Look over the list of favorites for this Saturday’s Il Lombardia, the last monument of the season, and you realize we have a barn-burner on our hands. It’s a contender-extravaganza.
There are literally twenty riders with a great-to-reasonable chance to win the Race of the Falling Leaves. Nearly every squad has one, if not two riders, who could possibly deliver, given good legs and good fortune.
First off, Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru, the hometown boys. How would the Shark like to actually win a big race this year? Sure, he crawled his way to third in the Tour de France but there wasn’t a whole lot of panache in that accomplishment. Lombardia would turn his 2017 season from solid to pretty darn spicy.
Same story for Aru, who looked over-matched in Le Tour and then overly-tired in the Vuelta a Espana. His form is excellent with a third place in Milano-Torino and he’ll have a strong Astana squad back him up.
Then there’s Dan Martin over at Quickstep. He’s won the race before and he’s almost totally recovered from the back injuries he experienced when Richie Porte knocked him off the bike in the Tour de France. It’s a double shot from the flooring company as Julian Alaphilippe is also red hot, aggressive and multi-talented.
While little Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is back in the mix and has an outside shot at victory, it’s his Colombian countryman Rigoberto Uran who is the far stronger bet. Three podiums at Lombardia and his recent results all point to success: third in the Giro dell’Emilia and a big solo win in Milano-Torino. Since his impressive second place in Le Tour, Uran seems more confident than ever.
Will Team Sky and Mikel Landa take out the last monument? After his comments about not really fitting in at Sky, who knows if management and the team will really throw their full support behind Landa. There’s no question he’s hungry and would love to set up his next year at Movistar with a victory in Lombardia, a race that favors climbers who also descend well and race with instinct and aggression – all checkmarks for Landa.
Of course, Sky may be feeling more love for Diego Rosa who almost won Lombardia last year in a three-man sprint, only to lose out to Esteban Chavez — who will not take the start in Bergamo after he broke his shoulder blade in a dramatic crash at the recent Giro dell’Emilia. If Sky doesn’t appreciate the negative PR from Landa, perhaps Rosa will benefit.
The erratic and unpredictable Thibaut Pinot is also in with a shout, as the Brits like to say. Fourth in this year’s Giro d’Italia, dead tired in Le Tour, but of late his form is back on track. He finished eighth at the Giro dell’Emilia and looked strong in Tre Valli Varesine. This would be tres awesome if the FDJ captain could pull off this coup.
Wait, we’re back at Quickstep for a shout out to Philippe Gilbert. He resurrected his career in 2017 and put in one of the most impressive rides of the year with his long-range attack and solo victory in the Tour of Flanders. He also took the flowers and champagne (or should that be beer?) in Amstel Gold. His resume says he’s already got two wins in Lombardia and a third is not out of the question.
Who else wants to take off on a long vacation after winning Lombardia? Wout Poels and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), Fabio Aru’s bass player Miguel Angel Lopez, Adam Yates of Orica-Scott –who almost overhauled Uran in Milano-Torino — are all more than dark horses.
While Tom Dumouin in a late scratch due to a cold, his SunWeb teammate Warren Barguil could also play a factor. He was booted out of the Vuelta a Espana for not following team orders and is leaving for Fortuneo-Oscaro next season but he won two mountain stages in the Tour de France.
Digging a little deeper, you could also make a case for Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Giro dell’Emilia winner Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida) and cagey Russian, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin).
That’s about twenty riders who will wake up Saturday morning in Bergamo, Italy with the dream of winning Il Lombardia. They just have to beat the other nineteen guys.