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Tour of Lombardy 2012 – preview

Tomorrow’s Tour of Lombardy is the final one day Classic race on the 2012 UCI WorldTour calendar.

The ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ is the last of the five ‘monuments’ of the cycling calendar, and one that this year will celebrate one of Italy’s favourite cycling sons.

‘Il Lombardia’ will start this year in the Bergamo province, a little over 50km from Milan, and the home region of Felice Gimondi, a winner of all three Grand Tours and 1973 world road champion, who celebrates his 70th birthday on race day.

Gimondi won the race twice, in 1966 and 1973, but those competing for victory in Lecco, some 251km from Bergamo, will have perhaps more to contend with than any of the select group who have won Il Lombarida in the last half century, thanks to the reintroduction of the brutal ‘Muro di Sormano’.

The 1.9km ‘wall of Sormano’ has an average gradient of 15.8 per cent and at just over half way hits a gradient of 25 per cent. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), the newly crowned Vuelta a Espana champion, has talked of using a cassette with up to 30 teeth. He famously used SRAM’s Wi-Fli system in the Vuelta, a system more popular with sportive riders for its ability to handle large sprockets.

Contador will start as one of the favourites tomorrow. Here’s a consideration of his chances and those of his key rivals.

Alberto Contador took a comfortable win the Milan-Turin semi-Classic on Wednesday

It’s fair to say ‘El Pistolero’ is back to, if not his very best, then sufficiently close to see off all but the very best. Unfortunately for Contador, the very best are on the start sheet too (more of whom later). The Spaniard was majestic in victory on the seventeenth stage from Santander to Fuente Dé, riding the final 60km alone, but had to fight tooth and nail on stages which, while brutally mountainous, did not offer the same opportunity for sustained effort. His trademark accelerations were not enough to break his closest rivals in the Asturias, but he looked at ease in the worlds, leading a breakaway before submitting tamely to take up domestique duties for Spanish teammate, Alejandro Valverde, and then winning Milan-Turin comfortably on Wednesday. Will the consumate Grand Tour champion take his first Monument Classics victory?

The man best able to withstand Contador’s assaults in Spain and counter with those of his own was countryman, Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), winner of three stages and wearer of the red leader’s jersey for 13 days, and a podium finisher who might have claimed overall victory but for a lapse of concentration that allowed Contador to escape. Second overall this year in the Giro d’Italia, the greatest indicator of his ability to win tomorrow, and reclaim the UCI WorldTour points crown he won in 2011 from last year’s champion, Philippe Gilbert, came in March with victory at La Fleche Wallonne.

Gilbert will be one of the most fancied riders tomorrow. Having claimed the rainbow jersey of world champion just six days previously, the Belgian, another rider with a successful Vuelta campaign (two stage wins) has the form to take his first Classics win of the year, having dominated last season. His poor start to the season now looks like a well conceived strategy to peak for late September and a worlds course seemingly tailor made for his talents.

He powered away from his rivals on the Cauberg last week, and while tomorrow’s finish into Lecco is downhill, the Ghisallo may provide a springboard for a long range attack, while the Salita di Ello may provide the opportunity for a final roll of the dice should the bunch remain together with less than 50km to go. Gilbert knows what it takes to win Il Lombardia: he was champion in 2010.

Defending champion, Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek), a rider bound for Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank next year, has done little since taking the first and only win of his career 12 months ago. Ireland’s Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) was strong enough to outsprint Rodriguez for second last year, and enjoyed top 10 finishes at this year’s Liege Bastogne Liege and La Fleche Wallonne.

The race will be shown on British Eurosport. Coverage starts at 2pm. The race starts at 3pm.

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