Has Il Lombardia discovered the winning formula?
MILAN (VN) — The fifth and last monument of the season, Il Lombardia sits at the bottom in terms of media coverage and prestige. Instead, Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, or the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) rolls off the tongue first when speaking of big one-day classics.
That could change with organizer RCS Sport’s new end-of-season packaging. It has grouped together Il Lombardia with Milano-Torino and Gran Piemonte beforehand, the Giro d’Italia presentation the Monday afterwards, and in the Middle East, the new Abu Dhabi Tour.
The total package could boost coverage and the importance to one of the great one-day races that fell behind in recent years.
The other monuments — Milano-Sanremo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — perhaps benefit from their pre-Tour de France springtime dates. Attention seems to run higher in the early months and energy has yet to wane.
Il Lombardia, or the Giro di Lombardia as it was called until 2011, is the only monument in the autumn at a time when many of the big-name cyclists already hung up their bikes for the season. The rainbow jersey had offered a big attraction, since the race was often the world champion’s first competition after his win.
The course of RCS Sport’s other big one-day race, Milano-Sanremo, has changed little over the years, which allows easy comparisons to the greats like Eddy Merckx. The Ronde and Roubaix feature famed climbs and sectors, and seldom change from year to year. Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest of the five, offers a chance for the climbers and is a grand final to the spring one-day season ahead of the stage races leading to the Tour.
Il Lombardia, at times, appeared as the odd man out.
“With respect to Lombardia, which is a true and hard course, it would no longer be Sanremo if you finished in another town or begin in another city besides Milan,” RCS Sport’s head of cycling, Mauro Vegni, told VeloNews. “Sanremo is Sanremo. Sanremo is the world championship of the sprinters, Sanremo is the story of cycling with Roubaix and others.
“Not to take away from Lombardia, but … Lombardia does not have continuity, it did not always start in Milano or finish in Como, or start in Como and arrive in Varese. Paris-Roubaix always followed that course even if it does not start in Paris and had small changes, it’s classic. Sanremo changed small things, the addition of the Cipressa and then the Poggio, but they are insignificant and don’t change the classic route.”
About the only thing consistent with Il Lombardia is its name — it was called Milano-Milano in its first two years — and its crown jewel climb to Madonna di Ghisallo. The grand-daddy of Il Lombardia that first appeared in the 1920s, the climb rises for 8.5 kilometers and although it’s easier than the Muro di Sormano and Valcava climbs, it offers breathtaking views of Bellagio and Lake Como below. The chapel at the top, with statues of Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi outside, only adds to the climb’s charm.
Everything else changes from year to year: starts in Milan, Como, and Bergamo, and finishes below Milan’s Duomo, under or in Bergamo’s Città Alta, and lakeside in Como.
This year, the race returns to finish in Como after a four-year absence, going back to 2010 when Philippe Gilbert soloed away from Michele Scarponi, and includes the fan-favorite Muro di Sormano climb.
The “wall” below the proper Sormano pass averages 15.8 percent over its 1.9km and, though closed to car traffic, is just wide enough to accommodate a modern Fiat 500. From there, the race course dips down to the lake again, heads toward Como, and climbs Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia before the lakeside, city center finish.
It does not end there. For the past few years, RCS Sport presented its Giro d’Italia for the following season the day after Il Lombardia, and kept several of the big stars around for the event. This year, it will keep the party going with an end-of-season stage race in Abu Dhabi, October 8-11. It takes the place of the Tour of Beijing. Abu Dhabi will also host the UCI’s end-of-season gala.
The moves create an 11-day run of cycling anchored by Il Lombardia. In the process, RCS Sport raises its profile on the cycling map and pushes the importance of Il Lombardia higher.