By David Hunter
Bologna – San Luca 222km
Time for my favourite race of the year.
The 100th edition of the race and the organisers have stuck with tradition. This is very similar to the 2016 edition, with just a small increase in the distance of the race.
It’s the finish, that made me fall in love with the race. The riders climb up to the basilica, though the centre of the town. They have to tackle some serious gradients, with the fans shouting them on, just a couple of metres away. San Luca is a beautiful place, a brilliant finish town for any race.
After a few years of meagre start lists, the race has again found a place in the heart of the teams. The difficult route, and the distance, make it perfect preparation for Il Lombardia. This is one of the reasons we see a high quality of rider taking to the start.
Looks like a nice day for the peloton.
This race is different from most one day races, thanks to Brasimone. The climb is almost 20km at 3%, making it more suited to a stage in a grand tour. Given the quality of climbers in the field, the climb should see an initial selection made, with riders from the smaller teams in danger of being dropped.
After that, things should settle down until we reach the lap circuit in San Luca. The peloton have to tackle the climb on five occasions, this is certainly not easy. The hill is 2.1km at 10%, with a maximum of 18%. Put in simple terms, it is a bastard!
Such a difficult climb is perfect for attackers, it doesn’t always come down to the final ascent. Brave riders can be rewarded, if they attack on the penultimate lap, especially if they have riders to try and slow any chase down. This is where the race becomes very tactical.
The big teams will want representation in any late move, making it hard for a break to succeed. With so many big names, we all will hope for a showdown, on the final climb. It is the 100th edition after all!
2.1km at 10%, but it feels harder than that. With an easy finish, the middle section of the climb is the hardest. The riders battle up the 18% section, with the fans very close to them. This is what makes the race. The hardest section is the kilometre leading up to the final 500m, this is where damage can be made.
In 2016, Fabio Aru was the rider trying to blow everyone off his wheel. After he attacked a few times, Esteban Chaves put it into a big gear and sprinted away from the rest. It was a perfect move by him, and no surprise he went on to win Il Lombardia.
Thoughts From The Bunch
As it’s the 100th edition of the race, I decided to call in some help. Getting a riders perspective is always good, something I’ve done before in previous previews, but not for a long time. I decided to call on Hugh Carthy of Cannondale, to see what he thinks of the race. Hugh raced here in 2015, taking a very respectable 19th place in his first pro season.
Can you tell me your memories from 2015?
I remember mostly, a hard final in cold, wet weather. I looked forward to the race for a while during the latter part of the season.
What’s the atmosphere like on the climb in San Luca? It looks loud on TV, as the fans are quite close.
Even on a miserable day in 2015, there were lots of people lining the route, not just the final climb. But on San Luca, the fans were great; similar to crowds you only see in Pais Vasco. In some countries there are lots of people watching races but they don’t know the riders or what’s happening. In Italy, in general, they understand more and know more of the riders.
From 1.5km to 500m, the climb looks really hard. What is that section like?
The entire climb is hard after 200km, but the first section you hit with speed so you notice it less. The last 1.5km starts with a really steep section then settles a bit. There’s nowhere to hide. If you haven’t got the legs you’re dropped and you can see your competitors on the long straights as they ride away from you.
Where does this rate in your favourite races?
I have ridden in most continents in my few years as a professional and Italy is probably my favourite country to race in. Any race there has a special atmosphere. Emilia is a climbers race with a lot of history and some great previous winners so it has a lot of appeal to me. Riding through the arches on the circuit in amongst all the people is special, too.
How hard is it to get the tactics right in the circuit?
I think the circuit lends itself to an attacking tactic, providing you have the legs. It’s the climb then a descent; almost no flat and the roads are twisty, so once you have 10 or 15 seconds, you’re quickly out of sight. In previous editions the winner has attacked on one of the earlier laps and survived in a small group to the finish.
Esteban Chaves – after promising much during the Vuelta, the Colombian slipped away in the final week, eventually finishing 11th. He returns to Bologna as the defending champion, it’s a race that the Colombians do love, winning three of the last six editions. The last rider to successfully defend the title was Robert Gesink, back in 2010. It is a feat that Chaves will feel confident of achieving, despite a poor season. I think we’ll see him pour all his frustration into this race and hope to end the season on a high.
Rigoberto Uran – was an impressive 3rd here in 2016. Uran has enjoyed his best ever season and is usually a huge threat in one day races. Cannondale arrive with a very strong team, he will be well supported until the very end. As I have mentioned, the Colombians seem to love this race, it would not be a surprise to see Uran follow in the footsteps of Betancur, Quintana and Chaves.
Gianni Moscon – it’s tough to pick the Team Sky leader, but I think they’ll go with their young Italian. After a brilliant performance in the worlds, tainted by holding onto a team car, he will look to put that all behind him on home soil. He was one of the best riders in the Vuelta and seems to have held onto his form. Moscon is enjoying a wonderful season and would love a win on home soil. If not him, Sky also have Rosa, Henao and Landa.
Thibaut Pinot – this is a race that should suit Pinot well. After abandoning the Tour, he has carefully managed his schedule in order to peak for this coming week. A good performance in Bologna would set him up nicely for Il Lombardia. The steep slopes climbing to San Luca will be great for the Frenchman, he’ll certainly start as one of the big favourites.
Fabio Aru – not been seen since attempting the Tour/Vuelta double! That ended in disaster, with him enduring a horrible final stage in the mountains. It will be interesting to see his form, especially with Lombardia just one week away. Aru always has a knack of producing good performances when he looks down and out. He was 2nd here in 2016 and would love to take one step forward this year.
Diego Ulissi – won this race back in 2013, a lot has happened in his career since then. His first crack at the Tour de France didn’t go exactly according to plan, but he was very close to a stage victory. Since then, Ulissi won in Montreal and was 2nd in Marco Pantani. After working for others in the World Championships, he’ll be keen to take this crown for a second time, but he will face tough competition.
Vincenzo Nibali – okay, he didn’t win the Vuelta, but he’ll still be very happy with 2nd place. The Shark is now back in one day mode, he is a rider that the others will certainly fear. The good news for them is that the final climb isn’t perfect for Nibali, he can struggle on the steep slopes. Saying that, when in top form, he can also fly up these types of climbs. Expect a big performance as he lays down a marker for Lombardia.
Egan Bernal – the Colombian is enjoying an incredible run of form. He won the Tour de l’Avenir and was 3rd in Marco Pantani. He is soon off to join Team Sky, so he needs to take every chance he can in the next couple of weeks. No doubt, he’ll find leadership roles hard to come by during his first season with his new team. Androni have enjoyed a wonderful season and they’ll hope that Bernal can deliver another big result.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predicting a win for Egan Bernal. Androni have not won a race at this level since 2012, that is a long time without a big success. In Bernal, they have one of the most talented cyclists of his age group and I think he’ll follow in the footsteps of his fellow Colombians and taste success in San Luca.
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