You asked for it, and we listened – this Saturday sees a one-off edition of our Fantasy Cycling game in the Giro di Lombardia, which brings the UCI WorldTour calendar to a close for 2011.
It’s an historic edition of the race, too, with the UCI confirming in recent days that from 2012 onwards it will be brought forward in the calendar to take place the weekend after the world championships, as well as being renamed simply, Il Lombardia.
Tinkering with the name and date of any of cycling’s Monuments is bound to cause controversy, but particularly in the case of an event whose very nickname – 'the race of the falling leaves' – evokes the end of the season.
It’s even more poignant when you consider that in the original Italian, ‘falling leaves’ is expressed as ‘foglie morte’ – except, with the race being shifted a full fortnight forward in the year, not to mention the later arrival of autumn nowadays due to global warming, the name from now on will sadly be symbolic only.
'The race of the leaves still clinging half-heartedly to the trees' doesn’t quite have the same ring about it.
As for this year’s 105th edition, for the first time since 2003, the race, which starts in Milan doesn’t finish in the city of Como on the southwestern leg of the lake that bears its name – instead, it’s the town on the southeastern fork of Lake Como, Lecco, that gets the honour of hosting the finish for the first ever time.
As ever, of course, the route does take in the promontory between those two lakeside towns and the climb to the fabled Madonna del Ghisallo chapel, crested with 46 of the 241 kilometres remaining.
Two earlier big ascents will have started the selection process well before that, but there’s also a smaller climb around 20 kilometres from Lecco that could see one or more riders launch their bids for victory.
Mark Cavendish is down to ride in what will be his last race for HTC-Highroad, having finally confirmed earlier this week that his destination for 2012 will be Team Sky.
Last month in Copenhagen, of course, he emulated Tom Simpson as the only British man to win the world professional road race title. The year Simpson won his rainbow jersey – 1965 – was also the year in which he became the only Briton to win the Giro di Lombrdia.
However, while Cavendish is a past winner of Italy’s other Monument, Milan-San Remo, there’s a lot more climbing up here around Lake Como than there is along the Ligurian coast, and you won’t see a British rider in the rainbow jersey contesting the finale this time around.
Instead, all eyes will be on world number one, Philippe Gilbert, looking to win the Giro di Lombardia for the third year on the trot – a feat only Alfred Binda, and Gino Bartali, who actually won it four times on the spin, have achieved.
In looking to end his Omega Pharma-Lotto career on a high note ahead of his move to BMC Racing, the Belgian will face competition from one man who has won the race three times, although not in succession – Damiano Cunego, who triumphed in 204, 2007 and 2008.
Among Cunego’s team mates at Lampre-ISD, Michele Scarponi may feel he has something to prove after a disappointing season in which he didn’t push Alberto Contador as closely as he might have wished in the Giro.
Liquigas-Cannondale rider Vincenzo Nibali failed to live up to his pre-race billing as Italy’s big hope in his home tour, finishing third, and never looked like retaining his Vuelta title in Spain last month. Team mate Ivan Basso, who comes from nearby Varese, is another rider who has had a 2011 to forget – so far.
As ever, part of the advice in choosing a team for a one-day race is to cast your eye over the results from past years, and have a look at who, among those racing on Saturday, has placed well in the past.
In the case of the Giro di Lombardia, however, there’s also another, much more recent, barometer of form – the race now known as Il Gran Piemonte – previously, you guessed it, the Giro di Piemonte – won last year by Gilbert as part of his Northern Italian double.
Today’s 203km race from Piasco to Novi Ligure, the home town of the great Fausto Coppi, was won by Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, with Greg Van Avermaet of BMC, winner of Paris-Tours on Sunday, second, showing that he is perhaps the in-form man.
Whether he has quite the climbing legs to deal with the Giro di Lombardia’s route is open to question, but there are some names in the top ten today who could certainly finish high up on Saturday – you’ll find the full results of the Gran Piemonte here.
With this race coming so late in the season as well, however, there is an extra element, as Tea Sky’s Geraint Thomas explained to us when we caught up with him at the Cycle Show last month.
The Welshman himself is having a well-deserved rest after a fantastic 2011, and says that while some riders will have been saving themselves for Saturday’s race, for others it’s going to mark the end of a long, hard season.
“Coming this late in the season, it’s definitely a race you’ve got to be totally motivated for, and the Italians are always going to be up for it,” he said. “Gilbert, after the season he’s had, I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to go out and win it again, he’s had an unbelievable year.
“From Sky’s perspective, Rigoberto Uran is there, Steve Cummings, he’s got good morale at the moment and he missed the early part of the season through being ill so he’s fresh. Somebody who rode the Vuelta, those sort of guys will be up there.”
You’ll find all the information you need about the race, including profiles, climbs, time schedules and past top-three finishers, in the 48-page official guide produced by the organisers, which is written in both Italian and English.
Meanwhile, the full provisional start list is here – best of luck on Saturday, and we hope that you’ve enjoyed playing Fantasy Cycling this year. We know we have.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.