A season packed full of surprise endings and spectacular racing hits a crescendo in Saturday’s Il Lombardia, the final monument of the year.
This year’s edition is over-flowing with stars, with first-time grand tour winners Egan Bernal (Ineos) and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) facing off against established veterans such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and Phillipe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
As with all monuments, the list of contenders is long, but a look at October’s form book highlights a few key favorites:
Egan Bernal (Ineos)
Bernal is one name hot on everyone’s lips after his storming victory at Gran Piemonte, Thursday. Bernal goes to Lombardia full of confidence and the powerful set of teammates that trounced the field on the final climb to Santuario di Oropa.
“I’m happy with my condition ahead of Il Lombardia,” Bernal said. “I’ll look for the best possible result on Saturday, but with this win [Gran Piemonte] in the bag, I can finish the season with serenity.”
Lombardia has been part of the season’s plan for Bernal, with the Colombian skipping the world championships so that he could focus on the more favorable Italian race. Bernal’s Ineos team have had him training through the late summer in specific preparation for Lombardia as the 22-year-old avoided the temptation to rest on his Tour de France laurels.
Bernal will have his compatriot Ivan Sosa supporting him on Saturday. Bernal’s fellow Colombian shredded the field on Gran Piemonte’s final climb, a performance that Bernal later described as “almost stronger than me.” We may not see the two taking two steps on the podium like they did on Thursday, but Sosa’s strength could go a long way in Bernal’s monument bid.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Less than a month since taking Slovenia’s first grand tour win at the Vuelta a Espana, Roglic is carrying form into Saturday’s race.
The Jumbo-Visma man has tested his legs for grand tour fatigue at the Tre Valli Varisene and Giro dell’Emilia in recent days, and he hasn’t been left blunted. He surged away in the final of the steep climb to San Luca at Giro dell’Emilia without anyone getting close to him, and backed that up days later at Varisene where he simply out-powered the field to take victory.
“This is a great season for me and the team and we hope to take our form into the Giro di Lombardia,” he commented after his Varisene win on Tuesday. Having already won three one-week races and a grand tour this year, a monument would put an exclamation point on Roglic’s breakout season.
Michael Woods (EF Education First)
Woods wasn’t able to match Roglic when the Slovenian powered away from him at Giro dell’Emilia, but he made up for his loss three days later when he rode Alejandro Valverde off his wheel as he accelerated to take his win at Milano Torino on Wednesday.
Having placed second in last year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege and third at the Innsbruck world championships, a big victory is within the Canadian’s grasp this weekend, and one he’s set his scopes on.
“That is the big goal, to chase victory or a podium position at Lombardia,” he said Wednesday. “I wanted to have a big win this season and [Milano-Torino] already stands as a big win. But a win at Lombardia would be icing on the cake.”
For Woods, the man most likely to take that icing away from him is Roglic, the man that outgunned him at Giro dell’Emillia. The Canadian recently called Roglic the favorite during a pre-race press conference.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
The veteran Valverde hasn’t hit the top step in the spate of recent Italian classics, but he sure has come close.
“A fifth spot, two second places…” Valverde said on his Movistar team’s website, referring to his results in the past week. “It seems as though these tests before Lombardy are a good sign, and this result will help me reach a really good fitness level for Saturday.”
With a world championships title, a Vuelta a España win, and four victories at Liege-Bastogne-Liege already in his locker, ‘the race of the falling leaves’ is a notable omission.
“Lombardia is a race that’s still missing from my palmarès,” he said, “and we must take advantage from this form.”
At 39 years of age, Valverde knows he won’t get many opportunities better than this to fill that hole in his trophy cabinet. However, he is wary of the man that beat him to this year’s Vuelta a Espana title, also citing Roglic as the man to beat.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
The Brit took third at Milan-Torino, but more significantly, Yates got a block of racing and a stage race victory under his belt at the week-long Cro Race at the start of the month.
“After my last couple of races I feel like the condition is there,” he said in a team press release. “Hopefully this is the year I can play a part in the final.”
Yates will be racing with a team that has plenty of options should he falter, with 2016 Lombardia winner Esteban Chaves and punchy climber Jack Haig riding as his wingmen.
Team director Matt White put the focus on Roglic and Valverde when asked who he thought were the favorites, but didn’t rule his riders out.
“We do have a very competitive team,” he said. “We just have to play our cards right and hopefully the boys have good legs on Saturday.”
Tour de France stars Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and defending Lombardia champion Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) won’t be taking to the start line in Bergamo. Alaphilippe recently ended his season early having struggled for autumn form, while Pinot has been recovering and rebuilding since the hip injury that dramatically ended his yellow jersey bid.