Cycling: 5 Reasons to Watch the 2011 Giro Di Lombardia

Steven HainlenContributor IIOctober 11, 2011

Cycling: 5 Reasons to Watch the 2011 Giro Di Lombardia

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    The Giro di Lombardia—also called the Race of the Falling Leaves—may be the most scenic race on the pro-cycling calendar.

    The ride begins in Milan and makes its way around the north-central region of Italy, and the picturesque Lake Como.

    The Giro di Lombardia famously features the Madonna del Ghisallo hill and church, which is named after the patron saint of cycling, and the church rings its bells as riders crest the climb during the race. 

    The final Villa Vergano climb will most likely create the final selection of riders, and the ensuing 6.8 kilometer descent ends 2.8 kilometers from the finish line. 

    This lumpy classic favors one-day specialists who can climb. However, the winner usually is decided after the final climb, and therefore, any contender must be both a skilled descender and possess some sprinting ability. 

    Philippe Gilbert has won the past two editions of the race, and will enter the race as the prohibitive favorite. However, there are other riders, such as three-time winner Damiano Cunego, who will make dropping Gilbert on the climbs a priority.

Damiano Cunego

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    Damiano Cunego is a three-time winner of the Giro di Lombardia, and will be supported by an extremely strong Lampre-ISD team. 

    Michele Scarponi may be Cunego’s greatest asset in his quest for a fourth win at the Race of the Falling Leaves, but Scarponi could also be his largest obstacle. 

    Scarponi finished second last year to Philippe Gilbert, and may not be the most amicable worker for Cunego. The two have worked well together this past season, but they have never targeted the same race, so Saturday could be the first time that tension is seen between the two riders.

    Cunego will be looking to replicate the form that saw him place second overall in the Tour de Romandie and an impressive seventh at the Tour de France this year. Cunego is a good climber and an excellent sprinter, so he should figure into the finale assuming he does not crash. 

    Cunego is one of the few who probably would not mind Philippe Gilbert being present at the finishline, as Cunego has the potential to beat Gilbert in a sprint. Anything less than a victory will be a disappointment for Cunego. 

Giovanni Visconti

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    Giovanni Visconti is the current Italian National Road Race champion, and he will be looking to display his country’s colors proudly at the Giro di Lombardia. 

    The Turin native is the captain for team Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli; which, in my opinion, has the worst racing kits of any team. 

    Visconti excels at one-day exertions of effort over challenging, but not mountainous terrain. He is transferring to Team Movistar in 2012, and will be hoping for at least a podium finish to end his tenure with his current team.

    The Italian cyclist is one of the most successful attacking riders in the peloton, which he displayed at last year's Giro di Lombardia where he was the initial aggressor on almost every climb.

    Visconti knows he cannot wait until the last 10 kilometers to put in his winning move, so look for him to animate the final 30 kilometers in an attempt to create an elite selection of riders, as well as appropriately display and honor his national champion's jersey in one of Italy's most important races. 

    Visconti’s ideal scenario is a sprint against the other climbers, and not Philippe Gilbert.

Jakob Fuglsang

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    Jakob Fuglsang is facing a perplexing dilemma as he heads into the 2012 season.

    He signed with Team Leopard-Trek when the team was created with the understanding that he would be the key-support rider for the Schlecks at the Tour de France, and get his own chances in other races throughout the year.

    However, with the merger of Leopard-Trek and Team RadioShack, Fuglsang may be left wondering where he stands. The addition of Chris Horner, Tiago Machado and Haimar Zubeldia (among others) may limit his chances at smaller stage races, and his somewhat lackluster support in July for the Schlecks raises some concerns for his 2012 season. 

    The Giro di Lombardia is a chance for Fuglsang to put those concerns to rest.

    Fuglsang finished fourth at the 2010 Giro di Lombardia, where he was held up slightly by Nibali’s crash on a descent, so he clearly knows how to succeed in this race. 

    He also notched a fourth place at this year’s Amstel Gold—a race which is similar in length and difficulty to the Giro di Lombardia. Fuglsang will be the undisputed leader of Leopard-Trek, and he should receive great support from riders such as Maxime Monfort, Fabian Wegmann and Oliver Zaugg. 

    Finally, Leopard-Trek is within striking distance to overtake either Omega Pharma-Lotto or Sky Procycling as the best team in 2011, which should provide Fuglsang additional motivation on Saturday. 

    A win may not be likely as Fuglsang does not have the same sprinting skills as other favored riders, but a podium is within reach.

Ivan Basso/Vincenzo Niabli

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    Team Liquigas-Cannondale will be entering the Giro di Lombardia with dual captains. Both Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali had somewhat disappointing years after each won a Grand Tour in 2010, and will be looking for vengeance. 

    Their riding styles do not match well, as Basso prefers a high mountaintop finish and Nibali prefers a challenging rolling course with some adverse condition such as rain. Regardless of their strengths, Liquigas will be looking for a top result in its most important one-day classic of the season. 

    The hills are not long enough or steep enough for Basso’s taste; therefore, it is more likely that the team will work for Nibali.

    Nibali can descend better than almost everyone else in the peloton and packs a decent sprint as well. He has the potential to match Gilbert at the finish, but would prefer he did not have to sprint against Philippe for the win. 

    At a minimum, a podium place is expected, but a win is within Nibali’s sights.

Philippe Gilbert

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    Gilbert, seemingly, enters every race in 2011 as the favorite, but it is with good reason. He has put together a season which will go down in history as one of the most impressive in the history of cycling—highlighted by a complete sweep of the Ardennes classics, which was the first time a rider has ever won all three races in one season. 

    Gilbert will be supported by a strong Omega Pharma-Lotto team, but he is the overwhelming favorite, and the race could turn into a competition to prevent Gilbert from winning.

    The two-time defending champion has displayed the necessary intelligence, patience and power in the last two editions, and the scary thing is that Gilbert is mentally and physically better in 2011. 

    The course does not suit Gilbert as well as some other one-day classics, but if he is present after the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb, it will be hard to deny him a third title at the Giro di Lombardia.

Conclusion

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    Other considerations:

    - AG2R La Mondiale is desperately looking for points to remain at the ProTour level, and as the Giro di Lombardia is the final race of the season for points, look for the French team to throw everything it have at the race.

    - Samuel Sanchez has performed well here in the past. However, a recent sickness in Beijing could see him getting dropped on a climb.

    - Mark Cavendish must be mentioned, not because he has any chance of winning this race (which he does not), but tradition dictates that he display his world champion's jersey, and because many people’s 2012 season depends on which team he rides for next year.

    - Simon Gerrans displayed some excellent form at the recent World Road Race Championships, and the Giro di Lombardia suits his strengths quite well. He could be a dangerous rider if he can get into a late breakaway.

    How I see it playing out:

    There is no stopping Gilbert this year. When teams race negatively against Gilbert, he is fresh at the line and wins in a sprint. When teams ride aggressively against him, they are unable to drop him on the climbs and he wins against worn out opponents. 

    Gilbert will not get dropped in the climbs and leaves everyone in the dust after his attack, somewhere between three and five kilometers from the line. 

    Podium:

    1)      Philippe Gilbert

    2)      Damiano Cunego

    3)      Vincenzo Nibali