WorldTour season draws to a close with final Monument of the year
The arrival of October marks the end of the 2016 UCI WorldTour season, with the year’s fifth and final Monument – Il Lombardia – once again drawing the curtain on the campaign, on Saturday (October 1).
Won last year by Vincenzo Nibali, the Race of the Falling Leaves boasts a new route for 2016 and no shortage of riders looking to impress on the biggest stage for the final time this year.
A final chance to gather UCI WorldTour points could also be significant, while the riders will bid to join Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare, Tour of Flanders champion Peter Sagan, Paris-Roubaix victor Mat Hayman and Liege-Bastogne-Liege-winning Team Sky man Wout Poels on the 2016 Monument winners list.
So what can we expect on the 240km course on Saturday, and which riders should we be keeping a close eye on? Let’s take a closer look…
Race organisers RCS Sport had seemingly the perfect Giro di Lombardia last year, when Italian champion Vincenzo Nibali attacked over the top of the final climb and soloed to victory alongside the picturesque Lake Como.
But even that hasn’t stopped them tearing up the roadbook and plotting yet another new route for the 2016 edition.
This time, the race will start at Lake Como and finish in Bergamo, with the 240km course packing in 4,400m of climbing.
The Madonna del Ghisallo is the first major hill to be tackled, but the climb is just 65km into the race and so is unlikely to cause any real damage.
Valico di Valcava (11.65km, with an average gradient of eight per cent) marks the start of the climb-laden final 100km, meanwhile.
The steep Sant’Antonio Abbandonato ascent – which has an average gradient of 8.9 per cent and holds form at just below the double figure mark for much of the 6.5km – is one of two new climbs on the route, followed by the Miragolo San Salvatore.
The latter is longer, at 8.7km, but is not as steep – an average gradient of seven per cent and a steepest pitch, around two kilometres up, of 11 per cent.
Finally, the Selvino – which peaks less than 30km from the finish, could be a platform for a Nibali-esque attack – the 6.9km climb has an average gradient of 5.4 per cent, but will be raced hard.
And if a move there doesn’t stick, the partially cobbled, uncategorised final climb – with a maximum gradient of 12 per cent and a peak less than 3.5km from the finish – could certainly be the platform for the race-winning move instead.
Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange)
Young Colombian rider Johan Esteban Chaves has enjoyed a fine season and a Monument win would cap it nicely.
A stage win and day in the pink jersey, on the way to second overall, at the Giro d’Italia was followed by third place overall at the Vuelta a Espana to prove his Grand Tour potential, while Saturday’s Giro dell’Emilia win showed he’s not lost any of that form.
In fact, Chaves – eighth at Il Lombardia last time out – won the Abu Dhabi Tour in October 2016 to prove he is capable of carrying form through to the autumn.
Backed by Simon Yates – himself racing on the back of a career-best Grand Tour result of sixth place overall, following a stage win in the first week, at the Vuelta a Espana – Orica-BikeExchange will bid for a second Monument of the year after Mat Hayman won Paris-Roubaix.
Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep)
Winner in 2014, Irishman Daniel Martin is set to once again form part of a two-pronged Etixx-QuickStep attack with Julian Alaphilippe.
The two also spearheaded the Belgian super team’s Ardennes Classics campaign, both finishing on the Fleche Wallonne podium in the process.
Alaphilippe has the form coming into the end of the season – tenth at the GP de Montreal and second at the European Championships, while Martin has the experience – his 2014 victory was the second Monument win of his career after Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2013.
Etixx-QuickStep have 52 race wins to their name in 2016, but have not won a Monument since Niki Terpstra was victorious at Paris-Roubaix two years ago – that could well change on Saturday.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Having finished second overall at the Tour de France, Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet has come back into form in the final week, just in time for a shot at Il Lombardia.
Though not renowned for his one-day racing, the 25-year-old has some steady results from Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia to his name and was second at the Giro dell’Emilia on Saturday.
His fearless descending style – which contributed to his stage win on the rain-battered, crash-laden stage 19 of the Tour de France – will also be a key factor – especially with the final climb so close to the finish line.
Bardet has enjoyed another strong season, and at the very least will hope to crack the top ten at the season’s final Monument.
Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac)
Cannondale-Drapac have not won a WorldTour race all season; there’s not even a solitary stage win on the biggest stage to the team’s name.
