This year's Il Lombardia has a new date and new extra climb but the so-called 'Race of the Falling Leaves' remains the traditional final major Classic of the long European season.
Organisers RCS Sport agreed on a deal with the UCI to move the date of Il Lombardia forward to the first weekend after the world championships, allowing the Tour of Beijing to become the final race in the UCI WorldTour.
Il Lombardia seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the move considering Beijing's recent problems, with the race attracting a better field that includes new world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) and Vuelta Espana winner Alberto Contador (Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
New route includes the Muro di Sormano
RCS Sport had been itching to include the Muro di Sormano for several years and finally did it. The peloton will need a low gear to get over it and will surely curse the organisers when they see it but the 'Wall of Sormano' will add a spectacular if painful moment to the race.
The 251km Il Lombardia 'percorso' starts in Bergamo as part of the celebrations of Felice Gimondi's seventieth birthday and ends in Lecco after a twisting route under the falling leaves of Lombardy's early autumn.
The opening 75km head east of Bergamo before twisting back to the Brianza area. They are largely flat and will be fast but will also allow the early break to form. The Valico di Valcava is the first climb of the day and tops out at 1,336 metres after 9.6km at an average of 9%.
The short Colle Brianza climb comes after 134km and then the Muro di Sormano rears its head after 151km. The early part of the climb is not too steep but the gradient increases dramatically in the final two kilometres, with an average of 15% and sections at a leg and chin-breaking 25%. The climb is also narrow with several sharp hairpins. Although the Muro di Sormano comes with 90km remaining, it will surely shape the race and spark the first real selection.
The race route follows the southern shore of Lake Como after the descent off the Sormano and then climbs up to the Madonna del Ghisallo from beautiful Bellagio. It is not steep or long but is iconic, with the riders passing the tiny cyclist's chapel and cycling museum at the summit. The local tifosi will be out in their thousands and the bells will be ringing as the riders go over the top of the climb and dive down the other side towards Lecco.
Last year's champion Oliver Zaugg attacked on the final steep climb to Villa Vergano close to Lecco and the twisting climb will again offer a final trampoline for the pure climbers and anyone looking to avoid a sprint finish on the shores of Lake Como.
Big name contenders
Gilbert will compete in the rainbow jersey for the first time at Lombardy and could be a contender for victory if he can stay with the leaders on the final climb.
Zaugg will wear number one and lead RadioShack-Nissan for the last time before he moves to Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank but his future team leader Alberto Contador looks more like the favourite for success after winning the Vuelta a Espana and Milano-Torino.
Contador will look to win alone and so will surely attack hard on the final climb that tops out just nine kilometres from the finish. It will be up to the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha Team), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp to try and stay with him. Outsiders include Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar).
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