Friday 14 October 2011

Giro di Lombardia - another season ends

Race map, profiles, climb details etc. can be downloaded here.

It's mid-October already - honestly, where did 2011 go? - and that means it's time for the last big race of the road cycling season, the Giro di Lombardia or Race of the Falling Leaves.

Milan - click for full-size panoramic loveliness (© Dodo CC3.0)
Established in 1905, two years after the Tour de France, the race is being run for the 106th time. It was last one by a Briton - the tragic Tommy Simpson - right back in 1965, the same year he won the World Championships. Unfortunately for Mark Cavendish, the first British World Champion since, this is a hilly course - hence his decision not to take part, despite his inclusion on the HTC-Highroad roster. Highroad's directeur sportif Valerio Piva explains: "He said it wasn’t a good thing for his image or for that of the organiser, s ... we decided together that it wouldn’t have brought anything to the race just to start and then pull out." Having been such an important and successful part of the team for so long, Highroad will undoubtedly miss him in what is due to be their last World Tour race after sponsorship problems forced owner Bob Stapleton to announce their final season.

Could Steve Cummings become the first British rider to win
the Giro di Lombardia since Tommy Simpson in 1965? He
once beat Contador, so who knows? (© Michiel Jelijs CC2.0)
Thus, responsibilities for Britain's Hope fall to Team Sky, and in response they've assembled a crack squad able to push the pace throughout the route. Steve Cummings, due to move on to pastures new at BMC next season, is team leader and, as the man who beat no less than Alberto Contador whilst climbing the Serra da Estrela in this year's Volta ao Algarve, he seems a more likely candidate for success than Cav. If he can't do it, the likes of Rigoberto Uran - that rare beast, a time trial and climbing specialist - and Lars Petter Nordhaug, an ex-Danich XC MTB champ and winner of the Mountains Classification at the Rhône-Alpes Isère, should be able to bring a not inconsiderable amount of glory Sky's way. They won't be unopposed, however - the 17 other Pro Teams and 7 wildcards don't intend to give anyone an easy time of it and with riders in the calibre of Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi), Danilo Di Luca (Katusha), Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek) and bookie's favourite Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) they're not going to be breaking out the china to hand over wins on a plate.

The Giro's route has changed many times over the years, but Milan has been a part of it almost every year - in fact, for the first 55 years it both began and ended there. Riders taking part following the Second World War probably found it almost unrecognisable, the city suffered such heavy bombing by British and American forces that many irreplaceable features of the ancient city were lost forever; even though a history beginning when it was founded by the Insubres, a Celtic tribe, in 400BCE had led to a city full of architectural treasures by the 1930s. It was here that the bodies of Mussolini and his Fascist henchman were brought by Resistance fighters in 1945 and hanged upside down in the street in order that the populace could be certain that they were truly dead.

Milan Cathedral, fourth largest in the world (© chris 論 CC3.0)
It has remained a highly politicised city, due in no small part to the traditionally left-wing ideals of the many Milanese employed in the creative industries. Some of them, shortly after the War, became involved with the Bricha - a programme facilitating the illegal movement of Holocaust survivors, many of them finding themselves without any surviving family members, to a new home in what would become Israel - and as such Milan became the site of a large Jewish refugee camp that at its height was home to 1100 people and supported both a secular school and a yeshiva. Those same anti-Fascist sentiments became stronger in the years immediately after the war, transforming and manifesting themselves during the 1960s as armed Marxist struggle - the Communist Red Brigades were highly active in the region and the city was frequently brought to a standstill by large-scale protests, an out-pouring of dissent that would turn into violence at the turn of the decade: in 1969, a bomb planted in a bank killed 17 people and injured almost a hundred more.

