Philippe Gilbert aiming to win Lombardia in rainbow stripes

World Champion Philippe Gilbert hopes to showcase his rainbow jersey, and his resurgence, on Saturday with a win at the Giro di Lombardia

MILAN (AFP) — World champion Philippe Gilbert will showcase his new rainbow-striped jersey at the Giro di Lombardia on Saturday, but the Belgian is not racing to make a glory lap around northern Italy.

Gilbert ended years of frustration at the world championships by finally landing the elite men’s road race title at Valkenburg in the Netherlands a week ago. Instead of racing the Gran Piemonte, which he has done, and won, prior to Lombardia, the BMC Racing rider has rested and trained this week.

It’s a clear sign that a third victory in the “Race of the Falling Leaves” — so-called because it signals the start of early autumn in Lombardy — is on his mind.

Another was his apparent reluctance to get too carried away with celebrations after becoming the first Belgian since Tom Boonen in 2005 to win the world title.

“Phil is super motivated to take his first win wearing the rainbow jersey on Saturday in Lombardia,” BMC sports director Rik Verbrugghe told Sporza. “He didn’t party for very long; the course suits him and he’s in good condition.”

The route for the Giro di Lombardia, like many of cycling’s monuments, has changed or been altered over the years and this year’s edition will be no different. To commemorate the 70th birthday of Italian great Felice Gimondi, the race will start from his native city of Bergamo and finish 251km later in Lecco.

Gimondi, a two-time winner, believes the winner of this edition will have earned his spurs.

“I’m honored and excited about everything that’s been organized to celebrate my birthday,” said Gimondi, who won the race in 1966 and 1973. “Lombardia is a great race, one of the five classic monuments, and whoever wins on Saturday can be called a true champion.”

Much of that accolade will come down to alterations to the route including a new climb, the Muro di Sormano, which will add spice to a race whose twisting roads, climbs and descents already make it highly entertaining.

Although Gilbert seems to have the form to claim his third win after victories in 2009 and 2010, rivals will look to capitalize on the hilly, twisting terrain in the finale to make sure he doesn’t get an easy ride.

Spaniard Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) has emerged from a triumphant Vuelta a España campaign to show he still has the legs with victory in Wednesday’s Milan-Torino, Italy’s oldest cycling race.

“It wasn’t easy to race again after a very tough Tour of Spain, but now I know that I still have some energy left in my legs,” said Contador.

His compatriot Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is also expected to be among the challengers, having finished fourth in Torino after his third-place Vuelta ride. Last year’s winner, Swiss Olivier Zaugg, who won his first race after eight years as a professional at Lombardia in 2011, will lead RadioShack-Nissan for the last time before moving to Saxo Bank.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), meanwhile, will spearhead Italy’s bid for a first win in the race since Damiano Cunego claimed his second consecutive Lombardia win in 2008.