The oldest continuously-running day race in Italy, the Giro di Lombardia is an iconic cycling Classic held in the northern Italian region of Lombardy.
Nicknamed the “Classica delle Foglie Morte” (“The Classic of the Falling Leaves”) is the final high-profile race in the cycling calendar. The route takes riders around the shores and hills of Lago di Como, a beautiful lake northwest of Milan.
It is one of the five Monuments, the most historic and prestigious one-day races in cycling, and is held in high regard due to its long history, challenging route, and the iconic beauty of the autumnal Italian Lepontine Alps.
But what makes the Giro di Lombardia so difficult? And what type of riders have performed best?
To answer all your questions on “Il Lombardia”, we’ll be covering:
- Giro Di Lombardia: An Overview
- The History Of The Giro Di Lombardia
- What Type Of Riders Do Best In The Giro Di Lombardia?
- What Happened at the 2022 Giro di Lombardia?
Ready to find out about “The Classic Of The Falling Leaves”?
Let’s get going!
Giro Di Lombardia: An Overview
The Giro di Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy) – officially known as “Il Lombardia” – is one of the most historic day races in road cycling, first held in 1905.
It’s characterized by the change of seasons in the Lepontine Alps from summer to autumn as the mountains regain their snow caps, the days get shorter and colder, and the trees begin to change color and lose their leaves – hence the nickname “The Classic Of The Falling Leaves”.
The route of Il Lombardia has undergone more alterations than any of the other four cycling Monuments. However, the race has always been considered a climber’s Classic, and has always included around five or six significant climbs. It can be an especially exciting Classic to watch, since the sharp elevation provides the perfect recipe for thrilling breakaways and aggressive attacks.
One of the race’s few fixed points is the infamous Madonna del Ghisallo, one of the best-known climbs in Italy. Made famous by the likes of cycling legends Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, who both claimed that the Ghisallo was their favorite climb in the world, it’s 10.6 km battle over a deceptive average gradient of 5.2%, containing short ramps of up to 30%.
The route doesn’t have many other fixed points. However, it frequents some climbs time and time again.
One of the most infamous of these is the Muro di Sormano. Although it is a fairly short climb at just 1.7 km, it has gained its infamy due to its steepness, with a horrifying average gradient of 16%, and a max gradient of 27%. You can see why the word “Muro” is in its name – the literal translation of which is “Wall”.
Due to the time of year, the weather is often a major determining factor in the race. Poor conditions – a common occurrence in autumnal Lombardy – can wreak havoc on the riders.
The result is often a grueling, challenging ride in which the top contenders attack early on, which incidentally makes the race an even more exciting spectacle. It provokes the image of talented riders struggling through the snowy summits, powering into the rainy descents in the hopes of catching the breakaway.
In good weather, however, Il Lombardia is a stunning spectacle. The orange and red hues of the autumnal Alpine trees filtering bright sunlight down on the riders, battling over stunning climbs, with a backdrop of a beautiful lake paints an almost romantic image of the event.
This is often the case, too. The unpredictability of the conditions is a characteristic feature of the Classic of the Falling Leaves.
The History of the Giro di Lombardia
First raced in 1905, the Giro di Lombardia has a long history, and has undergone a great number of significant changes since its inception – unlike many of the other Monuments.
The original intention of the race was actually as a rematch and a chance for cycling redemption. Local Milanese rider Pierino Albini, after suffering defeat in the “Italian King’s Cup” to Giovanni Cuniolo, wanted a second chance to beat his fellow countryman in a race.
Luckily, a friend of Albini’s, journalist Tullo Morgagni, organized an opportunity for Albini to prove himself against Cuniolo with a home advantage. It was announced in Morgagni’s newspaper, “La Gazzetta dello Sport“, that there would be a new event held in the autumn of 1905, called Milano-Milano.
Though Albini ultimately failed his mission to win the race, the Milano-Milano had attracted spectators from around Europe, and soon became a fixture in the cycling calendar, characteristically the closing event of the year’s season. In 1907, the race was renamed to the familiar Giro di Lombardia.
Interestingly, although Pierino Albini never emerged victorious in the race, Cuniolo, the man for whom the race was designed solely for him to be beaten, won Il Lombardia in 1909.
The start and end points of the race remained in Milan for some 55 years, until 1960. However, since then, the race has kicked off and ended in a number of different locations. For 24 years from 1960, Il Lombardia began in Milan but finished in Como, along a route similar to the present one.
This was then switched for five years, with the start in Como and the finish in Milan. For the next 20 years, the route was altered endlessly, with new start and end points nearly every year. Notable routes included a brief stint (almost) returning to its roots with Milano-Monza, an international version starting in Mendrisio, Switzerland, and another year of Milano-Como.
