The Italian one-day scene is no longer what it once was but one part of the calendar still flourishes. The famous series of autumn classics in Italy is still very rich and until October 1 when it all culminates at Il Lombardia, no less than 11 relatively big races will be held in the country. After two hectic weeks, the preparation for Lombardy reaches its climax in the final big test ahead of the Italian monument in Wednesday’s Milano-Torino where a star-studded line-up of climbers will battle it out for victory in the infamous Colle della Superga on the outskirts of Turin.
Being one of cycling’s traditional key countries, Italy once had a very rich calendar of one-day races. Both the spring and the autumn were loaded with great classics in some of the best cycling terrain in the world. Classics riders with a good punch on the climbs and a fast finish excelled on the lumpy courses of the many race in one of cycling’s main countries.
Unfortunately, the tough economic times have taken its toll on the calendar and now there are barely any races left in the first part of the year. The only one-day races in February are GP Costa degli Etruschi and Trofeo Laigueglia, only Strade Bianche and GP Industria have survived on the March calendar and in April, there is just the Giro dell’Appennino left. Trofeo Matteotti is held in July and there is no longer a single race in August which was once one of the busiest months on the calendar.
However, the autumn classics have mostly managed to survive. In fact, no country can boast such a rich amount of big one-day races at any time of the year as Italy can in the months of September and October. No less than 10 1.1, 1.HC and WorldTour races make up an intriguing and exciting part of the cycling season that plays a special role and is dear to many riders’ heart. The highlight if of course the monument Il Lombardia which has traditional been the final event in the series. In recent years, a reshuffling of the calendar has moved it a bit forward in the calendar and the weekend with the Giro dell’Emilia and GP Beghelli has brought the curtain down on the Italian season. This year the new date for the Worlds means that those races will be held earlier than usual, and Il Lombardia will again be the final race in the series. Hence, all 11 races will take place between September 14 and October 1, turning it into the busiest period in any cycling country during the year.
The many one-day races play a special role for many Italian riders. The first races have traditionally been the final key events for the national coach to finalize his selection for the World Championships, and very often the national team has lined up in some of the races that have served as some kind of a dress rehearsal. The later events have formed their own block with a busy week of hilly races that work serve as perfect preparation for Il Lombardia. That block includes Milan-Turin and Gran Piemonte which are organized by RCS Sports and those races have a much more international flavor than the early races which are mainly dominated by Italians.
The series kicked off with Coppa Bernocchi, Coppa Agostoni and Memorial Marco Pantani and last week things got even more intense with no less than four races. The final week is highlighted by Saturday’s Il Lombardia but before we get to the big finale, three of the biggest races in Italy will serve as a warm-up. On Tuesday, the classics riders and strong sprinters will go for glory in Tuesday’s Tre Valli Varesine, the climbers will be in action in Wednesday’s Milano-Torino and the sprinters hope to fine-tune their form for the Worlds in Thursday’s Gran Piemonte.
Milano-Sanremo and Il Lombardia are the two biggest Italian one-day races but they are not the oldest. That honour goes to Milano-Torino which was held for the first time in 1876 when 8 riders embarked on the trip between two of Italy’s cities. Only four of them reached Turin and apparently, the first event was no great success. It took another 18 years before the second edition was took place and in the first years, the race was only held in 1896, 1903, 1905 and 1911. There was finally some continuity from 1913 and for the rest of the century it was held almost every year, with just a few interruptions during the wars, in the 20s and in 1986.
In the early years, it was the opening race of the Italian season and took place in March seven days before Milan-Sanremo but in 1987 it was moved to the autumn where it was held in late September or early August as the organizers were not fond of the inclement weather. A few times, the organizers moved it back to the spring but nowadays it is known as one of the big late-season races. As one of Italy’s major races, it has been won by many of the greatest stars as Fiorenzo Magni, Ferdi Kubler, Miguel Poblet, Gianni Motta, Roger De Vlaeminck, Giuseppte Saronni, Francesco Moser, Phil Anderson, Gianni Bugno, Rolf Sørensen, Laurent Jalabert, Michele Bartoli and Alberto Contador have all won the event. In fact it is the only one-day race that Contador has ever won.
Unfortunately, the race came into financial difficulty in the 2000s and after it was briefly moved to the spring from 2005 to 2007, it disappeared from the calendar in 2008. It was not run until Giro d’Italia organizers RCS Sport stepped in and reached an agreement with organizers Associazione Ciclistica Arona to organize the race for the next three years.
In recent years, Milan-Turin has enjoyed a bit of a revival and it is now a big goal for many of the world’s best climbers. Together with Il Lombardia and GranPiemonte, it makes up the Trittico dei Autunno race series that is held over four days in the same week. As it comes just three days before Lombardy and is suited to climbers, it is the perfect final test for the big Italian monument. Furthermore, the involvement of RCS have made the field a lot stronger and much more international and it now sits just below the WorldTour as an important 1.HC race.
