The Il Lombardia marks the last major race of the cycling season and the debut in the rainbow jersey for freshly crowned world champion Rui Costa on Sunday. The 242-kilometer (150-mile) route starts in Bergamo and finishes in Lecco along Lake Como. Here are five things to know about the single-day classic:
Portuguese rider Rui Costa took advantage of indecision by Spanish rivals to win the world title last week. Now he's teammates again with Alejandro Valverde on the strong Movistar team, which also includes Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana. Joachin Rodriguez is the defending champion and will be motivated after a bitter second-place finish at worlds. Other contenders include two-time champion Philippe Gilbert, Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Alberto Contador and Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian who placed third in 2008 and last year. The local favorites from Italy are led by Giro d'Italia winners Vincenzo Nibali, Michele Scarponi and Ivan Basso.
RAIN, RAIN, AND MORE RAIN: Every big race in Italy this year has been marked by bad weather, and it doesn't appear this one will be any different. Forecasts call for consistent rain throughout the race and temperatures of about 13 degrees (55 F) at the start and 15 degrees (59 F) at the finish. Most of the favorites are still drying themselves off so to speak from last weekend's world championships in Tuscany, where rain fell — often in a deluge — for the first six hours. That came after snow at the start of the year during the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Milan-San Remo, which had to be split into two parts. There was also consistent cold, rain and snow during the Giro d'Italia.
CONTADOR LOOKS TO 2014: It hasn't been the best of years for two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. The Spaniard with the Saxo-Tinkoff squad finished fourth in the Tour, narrowly losing an uphill time trial to Chris Froome, and his only victory in 2014 was a stage win in the Tour of San Luis in Argentina way back in January. "I consider the Lombardia my first race of 2014," Contador told race organizer the Gazzetta dello Sport. "I want to file away 2013 as soon as possible. It was a strange season that started with some scheduling mistakes and continued with too many demands." Contador finished fifth in Wednesday's Milano-Torino race. He was ninth last year when he rode the Lombardia for the first time.
FIVE CLIMBS: The highlights of the Lombardia course are five climbs spaced evenly apart along the second two-thirds of the race. First comes the Valcava, the longest ascent at 11.6 kilometers (7 miles), with an average gradient of 8 percent. Next is the short but steep Colle Brianza. No. 3 is the Muro di Sormano, which translates to wall of Sormano and understandably at an average of 15.8 percent with stretches as high as 27 percent over nearly 2 kilometers (1 mile). The Ghisallo, the fourth climb, is the race's most well known. It lasts 8.5 kilometers (5 miles) at an average of 6.2 percent with stretches at 14 percent. Finally, there's the Villa Vergano, a 3.3-kilometer (2-mile) at 7.4 percent with stretches of 15 percent that ends just 9 kilometers (6 miles) from the race finish. Most of the action should come on the final two climbs and the ensuing descents, which could prove tricky if it rains as expected.
WHO'S IN CHARGE?: RCS Sport CEO Michele Acquarone has been suspended from his position during an investigation into the alleged misappropriation of at least 13 million euros ($17.7 million) at the company, which organizes the Lombardia. Acquarone has also been the Giro d'Italia director for the last two years. Raimondo Zanaboni was named RCS Sport president on Friday but it remains unclear who is in charge of the races, with next year's Giro scheduled to be unveiled on Monday.
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