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The Race of the Falling Leaves is rather greener of hue in 2020 after the UCI, seemingly eager to sweep everything out of the path of the Tour de France and World Championships on the revised calendar, tucked the traditional grand finale of the cycling season into the middle of August. It’s a most incongruous slot for an event with the history and prestige of Il Lombardia, and not one that has been well received in Italy. In a letter to Tuttobici this morning, former race director Carmine Castellano witheringly described the notion of a summertime Tour of Lombardy as “a lengthened Coppa Agostoni, with all due respect for the Coppa Agostoni.”

The clash with the Critérium du Dauphiné deprives Il Lombardia of some putative contenders – most notably, Julian Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot and Egan Bernal – but there is still a box office feel to today’s race, not least because of the presence of one Remco Evenepoel, who is making his Monument debut. At only 20 years of age, the Belgian is the favourite for victory in Como, but his route to victory is not a straightforward one. It runs over the Colle Gallo, Colle Brianza, Madonna del Ghisallo, Muro di Sormano, Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia – and it runs through men like Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Aleksandr Vlasov, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos).

The race rolls out of Bergamo at 12.20 CET after a minute's silence to remember the victims of the coronavirus pandemic in the city and beyond. Bergamo was one of the cities worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the dark days of late March, it seemed impossible to imagine that Largo Porta Nuova would play host to the start of a bike race in 2020.

The gruppo is due to hit kilometre zero at 12.25. The distance is a slightly reduced 231km this year, but all the familiar ascents from this iteration of Il Lombardia are on the course. 

The temperature is 28°C at the start in Bergamo and is expected to rise above 30°C as the afternoon draws on. Quite a difference from the frigid conditions faced by winner Giovanni Gerbi and the eleven other finishers in the first edition of the Giro di Lombardia on November 12, 1905.

-231km

Today’s edition of Il Lombardia takes place on the Italian public holiday of Ferragosto but the date won’t bolster the crowds on the roadside. The race is effectively taking place behind closed doors, with tifosi barred from lining the roads on the Madonna del Ghisallo and the Muro di Sormano, while there will be no big screens for spectators at the finish in Como and the podium will not be open to the public.

-225km

All eyes will be on Remco Evenepoel this afternoon. The Deceuninck-QuickStep man has a 1.000 batting average in stage races this year - he's won the Vuelta a San Juan, the Volta ao Algarve, Vuelta a Burgos and Tour de Pologne - and he struck a confident note ahead of Il Lombardia. Though that's hardly news: the Belgisch wonderkind's default setting is confident. "If I'm a favourite maybe it's my own fault…" Evenepoel told reporters on Thursday. "I feel really, really good, my preparation was very good, so I'm in the best shape of the season so far. It's perfect timing. For a six-hour race with a lot of climbing, I think you need to be in good shape and I think we did a perfect job." Read more here.

The Tour de Pologne would ordinarily have struggled for attention last Saturday given the clash with Milan-San Remo and a Tour de l'Ain that doubled as a Tour de France dress rehearsal, but Evenepoel's outsized talent is such that he would demand our attention even if he were riding his turbo trainer. He attacked alone with 51km to go on the toughest stage in Poland to solo to victory and effectively seal the overall title. 

-218

Max Schachmann has flown under the radar somewhat ahead of Il Lombardia, but the German champion was one of the outstanding performers before the coronavirus interrupted the season, winning Paris-Nice, and he rode very strongly indeed on his return to action at Strade Bianche, taking third. He was quieter at the Tour de Pologne and though he has ridden Il Lombardia just once in his career (73rd in 2019), he will surely be in the mix by the time we reach Lake Como later in the afternoon. He's joined by Rafal Majka and Patrick Konrad in the Bora-Hansgrohe team today.

-208km

Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) is chasing a third victory at Il Lombardia after his triumphs in 2015 and 2017. A third win would put him level with Costante Girardengo, Sean Kelly, Gino Bartali, Damiano Cunego, Gaetano Belloni and Henri Pélissier in the record books. Alfredo Binda has four wins and, of course, Fausto Coppi holds the record, with five Giro di Lombardia triumphs, including four-in-a-row from 1946 to 1949.

-203km

Rosskopf isn't being granted much leeway, however, and it seems that the American's attack won't stick.

'You will rise again Bergamo' reads the banner at the start of Il Lombardia

The peloton pauses for a minute's silence ahead of Il Lombardia behind a banner reading 'You will rise again Bergamo.' (Image credit: Getty Images)

-198km

Although Julian Alaphilippe is an absentee (he’s in action at the Critérium du Dauphiné), Deceuninck-QuickStep have a solid team around Remco Evenepoel this afternoon. Tour de l’Ain stage winner Andrea Bagioli, Portuguese revelation João Almeida and strongman Dries Devenyns are among those lining up alongside the Belgian.