In the past eight editions, the route has settled a little bit, with the start and end points commonly switching back and forth between Bergamo and Como. One (almost) constant in the race, however, has been the legendary Category 2 climb of Madonna del Ghisallo.
For around 70 years, the World Championships were held in summer, and so the Giro di Lombardia was nicknamed Il Mondiale d’Autumno (“The World Championship of Autumn”). However, this was made redundant upon the revolution to the cycling calendar perpetrated by the UCI, moving the actual World Championships to October.
Il Lombardia is now the ultimate opportunity for riders to take an “Autumn Double”, by winning both it and the World Championships, or for riders to take revenge on their victorious competitors after the World Championships have concluded.
What Type of Riders Do Best in the Giro di Lombardia?
Although the race is known as a climber’s classic, it’s not only the grimpeurs with a fighting chance of victory.
The route actually has a distinctly mixed style – there are many long, painful Alpine climbs, but it finishes with a flat sprint finish. Of course, this isn’t ideal for a sprinter, but does favor riders with diverse abilities. For this reason, Grand Tour GC contenders are often the favorites.
This is exemplified by the all-time most prolific winner of the Race of the Falling Leaves, Italian road cycling legend Fausto Coppi, who won the race on five separate occasions, between 1946 and 1954.
He was a fantastic climber, having taken the mountains classification of the Giro d’Italia three times, and even has the award for the first rider to reach the highest point in each year’s Giro named after him, the Cima Coppi. However, he was also a talented time-trialist and sprinter, making him the ultimate all-rounder.
In addition to being the king of Lombardy, he also managed to win the pink jersey five times, sharing the record for the most overall Giro d’Italia wins with Alfredo Binda and the great Eddy Merckx.
More recently too, the race has been dominated by the Grand Tour GC contenders, with Grand Tour winners Vincenzo Nibali and Tadej Pogačar each having won two.
Unlike the other Monuments, which tend to favor puncheurs, sprinters, or the downright fearless (Paris-Roubaix, we’re looking at you!), it seems clear that the similarity of the race to a challenging stage of the Giro d’Italia lends itself to the diversely gifted talents of GC contenders, more than any other riding style.
What Happened at the 2022 Giro di Lombardia?
This year’s route began in Bergamo, and finished in the lakeside town of Como, the exact opposite of the previous year. The race featured a number of significant climbs, starting with the Passo di Ganda, a spectator favorite from last year’s race, followed by a peppering of punchy climbs in the first half of the 253 km route.
With around 60 km to go, the riders crested the legendary Madonna del Ghisallo, before a double ascent of the San Fermo della Battaglia, sandwiching of the brutal Civiglio. The race finished with a 1.5 km flat finish into Como.
Who Were The Favorites?
This year promised a race of both high intensity and emotions, with the final day of racing for two retiring legends of the sport, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali.
Going into the race, the defending champion, UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar, was the obvious favorite but could be given a run for his money by Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard.
Other contenders included Julian Alaphilippe, Enric Mas, and Adam Yates. Vuelta a España 2022 winner and newly-crowned World Champion Remco Evenepoel did not compete in this year’s race since he was busy getting married.
What Happened in the Race?
After a series of earlier attacks getting quickly caught by the bunch, the real action kicked off with 20 km to go. One of the favorites, Julian Alaphilippe, cracked on the relentless slopes of Civiglio, alongside the retiring Vincenzo Nibali – “The Shark” unable to take one more bite to sign off his glittering career.
Tadej Pogačar attacked with 19 km to go, dropping rival Jonas Vingegaard with ease, but Movistar’s Enric Mas managed to stay on his wheel, with Bahrain Victorious’ Mikel Landa lurking around 15 seconds behind. This remained the situation up until the race’s final moments, with the two-man breakaway staying strong over the second ascent of Battaglia.
Enric Mas kicked off the sprint with 150 m to go, but the strength of defending champion Tadej Pogačar proved too much for the Movistar man. Tadej Pogačar became the first rider ever to win their first two entries into the Classic of the Falling Leaves.
Enric Mas came in just half a wheel behind him, with Mikel Landa holding his own for a full 19 km to earn his first-ever podium finish in a Monument. Alejandro Valverde ended his career with the preservation of his record of finishing in the top 10 of every Monument race he has entered, finishing 6th. Pre-race favorite Vingegaard finished a disappointing 16th.
It was a continuation of the impressive talent of Pogačar, however, that took the headlines. Breaking yet more records, this young rider is likely to be at the pinnacle of cycling for years and years to come.