The 2022 cycling season is almost upon us. But before the curtains of the grand theater of racing can close, the Tour of Lombardy still has to be run, of course. We won’t stop until we know a successor to Tadej Pogačar. The Slovenian will be at the start Saturday to defend his title, but he’s not going to have it easy between Bergamo and Como. There are plenty of hijackers on the coast. Cycling-Classics.com is presented the preview il Lombardia 2022 – the last one of the cycling classics of this year!
History il Lombardia
The Tour of Lombardy was born on November 12, 1905. Originally she was called “Milan Milan,” but from 1907 her passport simply read Il Lombardia – the name by which we still know her today. She was the third in a family of eventually five children, whom we would only later recognize as relatives and come to call the “Monuments. Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1892) and Paris-Roubaix (1896) are older, Milan-San Remo (1907) and the Tour of Flanders (1913) younger.
So while Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix, because of their age, actually have the most reason to get a little wistful, the Tour of Lombardy is the melancholic of the bunch. For years it has been the symbol of transience. This, of course, has everything to do with the season in which she celebrates her birthday: autumn. La corsa delle foglie morte they call her in Italy, “the course of the dead leaves. In Dutch they euphemistically speak of ‘falling leaves’.
In the early years of Il Lombardia, her jubilee often took place in November, but later the celebration was gradually brought forward a bit. Since 1937 – barring a few exceptional years – it has invariably taken place in October. Despite this change, the Tour of Lombardy has always remained the closing event of the cycling year.
How does a race acquire the status of “masterpiece”? Many factors come into play, but an honor roll full of big names is the first and foremost requirement. In the case of the Tour of Lombardy, this is not a problem. If we look at the first years of the race, after two Italians – Giovanni Gerbi and Cesare Brambilla – we immediately see several luminaries from abroad. Gustave Garrigou (1907), François Faber (1908), Henri Pélissier (1911, 1913 and 1920), Philippe Thys (1917) are all also Tour de France winners.
In the Interwar period (except for Pélissier, that is) only Italians triumphed. The Tour of Lombardy becomes the terrain of the campionissimos. Costante Girardengo and Gino Bartali both celebrate three times, Alfredo Binda is the best four times. In the early twenties, there are also two wins for Giovanni Brunero. Brunero is somewhat forgotten, but not rightly so. He deserves a place in the cycling pantheon. Besides his successes in Lombardy, his wins include Milan-San Remo and three times the Giro d’Italia. Moreover, his (tragic) life story, which can be read here, is well worth reading.
Brunero, who by his own admission was “born to suffer,” died at the age of 39 from the effects of a lingering illness. This is somewhat reminiscent of the equally tragic Fausto Coppi. Coppi died on Jan. 4, 1960, at the age of 40. More than five years earlier, he had won the Tour of Lombardy for the fifth time. He thus passed Binda in terms of the number of victories in Il Lombardia and is the record holder to this day.
After the war, King Kelly and Il Piccolo Principe came closest to Emperor Coppi: Sean Kelly and Damiano Cunego each accounted for three wins. Of the still active riders, only Vincenzo Nibali and Philippe Gilbert have more than one Tour of Lombardy on their palmares. Both have won twice, but both are also close to hanging up their bikes. Nibali will be at the start on Saturday and – in his last professional race ever – can still match Kelly, Cunego and consorts.
Among the other two-time winners, we see two Belgians and one Dutchman. One of the Belgians is of course Eddy Merckx, the other is – also not very surprising – Roger De Vlaeminck. And by the Dutchman we obviously refer to Jo de Roo, who was the lucky one in 1962 and 1963. Well, the “lucky” one …? “I think I was angrier than happy,” De Roo told Jean Nelissen in 2005. While De Roo was having equipment trouble, Italian tifosi had pushed defending champion and home rider Livio Trapè up the Muro di Sormano. Fortunately, De Roo was able to return and beat his rival in the sprint.
Finally, the other single winners from the Low Countries should not go unmentioned: Rik Van Looy (1959), Emile Daems (1960), Herman Van Springel (1968), Jean-Pierre Monseré (1969), Fons De Wolf (1980), Hennie Kuiper (1981) and Bauke Mollema (2019) are forever on the honorary list of the Tour of Lombardy. They will have looked at the race differently than us ordinary people since then. For them, the race is no longer a symbol of transience, but rather the opposite: a reminder of their immortality.
Route il Lombardia 2022
This year, the 2022 Tour of Lombardy will again start from Bergamo and finish in Como. Where last year’s race was from Como to Bergamo, we will now get the same course as the years 2017 through 2020. And say a finish in Como, you say a finale with the Civiglio (4.1 km at 10%). The climb where Vincenzo Nibali rode to victory twice in the descent.
The course has been modified from two years ago – that is, the last time Bergamo to Como – but still has almost 5,000 altimeters with 250 kilometers. Also missing this year is the Muro di Sormano. But where the Wall is missing, we will do twice the Civiglio and the San Fermo della Battaglia (2.9 km at 6.6%). Of course, the finale will erupt when the famous Madonna del Ghisallo (8.7 km at 5.3%) looms some seventy kilometers before the finish.
The Battaglia is in it twice because after the descent of the first time, another 22-kilometer local loop will be tackled, which also includes the Civiglio. At the top of the Battaglia, it is then only five kilometers to the finish. Which climbing goat can we write down?
Favorites & Contenders il Lombardia 2022
The course of the Tour of Lombardy has changed considerably compared to last year, but that does not necessarily mean a different winner. Title defender Tadej Pogačar is still the top favorite despite all the changes. The Civiglio instead of the Passo di Ganda? Probably it makes little difference to him. On a good day, Pogačar can hurt the opposition anywhere. And should he unexpectedly fail to break free, he can always rely on his sprint. After a tough race, the Slovenian is lightning fast.
