Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert is hoping organizers’ decision to toughen the Giro di Lombardia finale does not get in the way of a second successive victory in the ‘race of the falling leaves’ on Saturday. Omega-Pharma’s one-day classics specialist missed out on his main objective of the season at the world championships in Australia two weeks ago, but has bounced right back and could yet end the season on a high note.
Gilbert, 28, was a class above the rest of the field on his way to victory Thursday in the Tour of Piedmont in Italy, the semi-classic he also won in 2009. But he will have to dig deep and find his climbing legs at the right time if he is to successfully negotiate a finale that has been toughened by the inclusion of the Sormano climb at the 41 km to go mark. It is 9.5 km long, and with an average gradient of 6.6 percent could play a leading role in thinning the peloton before a rapid descent and 20km flat stretch on the shores of Lake Como leads to the final climb at San Fermo della Battagila. As a result, the classics specialists who can climb, like Gilbert and new world champion Thor Hushovd, could face a stiffer challenge from the more specialist climbers like Italian Vincenzo Nibali, the recent Vuelta a Espaa winner.
In what is the final one-day classic of the season, and in the absence of former three-time winner Damiano Cunego, Liquigas all-rounder Nibali is perhaps Italy’s best hope in what has been a barren classics season so far for the cycling superpower. Gilbert also singled out Italian national champion Giovanni Visconti but said 2009 world champion Cadel Evans and Russian Alexandre Kolobnev could be his biggest threats.
The Belgian added: “There’s also (Jakob) Fuglsang and (Chris) Horner.” Fuglsang could be Saxo Bank’s main card if he is given support by Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, who finished fourth here in 2007. RadioShack’s American veteran Horner, who will soon turn 39, has never won the race but has been consistent finishing among the top 12 in the past three years.
Also in the running will be Italian Michele Scarponi, known for his attacking ability, and Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, who has finished on the podium three times since 2006. In its 104th edition, the Giro di Lombardia won by such cycling greats as Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Sean Kelly will depart from Milan for the first time in 26 years.
Ettore Torri, an anti-doping prosecutor with the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), threw a spanner into the works when he questioned last week whether the anti-doping fight was having a positive effect. “The longer I’m involved in this the more I marvel at how widespread doping is,” Torri was reported as saying. A disgruntled peloton is set to delay the start of Saturday’s 260 km race by 10 minutes in protest at Torri’s claims.