By the end of the 1970s, Milan looked in danger of suffering problems related to depopulation as residents relocated to satellite cities and newly-wealthy towns nearby. This, however, turned out unexpectedly to be a positive: as property rental costs fell in the city, large numbers of foreign immigrants began to move in. Cheap labour and a multicultural, cosmopolitan society led to the development of the fashion industry with the city rapidly becoming known alongside Paris, London and New York as one of the world capitals of style and couture - today, when it's home to such labels as Dolce&Gabbana, Prada, Versace and others, it's arguably the second most important city in the fashion world after Paris.

Along the way, the race will visit Cesano Maderno, a city of almost 40,000 people north-west of Milan. "Maderno" is believed to derive from "maternus," a name adopted because in ancient times the city was owned by women who passed property from mother to daughter. Its finest feature today is the Palazzo Arese Borromeo, considered one of the best examples of a palace and among the most important historical buildings  in Italy. Once the race has completed a little over 60km, it reaches the foothills of the Alps and climbs Valcava to the highest point on the route, 1336m above sea level on the way to Valle Imagna, hitting a maximum gradient of 17% en route.

The road over Valcava (© Orobicon CC3.0)
After a long, fast descent and a smaller climb, the riders reach Canzo; one of the longest-inhabited towns in Italy with evidence of a Mesolithic culture dating back to some 10,000 years before the present and as famous for its medieval architecture as its beautiful location surrounded by high peaks. Leaving the town behind, the riders progress towards Colma di Somarno, one of the most revered and feared climbs in cycling - while in recent years the Giro has taken an easier route with a maximum gradient of around 8% up the 1124m mountain, in times gone by it used the infamous Muro ("The Wall") which with gradients as steep as 25% remains a training ride for the fittest local club cyclists.

Monuments to Coppi and Bartali at Madonna del Ghisallo
(© DeLo99 CC3.0)
Another fast descent leads to a short flat section of around 15km, insufficient for tortured knees to recover before the race reaches the Colle del Ghisallo. This mountain pass has formed the centre piece of this race and frequently forms part of the Giro d'Italia - as a result, Madonna del Ghisallo, to whom the chapel near the highest point of the climb is dedicated, became revered by cyclists (or those of the Catholic persuasion at any rate) and in 1948 became the official patron saint of cyclists by papal decree, an occasion marked by the bringing of a votive flame similar to the Olympic Torch all the way from Rome. The torch was carried during the final stage by none other than Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, the greatest among Italy's many great cyclists. Next to the chapel is a museum of cycling to which several generations of notable cyclists have donated memorabilia and bikes - the collection includes bikes upon which Coppi, Bartali and Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France.

Lago di Lecco (© Giovanni Marinelli CC3.0)
The descent from Ghisallo is considerably less formidable than the way up with a fairly steep initial section leading to a gentler middle before a steep final part down to Valmadrera - a town that has grown up around a port on the vast Lago di Lecco, itself just one arm of the much larger Lago di Como and due to the dramatic, soaring mountains that surround the deep, fjord-like waters an undoubted contender for the title of Europe's most beautiful location. Those waters are very deep - in places, more than 400m; making it one of the deepest lakes in Europe.

Lecco, the town that hosts the finish line, can be seen across the lake and in fact a number of bridges allow easy movement between the towns - but this is cycling and cyclists don't like to do things the easy way, so the race heads south and then back up again for a final 20km section. The southernmost part of this last challenge is Villa Vergano, then the route follows the banks of the lake all the way to the most northerly of the bridges, Ponte Kennedy, leading onto the Via Leonardo da Vinci. A left and then a right carry the race onto the Lungolario Isonzo and the end of the race at 241km.

Lecco is built on a narrow alluvial deposit bounded on one side by the lake and on the other by the sheer face of the mountains and is renowned worldwide for its wealth of beautiful architecture including an astonishing 86 structures designated as major monuments. Among them are the early 20th Century, neo-medieval style Palace of the Fears (so-called as it became home to the region's tax and revenue office), 25 important churches and numerous civil sites.