-187km

That septet is joined by four more riders: Daniel Savini (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè), Denis Nekrasov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Emmanuel Morin (Cofidis) and Marco Frapporti (Vini Zabù – KTM). It looks as though we finally have our early break.

-180km

The intensity has finally slackened in the peloton and the escapees are stretching out their advantage accordingly as they scale the Colle Gallo (6km at 6.7%).

For all the polemics about its place on the calendar this year, it should be noted that a lack of respect for the Tour of Lombardy is not an entirely new phenomenon. Ahead of a 1981 edition where Bernard Hinault, world champion Freddy Maertens, defending champion Fons De Wolf and Roger De Vlaeminck were among the high-profile absentees, the late Gianni Mura delivered a memorably cutting assessment of the depth of the peloton: "They call it, imbued with lyricism, the Race of the Falling Leaves. And that's true - only this time it seems to me that a lot of falling leaves have numbers pinned on their backs." 

In any case, there's certainly no questioning the motivation of the men lining out at this year's race. There has been a blistering pace thus far, with 47.45km covered in the first hour.

-177km

Away from Il Lombardia, stage 4 of the Critérium du Dauphiné is taking place today. At times, the opening three stages felt as though they could have been taking place on Zwift (the poor souls caught in the hailstones on Thursday certainly wished they'd been racing on a virtual platform), but the race is not short on drama today. Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) was a non-starter due to a back injury, while Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Emanuel Buchmann and Gregor Muhlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) have all abandoned after an early crash. Julian Alaphilippe is in the day's early break.

-171km

Situation:

The lay of the land of the 2020 edition of Il Lombardia.

The lay of the land of the 2020 edition of Il Lombardia. (Image credit: RCS Sport)

Il Lombardia is descending the Colle Gallo and heading towards Felice Gimondi country, though the race will not pass through his home village of Sedrina, which is about 8km up the Val Brembana from Villa d'Alme. 

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Felice Gimondi's death at the age of 76. He won the Giro di Lombardia on two occasions, in 1966 and 1973. He gave the ceremonial start to the race in Bergamo in 2018.

-157km

Ordinarily, one would ask whether it was possible for a 20-year-old debutant to win Il Lombardia. This week, Deceuninck-QuickStep directeur sportif Geert Van Bondt found himself being asked whether it was possible for Evenepoel to lose Il Lombardia. “Of course, he always can,” Van Bondt told Sporza. “He's not alone at the start. And this is his first Lombardy, as it is for teammates like Andrea Bagioli and Joao Almeida. You can't say in advance that he'll win."

-145km

Stephen Farrand has more on the abandons of Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann at the Critérium du Dauphiné here.

At Il Lombardia, the pace has abated briefly in the peloton and the escapees have quickly tacked on another minute to their advantage, which now stands at 4:28.

-139km

George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) was a very impressive winner at Gran Piemonte in midweek, having already been Primoz Roglic's key domestique at the Tour de l'Ain last week. He'll be back in the service of the Slovenian at the Tour de France, but Bennett has one more chance to ride for himself at Il Lombardia. His best finish here was 10th in 2018, but Bennett's sparkling form makes him an obvious contender for victory in Como. "I know it's a super opportunity for me. With a team like ours, stacked with talent, you've got to take your chances when you can, so I'm going all in for Il Lombardia. I'm optimistic," Bennett said yesterday. Stephen Farrand has the full story here.

The man who came closest to living with Bennett's winning move on Wednesday was one Gianni Moscon, who has been largely anonymous since his remarkable purple patch in late 2018 - save for for his battling 4th at the Yorkshire Worlds and, of course, for his disqualification from Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne for throwing his bike at Jens Debusschere. That was Moscon's last race before the lockdown, and the Ineos rider has since stated that he will miss the Grand Tours in 2020 in order to focus on the Classics. He placed third in Il Lombardia in 2017, though it's unclear what his place will be in the hierarchy of an Ineos team that also includes Richard Carapaz, Eddie Dunbar and Ivan Sosa.

-125km

Situation

After two hours of racing, incidentally, the average speed was 44.2kph. The terrain becomes decidedly more rugged once the race heads towards the shores of Lake Como.

Vakoc and the break are on the upper slopes of the Colle Brianze with a buffer of just over 4 minutes on the peloton. 

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