Milan and Turin are both located in the Po Valley which is the flattest part of Italy and so it has traditionally been one of the fastest Italian classics suited to sprinters. However, the race has completely changed its nature after the climb of Colle de Superga was included. In the first years, the riders crested the summit with 16km to go and then descended to a finish on the Fausto Coppi velodrome in Turin. In 2012, however, the finish was moved to the top of the climb which is now tackled twice in the finale and this has turned it into the select few one-day races that the climbers can realistically target and those riders even have a much better chance here than they have in Lombardy.
The change is reflected in the list of winners as Contador, Diego Ulissi, Giampaolo Caruso and Diego Rosa have all come out on top since the finish was moved. Last year it was Rosa who took a maiden pro win with a fantastic solo ride up the Colle di Superga. He dropped and impressively field of climbers to take the win ahead of Rafal Majka, Fabio Aru, Thibaut Pinot and Wout Poels.
The 97th edition of Milano-Torino will be held on the same 186km course that was used last year. The riders will take the start in the Milan suburb of San Giuliano Milanese and from there they will head west along completely flat roads in the Po Valley. As they get closer to Turin, the terrain gets slightly hillier bu the first 162km are made for high speed and big rouleurs.
That changes completely with 23.8km to go. Here the riders hit the bottom of the Colle di Superga (4.9km, 9.1%, max. 14%) which is a very regular climb with a rather constant gradient. The first time they will skip the final 600m to go down and with 19.5km to go, they will start a technical descent that leads back to Turin. A short flat section then leads back to the bottom of the climb which they will tackle for a second time. They will now go all the way to the top. There is a U-turn with 600m to go and from there the gradient is 8.2%, with one last bend 50m from the finish on a 7m wide road.
Milano-Torino is a very honest race that rarely leaves much room for tactics to come into play. Colle di Superga may be a relatively short climb but its steep gradients mean that there is nowhere to hide. The last four editions have shown that this is a race for pure climbers who have a very rare chance to go for victory in a major one-day race.
The riders will do the climb twice and on paper the first passage is a great chance for some of the outsiders to anticipate the favourites. That happens every year and a small group often crests the summit with a small advantage. However, there is usually enough interest in the peloton to control things and it has always come down to a battle between the best on the final climb.
It is likely to be the same in 2016. This race is a big goal for Fabio Aru and Astana have clearly the strongest teams. There is little doubt that they will control things firmly and try to make the race as hard as possible. Cannondale will have similar plans and also have a strong team and Ag2r must be going for the win with Romain Bardet. That means that there should be plenty of interest in keeping things together for a final battle between the main riders. As the weather will be great with beautiful sunshine and little wind, the race will be even easier to control.
Milano-Torino is very similar to Giro dell’Emilia which can give a solid indication of the form of some of the climbers. Colle della Superga is a bit longer than the San Luca climb in Bologna and so is more suited to pure climbers but the finale is not that different In that race, Esteban Chaves, Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Uran and Fabio Aru were clearly the best. From the quartet only Chaves will be absent in Turin and Bardet, Uran and Aru stand out as the three favourites.
Romain Bardet finished second behind Chaves and goes into the race in Turin as our favourite. The Frenchman has improved a lot in 2016 and has made Il Lombardia a very big goal. His second place in Emilia clearly shows that he has hit peak condition and he will be ready to go one better in Turin. The longer climb of the Colle di Superga suits him better than the shorter climb in Bologna and he is backed by a very strong team.
Bardet may be known as a stage racer but he is a good one-day rider too. He has been in the top 10 in Liege several times which is a confirmation of his punch on these relatively short climbs. On paper, he is one of the best climbers here and he has the form and the motivation to shine in a finale that suits him well. Bardet is our favourite to win the race.
It has been a bad year for Rigoberto Uran but now the Colombian finally seems to have hit a golden vein of form. He was already strong in Canada before he headed o Europe where he was third in Emilia. Today he was the strongest rider in Tre Valli Varesine where he simply rode Gianluca Brambilla off his wheel on the final climb. His condition seems to be on the rise and he is very motivated to make up for his poor season. He hasn’t had the best results this year but he has actually been climbing pretty well. On paper Bardet is maybe slightly stronger but on a short climb like this, Uran could have an advantage. Furthermore, he is fast in an uphill sprint.
Fabio Aru was already close to victory in 2015 and he will be hugely motivated to win in 2016. He is backed by the best team in the race and they will try to make the race as hard as possible. That’s what Aru needs as the climb is a bit short to suit him perfectly but he has the means to turn it into a race of attrition. He was already close in Emilia where he attacked a bit too early and in general he has shown great form in his last races where he has been on the attack in every single event. This is the one-day race that suits him the best and as he is maybe the best climber in the race, it will be no surprise if he takes the win.
