What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
Evenepoel and his long-range raids will butt heads with Roglič and his ruthless finishing kick in a rare clash between two of the peloton’s biggest names Saturday.
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And it’s not all about Remco and Rogo in the final monument of the season this weekend.
Il Lombardia – “the race of the falling leaves” – will welcome a star-studded cast in Como on Saturday morning. Tadej Pogačar, Julian Alaphilippe, João Almeida, Adam and Simon Yates, Mikel Landa, Michael Woods, Dan Martin and Vincenzo Nibali will all line up for what makes for a match-up between the world’s megastar climbers.
Remco vs Rogo
Despite the depth of that start sheet promises stories a-plenty, it’s the battle between Evenepoel and Roglič that provides the most intrigue.
The 21-year-old wunderkind Evenepoel and triple Vuelta a España champ Roglič have risen to greatness over a similar timeframe, yet have rarely gone head to head – just 10 times, in fact.
The pair are both on red-hot form, and both have a habit of winning in very different ways.
It makes for a tantalizing prospect. Can the brash Belgian phenom unseat the relentless grand tour king in this rare match-up Saturday?
Evenepoel is amassing momentum after coming close at both the worlds and European championships last month, and his barnstorming solo victory in the Coppa Bernocchi on Monday showed he’s ending the season on a tear.
Meanwhile, Roglič has crushed the competition twice in the past week, blowing the field off his wheel with trademark summit-finish sprints at the Giro Dell’Emilia and Milano Torino.
After scoring Olympic gold in the summer and taking his third Vuelta title soon afterward, Roglič wants to end his season with one more high Saturday.
“I’m eager to finish my season with a victory,” Roglič said after winning Milano-Torino this week. “The Tour of Lombardy is my big goal of this block of Italian one-day races. It’s a monument. The rest speaks for itself.”
Roglič sure won’t have it all his own way Saturday.
Evenepoel is looking to banish bad memories of his terrible crash at last year’s race and score the marquee championship or monument victory he’s long been so close to.
“I want to wipe out the bad memory from last year. That crash took a lot of things away from me, but now is the time to look ahead and take my revenge,” Evenepoel told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Together with my teammate [Julian] Alaphilippe, I hope to provide a spectacle. And I’m certain that we will.”
How will Lombardia’s big two fare Saturday? It’s tough to say given how rarely they’ve shared a startline.
Roglič will have confidence after blasting Evenepoel into fifth when he won the Giro dell’Emilia last weekend. But with Alaphilippe and Almeida also in the Quick-Step blue, things could get complicated for Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma crew.
Quick-Step triple threat
Deceuninck-Quick-Step director Wilfried Peeters indicated this week that Almeida, Alaphilippe and Evenepoel will all share leadership with a plan to isolate Roglič early in the race and shut down his fearsome late sprint.
Roglič is braced for the triple threat.
“I have to be ready for attacks,” he said Wednesday. “How ready? We’ll see on Saturday. But we can expect a move and hopefully we’ll have the legs and the team to be there.”
But which of Quick-Step’s “trident” will take top billing if all three make the final?
Evenepoel will be reluctant to let anything go, Alaphilippe has a new rainbow jersey to christen, and Almeida looks on the form of his life. Evenepoel recently caused an intra-team stir with Wout van Aert after his breakaway moves at the world championships – will he rein himself in at Lombardia?
There could be fireworks, so stay tuned to watch for explosions
New route offers no clues
Il Lombardia’s parcours for 2021 further muddies the waters when mulling how the race may play out between Roglič, Evenepoel and their contrasting characteristic moves.
Race organizers RCS Sport switched up the route for this year, reversing the start and finish cities to make the finish in Bergamo.
Like always, Lombardia will bring a brutal amount of climbing before a descent and short dash to the finish line. One big difference for 2021 is that the savage Muro di Sormano climb – and the hazardous descent that nearly cost Evenepoel so dearly – is out.
It’s an elevation profile that plays in neither Remco nor Rogo’s favor.
There’s no uphill kick for Roglič to rumble, and the length of the climbs could make it tricky for Evenepoel to pull his trademark long solo.
The final major climb, the nine-kilometer Passo di Ganda, will likely make the selection at 33km to go before the final haymakers are swung on the short bump inside the final 5km. It could favor either Roglič or Evenepoel – or indeed Alaphilippe, Almeida, Pogačar and the rest of Saturday’s stellar startlist.
Dan’s last dance
Although Evenepoel, Roglič, Pogačar and Alaphilippe may have better odds for the win, let’s spare some space for Dan Martin.
Also read: Dan Martin to retire at end of season
The 2014 Lombardia champ will close out his long and illustrious career when he crosses the line in Bergamo on Saturday and will be looking to go out with a bang.
“In some ways, deciding to stop has been challenging and complex; it’s perhaps one of the biggest and most important decisions I have ever made; and in other ways, it’s been easy,” he said when he announced his decision last month. “Though I am still competitive, I’ve realized that racing has lost the fun element: the whole reason I race in the first place.”
The Irishman found his fun at the hilly classics through his 15-year career, and built his palmarès on victories at Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Despite being 35-years-old, Martin is still as aggressive and fearless as ever, and has absolutely nothing to lose Saturday.
Can Dan win the clock back to 2014 on Saturday? It would make for the fairytale ending for a much-loved rider if it happens.
The mud and grit of Paris-Roubaix is so last week. The WorldTour is set to come to a spectacular conclusion in the Italian falling leaves this weekend.
How to watch it? Il Lombardia will be broadcast live on Eurosport / GCN. Flo Bikes does not have coverage.