion Izagirre, Marc Soler and Jasha Sütterlin in Movistar’s final race in Europe of the 2015 season.
As the directeur sportif gathered for their pre-race meeting in Bergamo, the Spaniard’s name was the top of most people’s list of favourites, followed by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida). Other names to watch for include 2014 winner Daniel Martin in his final race for Cannondale-Garmin, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
“It’s such a hard race that now it suits the climbers and good descenders rather the Classics riders. That’s why Valverde is such a threat. He can climb, can descend and is even fast in a sprint finish. He’s also on form,” BMC directeur sportif Max Sciandri told Cyclingnews.
“We’ve got a strong team with Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro De Marchi and Samuel Sanchez and Valverde will be the one to beat. Gilbert won on the same roads in 2011 but the Civiglio makes it a lot harder. Fortunately the forecasts are for a dry finish even if the roads might be wet at the start.”
Like most teams, BMC studied the final part of the race route on Saturday morning in training.
“The race is all about the final 100km but it’s a very tough 100km. The race will kick off on the Ghisallo, then there’s the Muro di Sormano, a nasty descent and long run along the edge of Lake Como before the Civiglio climb. It’s five kilometres long at 8.9%. Then there’s the final climb before the fast descent to the finish. We expect Astana to try to control the race and force the selections. I’m sure they’ll set the pace on the climbs and especially on the Ghisallo and Civiglio, to make a big shake out.”