Lecco by night (© Hozinja CC2.0)
Team Rosters

Omega Pharma-Lotto
1  Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
2  Jan Bakelants (Bel)
3  Francis De Greef (Bel)
4  Gert Dockx (Bel)
5  Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel)
6  Jelle Vanendert (Bel)
7  Jussi Veikkanen (Fin)
8  Frederik Willems (Bel)
Acqua & Sapone
11  Carlos Alberto Betancourt Gomez (Col)
12  Rafai Chtioui (Tun)
13  Claudio Corioni (Ita)
14  Alessandro Donati (Ita)
15  Ruggero Marzoli (Ita)
16  Simone Masciarelli (Ita)
17  Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro)
18  Fabio Taborre (Ita)
AG2R La Mondiale
21  Nicolas Roche (Irl)
22  Guillaume Bonnafond (Fra)
23  Maxime Bouet (Fra)
24  Mickaël Chérel (Fra)
25  Ben Gastauer (Lux)
26  Matteo Montaguti (Ita)
27  Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
28  Christophe Riblon (Fra)
Androni Giocattoli
31  Emanuele Sella (Ita)
32  Jose Rodolfo Serpa Perez (Col)
33  Alessandro Bertolini (Ita)
34  Riccardo Chiarini (Ita)
35  Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)
36  Giairo Ermetti (Ita)
37  Carlos José Ochoa (Ven)
38  Antonio Santoro (Ukn)
BMC Racing Team
41  Alessandro Ballan (Ita)
42  Mathias Frank (Swi)
43  Martin Kohler (Swi)
44  Steve Morabito (Swi)
45  Mauro Santambrogio (Ita)
46  Ivan Santaromita (Ita)
47  Michael Schär (Swi)
48  Greg Van Avermaet (Bel)
Colnago - CSF Inox
51  Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita)
52  Gianluca Brambilla (Ita)
53  Federico Canuti (Ita)
54  Simone Stortoni (Ita)
55  Alberto Contoli (Ita)
56  Filippo Savini (Ita)
57  Stefano Pirazzi (Ita)
58  Andrea Piechele (Ita)
Team Europcar
61  Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn)
62  Giovanni Bernaudeau (Fra)
63  Anthony Charteau (Fra)
64  Cyril Gautier (Fra)
65  Vincent Jérôme (Fra)
66  Alexandre Pichot (Fra)
67  David Veilleux (Can)
68  Thomas Voeckler (Fra)
Euskaltel Euskadi
71  Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa)
72  Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa)
73  Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa)
74  Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa)
75  Mikel Landa Meana (Spa)
76  Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa)
77  Romain Sicard (Fra)
78  Amets Txurruka (Spa)
Farnese Vini - Neri Sottoli
81  Giovanni Visconti (Ita)
82  Oscar Gatto (Ita)
83  Luca Mazzanti (Ita)
84  Pier Paolo De Negri (Ita)
85  Diego Caccia (Ita)
86  Davide Ricci Bitti (Ita)
87  Elia Favilli (Ita)
88  Leonardo Giordani (Ita)
91  Sandy Casar (Fra)
92  Arnaud Courteille (Fra)
93  Mickael Delage (Fra)
94  Pierrick Fédrigo (Fra)
95  Rémi Pauriol (Fra)
96  Thibaut Pinot (Fra)
97  Geoffrey Soupe (Fra)
98  Arthur Vichot (Fra)
101  Matthias Brändle (Aut)
102  Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa)
103  Daniele Colli (Ita)
104  David Gutierrez Gutierrez (Spa)
105  David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa)
106  Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Col)
107  Fabio Felline (Ita)
108  Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa)
111  Mark Cavendish (GBr)
112  Michael Albasini (Swi)
113  Caleb Fairly (USA)
114  Patrick Gretsch (Ger)
115  Leigh Howard (Aus)
116  Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr)
117  Martin Velits (Svk)
118  Peter Velits (Svk)
Katusha Team
121  Giampaolo Caruso (Ita)
122  Danilo Di Luca (Ita)
123  Vladimir Goussev (Rus)
124  Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa)