Solid general classification placings mean their future on the WorldTour is not in danger, but sponsors like victories, and after a solid week at the Italian classics so far, the team can still end the season on a high note.
Rigoberto Uran has twice been on the podium at Il Lombardia, and third-place finishes at the Giro dell’Emilia and Milano-Torino bode well for another in Bergamo on Saturday.
Canadian Michael Woods was second at Milano-Torino, meanwhile, and could be another rider in contention. The green machine will certainly be one worth watching – finally – at any rate.
Fabio Aru (Astana)
Vincenzo Nibali rescued a below-par 2015 season with victory at Il Lombardia, and this year it could be the turn of his Astana team-mate Fabio Aru to do the same.
Aru, after finishing 13th at the Tour de France, has returned to form in good time with three top-ten finishes at the Giro dell’Emilia, Tre Valli Varesine and Milano-Torino.
And he is one of many cards Astana have to play, as they proved at the latter race when Miguel Angel Lopez continued his fine season by winning.
Diego Rosa, last year’s Milano-Torino winner, is another in contention too so, in short, even in the absence of the defending champion there is plenty of reason for Astana to be optimistic at Il Lombardia.
Daniel Moreno (Movistar)
Then a Katusha rider, Daniel Moreno was second at the Giro di Lombardia 12 months ago, and will look to go one better with Movistar this time out.
The Spaniard, on the back of his eighth place and key domestique role for Nairo Quintana at the Vuelta a Espana, has carried his form into the autumn racing so far.
Third at the European Championships, Moreno was then fourth at Milano-Torino and the 35-year-old certainly has the ability to win on Saturday.
A previous winner at La Fleche Wallonne, Moreno has never won a Monument, but even if he is unable to grab a first this weekend, a strong performance should seal top spot in the UCI WorldTour team rankings, again, for Movistar.
What else is up for grabs?
There are plenty of other side stories to Saturday’s race – two-time former winner Joaquim Rodriguez’s final race of his career, for starters.
Purito announced his plans to retire at the Tour de France, and said the Rio 2016 road race would be the last race of his career, only for Katusha to extend his career by adding him to their line-ups for the end-of-season Italian classics.
Both Rodriguez and fellow former winner Oliver Zaugg (IAM Cycling) can end their careers with another trip to the Lombardia podium, though Purito’s DNF at Milano-Torino is probably an indication of where his form is at.
Another two-time former winner, Philippe Gilbert, will race in BMC Racing colours for the last time too, before joining Etixx-QuickStep in the winter.
Away from the fond farewells, meanwhile, there’s also the last rites of the 2016 UCI WorldTour season to be read.
Movistar lead the team rankings, but Tinkoff, in their final WorldTour race before disbanding, could change that. Roman Kreuziger will lead the Russian-backed team’s charge, with flu-ridden Alberto Contador missing out, but they need to overhaul a 70-point deficit to deny the Spanish team a fourth consecutive year atop the rankings.
The only rider who can stop Peter Sagan being crowned world number one in the individual rankings though is Vuelta a Espana champion Nairo Quintana, who would need to finish first or second in Bergamo. As he’s not even in Movistar’s provisional line-up, however, that seems unlikely.
At the other end of the rankings, Dimension Data could be relegated from the WorldTour, with the UCI looking to cut the number of top tier teams from 18 to 17 this season.
With riders like Mark Cavendish in their ranks wildcard invitations should not be a problem, but if the African team want to avoid uncertainty and reassure sponsors they need a huge result at Il Lombardia.
Relegation never looked like being a problem when it was first announced the UCI wanted to cut numbers – Tinkoff and IAM Cycling, after all, are folding in the winter.
But Bora-Hansgrohe, with a host of ambitious signings, the new Bahrain-Merida team to be led by Vincenzo Nibali, and the Chinese-backed successor to Lampre-Merida are all bidding for inclusion in the top tier next year too.
And with Dimension Data currently bottom of the UCI WorldTour rankings (points for stage wins, of which they have plenty, are worth less than GC top-tens, of which they don’t have many), it is the African team likely to miss out.
Nevertheless, in-form Edvald Boasson Hagen could yet help change that in Lombardy – they need 130 more points (equivalent to second and fifth, first and seventh or third and fourth) than Giant-Alpecin and/or Ag2r-La Mondiale.
It’s unlikely, but it ain’t over ‘til it’s over – though they’ve threatened a legal challenge if they are relegated anyway, so that saga won’t end on Saturday either way.
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