On paper, Wout Poels is one of the very best in this race but it is hard to know what to expect from the Dutchman. He had a bad day in the Tour of Britain and so dropped out of GC contention but he still managed to win the queen stage. That made him confident for the European Championships but he did a bad race in Plumelec. In general, he doesn’t seem to have the best form as he has been riding very inconsistently. On the other hand, his win in Britain indicates that he is not completely off the mark. Poels is such a great climber that he doesn’t need to be at 100% to win a race like this.
The in-form rider at the moment is Rui Costa. The Lampre-Merida rider has been absolutely flying since the Tour. He was the best on the climbs in Hamburg, Plouay and Canada where he dropped all the best climbers with a great attack in Montreal. He was also good at the European Championships but that race was a bit too easy for him. There is little doubt that he is in better form than all his rivals but the finale is not tailor-made for him as the final climb is probably a bit too steep. It won’t be easy to keep up with the pure climbers but with this kind of form, you never know what he can do.
Poels may be Sky’s best card but they have more options. Leopold König hasn’t raced much this year and so is a lot fresher than most. He only had one bad day in the Vuelta and otherwise he would have been firmly in podium contention. He hasn’t raced since the Spanish race so his form is uncertain but we expect him to be good. If both he and Poels can be there in the finale, the team can benefit from strength in numbers.
Movistar had planned to go into the race with Alejandro Valverde but he decided to withdraw as a matter of precaution. Instead, Daniel Moreno will lead the team. He has not been at his best in 2016 but just like in 2015 he seems to have come out of the Vuelta in great form. Last year he finished second in Il Lombardia and this year he has already taken third at the European Championships. Moreno is not a pure climber but on a short, steep climb Luca he is one of the best in the world. He rode made in Emilia but as he is always very inconsistent, you never know what he can do here.
Ruben Fernandez is a back-up plan for Movistar. Everybody saw how strong he was in the Vuelta and he also rode solidly at the European Championships. However, he was clearly tired at the end of the Spanish race and it is hard to imagine that he will be at his best here. On the other hand, you never know how Vuelta riders come out of the race and if he has the form he had one month ago, he will be strong in a finale like this.
Rafal Majka finished on the podium in 2015 but this year he doesn’t have the same form. He hasn’t done the Vuelta and has had a long year with the Giro-Tour double. He is very unlikely to be in a form that will allow him to compete for the win. On the other hand, he rode well for Sagan in Canada and that shows that he is not too bad.
Diego Ulissi is a former winner of the race and is clearly in excellent form. However, he is not a pure climber and it a field that is made up of excellent riders, it will be hard for him to compete with the best. By setting his own pace, he is likely to finish in the top 10 but we doubt that he will win the race.
Ag2r have Bardet as their leader but can also rely on Pierre Latour and Domenico Pozzovivo. The former spent the Giro dell’Emilia on the attack and was only caught with less than one kilometre to go which proves that he has come out of the Vuelta in great form. Pozzovivo has not been at his best since his crash at lasy year’s Giro but in the GP de Wallonie he showed that he is back on form. On the other hand, he didn’t do well in Emilia so he still has to prove that he is back at his best level.
Rodolfo Torres had a breakthrough year in 2015 but in 2016 he has been far from his best. However, he has finally found some form at the end of the year and his great attack in the finale of the Giro dell’Emilia shows that he is able to compete with the best. The finale definitely suits him well.
Davide Formolo and Michele Scarponi both ended the Vuelta in good form and should find the finale to their liking. However, they both worked for their leaders in Emilia and it is very likely that they will have a similar role here. On the other hand, they may attack as part of the tactical game and if they have the legs from the Vuelta they will be among the best.
Speaking about the Vuelta, we are very curious to see what Ben Hermans and Peter Kennaugh can do. The Belgian ended the race in great form and carried that condition into the European Championships where he was one of the best. He was not at the same level in Emilia though so he may be getting a bit tired now. Kennaugh hasn’t raced since the Vuelta so it remains to be seen how he has recovered.
Finally, we will point to Mikel Landa. The Basque hasn’t raced for almost two months as he had to skip the Vuelta due to an injury. Nothing has come out about his form and we would be pretty surprised if he is close to his best. However, we won’t rule him completely out as everything depends on how he has been able to train in the last few weeks.
***** Romain Bardet
**** Rigoberto Uran, Fabio Aru
*** Wout Poels, Rui Costa, Leopold König, Daniel Moreno
** Rafal Majka, Ruben Fernandez, Diego Ulissi, Pierre Latour, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rodolfo Torres, Davide Formolo, Michele Scarponi, Ben Hermans, Mikel Landa, Peter Kennaugh
* Jan Bakelants, Pello Bilbao, Giovanni Visconti, Egor Silin, Joe Dombrowski, Franco Pellizotti, Frank Schleck, Matvey Mamykin, Diego Rosa, Darwin Atapuma, Samuel Sanchez, Davide Villella, David Lopez
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