The Giro di Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy) is officially one of the five Monuments of bike racing. The other four are Milan–San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. However, the Tour of Lombardy always seems to be the Cinderella of the one-day classics.
Every racing season has a number of obvious high points: the moment when the first races in Belgium kick off; the Spring Classics, such as the Tour of Flanders, Paris–Roubaix and the Liège–Bastogne–Liège; the Giro d’Italia, the first Grand Tour; and the Tour de France. After that things tend to fade out a bit. We obviously still have the Tour of Spain and the UCI World Championships, but for some reason bike racing receives less attention after the summer months. And that’s a shame, because you could miss out on the Tour of Lombardy—the pearl of the autumn.
Tour of Lombardy as the finale of the season
The Tour of Lombardy takes place every year in October, though for some it feels like the race season’s already over at this time of year. Professional bike racers invariably set up a race schedule in advance, and then they pick out the events at which they want to peak. The difficulty in fighting for victory in every event is well known—the last time that someone won, for example, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year is a long time ago.
Some riders want to peak in spring, others aim for the summer and the Tour de France, and others a little later for the UCI World Championships. But preparing to peak in the Tour of Lombardy? Basically no one does that. And that’s exactly why it’s such a great race.
None of the top riders are particularly good at such a late point in the season, and that makes this race a particularly open and unpredictable one with a lot of riders in contention for the spoils. It’s primarily the climbers who will be fighting for the overall victory in Lombardy—there are a number of tough climbs that they have to deal with, and often in bad weather. This often makes Lombardy a truly heroic race: no one’s prepared; it’s 250 gruelling, hilly kilometres; and it could well be raining.
Tough, but great
Very tough for the riders, and wonderful for us viewers. We can sit back in our armchairs and watch the big names from the peloton attempt to finish off their seasons with the perfect last race. It’s also the big names that often win: previous winners include Vincenzo Nibali, Esteban Chaves, Daniel Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez, Philippe Gilbert, Damiano Cunego, Paulo Bettini, and Michele Bartoli.
One of the reasons the Tour of Lombardy has not (yet) earned the respect it deserves in the Netherlands is quite simple: Dutchmen hardly ever win. Robert Gesink was seventh in 2016 and tenth in 2013, Bauke Mollema was seventh in 2012, and both Johnny Hoogerland and Karsten Kroon came fifth in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Dutchmen have only won three times, and you have to hit the history books for that information. Hennie Kuiper in 1981 was the most recent and, before that, Jo de Roo won in 1962 and 1963. So, it’s not a race for people hoping for Dutch victories, but for the neutral viewer this race is without doubt one of the highlights of the year.