Pogačar proved that recently in the GP de Montréal and Tre Valli Varesine, both of which he managed to win. The latter was held last Tuesday, indicating excellent form for the two-time Tour winner. A lot better already than last year, when he did not really manage to impress ahead of Il Lombardia. Yet last Saturday it became clear that the current Pogačar is certainly not unbeatable.
Indeed, Enric Mas made mincemeat of the UAE leader in the Giro dell’Emilia. On the penultimate climb of the San Luca, Pogačar was already hanging from the elastic, on the final climb Mas threw him overboard for good with a splitting attack. If we rely solely on the latter image, we should actually place the Spaniard above the Slovenian in our star ranking. After all, Mas also finished second in the past Vuelta a España.
But the Movistar rider himself already gave a good argument as to why that would be a mistake: the Tour of Lombardy is almost sixty kilometers longer than the Giro dell’Emilia. Pogačar has already proven himself in such races, Mas has not yet. In fact, the Giro dell’Emilia is the first one-day on his palmares. Moreover, we must remember that during the Giro dell’Emilia, Pogačar had just returned for a few days from Australia, where he had ridden the World Cup shortly before. The jet lag was perhaps not yet fully processed.
Like Mas, Jonas Vingegaard also knows what it’s like to beat Pogačar. In the Tour de France, the Dane trumped the would-be winner. Afterwards, Vingegaard was out of action for a long time, but in the CRO Race he returned to the race. And not without success, as he won two stages. Due to the game of bonuses, the overall victory slipped through his fingers on the final day. Still, the Jumbo-Visma leader will not look back on his comeback dissatisfied. He knows he is ready for The course of the falling leaves.
Also ready for Saturday: Alejandro Valverde. The 42-year-old Spaniard is retiring as a professional cyclist after the Tour of Lombardy, but anyone who adds his results from the past week and a half would say he is in the prime of his career. Second in the Coppa Agostoni, fourth in the Giro dell’Emilia, third in the Tre Valli Varesine – that’s not an undeserving list. And yet El Imbatido – the name actually says it all – will be a little bit bummed. After all, he has yet to win on his farewell tour. Maybe it had to be so that he can finish with a bang at the Tour of Lombardy. He can fill one last gap on his long list of honors.
The “oldies” are stirring lately. Behind Valverde (and Sjoerd Bax, let’s not leave that unmentioned), Domenico Pozzovivo (39), Rigoberto Urán (35) and Vincenzo Nibali (37) also finished in the top-10 of the Coppa Agostoni. All are back at the start on Saturday and all have a chance. Two-time winner Nibali, like Valverde, is riding the last race of his career and is always capable of something crazy, but Pozzovivo and Urán have a slight edge based on the recent past.
Especially because of the Giro dell’Emilia, where Nibali (it must be said) was not at the start. Pozzovivo finished handsomely third here, Urán crossed the line in fifth. In Tre Valli Varesine, both also finished in the top-10. Moreover, if we delve further into history, we learn that both the Italian and the Colombian can do well in the Tour of Lombardy. Pozzovivo was sixth twice and eighth once, Urán did even better: he was third three times and fourth once.
Adam Yates did not ride top-10 in any of his first five participations in the Tour of Lombardy, but on his sixth turn he was on the podium in Bergamo anyway. Third, behind Pogačar and Fausto Masnada. Although the course is different now, the Brit should again be expected at the front. After all, he has been on a good run in recent months. Yates won the Deutschland Tour in August, but his performance in the GP de Montréal in particular showed great form. With a sixth place in Tre Valli Varesine, he showed that this condition has not yet disappeared.
In the same Tre Valli Varesine, Sergio Higuita showed that the good legs are back. The Colombian sprinted to second place, after having been pretty invisible in the Tour of Spain for three weeks – only in the last week did he make a brief appearance. Who knows, maybe Higuita can wash away the taste of the disappointing Vuelta with a punishing performance in Il Lombardia. This spring he finished fifth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, so the distance shouldn’t be a problem. His sprint is a handy weapon.
Then the outsiders. This category includes the likes of Daniel Felipe Martínez, Carlos Rodríguez, Mattias Skjelmose, Andrea Piccolo, Jai Hindley, Thymen Arensman, Romain Bardet, Guillaume Martin, João Almeida, Marc Hirschi, Valentin Madouas, Matej Mohorič, Dylan Teuns, Quinten Hermans, Lorenzo Fortunato and Warren Barguil.
Perhaps the most important name to mention here is that of Julian Alaphilippe. Normally the Frenchman is always among the (top) favorites in Lombardy, but 2022 has been a difficult year for him. Still, there are hopeful signs. For example, Alaphilippe looked strong at the World Cup in Wollongong and was very active in the Coppa Bernocchi. Whether he is now ready to compete in the Tour of Lombardy as well? That remains to be seen, but we are certainly not writing him off yet.
Favorites & Contenders il Lombardia 2022 according to Cycling-Classics.com
**** Tadej Pogačar
*** Enric Mas, Jonas Vingegaard
** Alejandro Valverde, Domenico Pozzovivo, Adam Yates
* Bauke Mollema, Aleksandr Vlasov, Sergio Higuita, Rigoberto Urán
More il Lombardia 2022? You can read here the preview of our Dutch and Belgium sub-colleagues (voorbeschouwing Ronde van Lombardije 2022 en voorbeschouwing met favorieten Ronde van Lombardije 2022)