125  Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa)
126  Luca Paolini (Ita)
127  Filippo Pozzato (Ita)
128  Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa)
Lampre - ISD
131  Michele Scarponi (Ita)
132  Damiano Cunego (Ita)
133  Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita)
134  Francesco Gavazzi (Ita)
135  Oleksandr Kvachuk (Ukr)
136  Marco Marzano (Ita)
137  Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol)
138  Diego Ulissi (Ita)
Leopard Trek
141  Brice Feillu (Fra)
142  Stefan Denifl (Aut)
143  Jakob Fuglsang (Den)
144  Maxime Monfort (Bel)
145  Bruno Pires (Por)
146  Thomas Rohregger (Aut)
147  Fabian Wegmann (Ger)
148  Oliver Zaugg (Swi)
151  Ivan Basso (Ita)
152  Eros Capecchi (Ita)
153  Damiano Caruso (Ita)
154  Dominique Nerz (Ger)
155  Vincenzo Nibali (Ita)
156  Simone Ponzi (Ita)
157  Cristiano Salerno (Ita)
158  Sylvester Szmyd (Pol)
Movistar Team
161  Marzio Bruseghin (Ita)
162  Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por)
163  Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa)
164  Jesus Herrada Lopez (Spa)
165  Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa)
166  Javier Iriarte (Spa)
167  Ignatas Konovalovas (Ltu)
168  Pablo Lastras Garcia (Spa)
Pro Team Astana
171  Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz)
172  Paolo Tiralongo (Ita)
173  Francesco Masciarelli (Ita)
174  Enrico Gasparotto (Ita)
175  Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz)
176  Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe)
177  Robert Kiserlovski (Cro)
178  Alexsandr Dyachenko (Kaz)
Quickstep Cycling Team
181  Dario Cataldo (Ita)
182  Davide Malacarne (Ita)
183  Dries Devenyns (Bel)
184  Francesco Reda (Ita)
185  Kevin De Weert (Bel)
186  Matteo Trentin (Ukn)
187  Niki Terpstra (Ned)
188  Sylvain Chavanel (Fra)
Rabobank Cycling Team
191  Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa)
192  Laurens ten Dam (Ned)
193  Steven Kruijswijk (Ned)
194  Bauke Mollema (Ned)
195  Grischa Niermann (Ger)
196  Tom Slagter (Ned)
197  Bram Tankink (Ned)
198  Pieter Weening (Ned)
Saxo Bank Sungard
201  Laurent Didier (Lux)
202  Brian Vandborg (Den)
203  Chris Anker Sørensen (Den)
204  Mads Christensen (Den)
205  Manuele Boaro (Ita)
206  Rafal Majka (Pol)
207  Volodymir Gustov (Ukr)
208  Matteo Tosatto (Ita)
Sky Procycling
211  Steven Cummings (GBr)
212  Simon Gerrans (Aus)
213  Christian Knees (Ger)
214  Thomas Lövkvist (Swe)
215  Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor)
216  Michael Rogers (Aus)
217  Rigoberto Uran (Col)
218  Xabier Zandio Echaide (Spa)
Team Garmin-Cervelo
221  Christophe Le Mevel (Fra)
222  Daniel Lloyd (GBr)
223  Daniel Martin (Irl)
224  Thomas Peterson (USA)
225  Gabriel Rasch (Nor)
226  Peter Stetina (USA)
227  Sep Vanmarcke (Bel)
228  Johan Van Summeren (Bel)
Team RadioShack
231  Janez Brajkovic (Slo)
232  Matthew Busche (USA)
233  Philip Deignan (Irl)
234  Ben Hermans (Bel)
235  Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol)
236  Tiago Machado (Por)
237  Ivan Rovny (Rus)
238  Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa)
Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
241  Matteo Carrara (Ita)
242  Thomas De Gendt (Bel)
243  Stijn Devolder (Bel)
244  Marco Marcato (Ita)
245  Marcello Pavarin (Ita)
246  Wouter Mol (Ned)
247  Wout Poels (Ned)
248  Rob Ruijgh (Ned)

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