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Riding Il Lombardia


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Why Il Lombardia is currently the best cyclo-sportive on the calendar

Having had the pleasure of completing a number of sportives over the past few years, there are a few that stick as firmly in the memory bank as this one. Il Lombardia, the race of the falling leaves is one such event. In a calendar packed with events throughout the year, to me, this is one that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This is perhaps another of many reasons why you should include it in your list of events to do in 2018.

Before sharing my happy memories of taking part in this event, I should give it some context. As an amateur cyclist, I feel I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take part in a relatively exclusive sportive married to one of the most seminal one day pro events in the year.

*The Monuments are the most coveted one day classic races in the pro calendar, comprising of Milan San Remo, Liege Bastogne Liege, Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix and of course, Il Lombardia

This is an event that doesn’t get the attention it deserves

To put its exclusivity in perspective, fewer than 2000 cyclists took part in the sportive last year compared with 15000+ who competed in L’Etape du Tour.

Many of us like to add a sprinkling of purpose to our riding. With our ‘season’ starting in January, we invest in hundreds of ‘training’ miles on home soil. We ride in all kinds of weather. Then we test ourselves at a handful of events, predominately in the summer months of the year. Falling in October, this event gives you the chance to see what you’re capable of at the peak of your fitness. At the same time, catching one of the last great events of the season. Given its location in Northern Italy, those hailing from less sunnier climes are maximising the chance of catching those summer rays, shortly before we put away our single layer cycling clothing and look towards those indoor-based training facilities.

See what you’re capable of at the peak of your fitness, catching one of the last great events of the season

Let’s get this straight, Il Lombardia is very Italian. Part of the appeal of travelling to and cycling on other corners of the planet is to expand the mind and learn to appreciate variety. The Italians can teach us much about many things. At ‘Il Lombardia’ the local rider sets the presentation bar high for the rest of the bunch. Expect fluoro colour palettes and box fresh garms a plenty. Such impeccable presentation in a sport deserves respect. Though many will disagree, high end clothing offers little in the way of competitive advantage. However, championing the fact that it does demonstrates a philosophy I find fresh and inspiring.

The Italians can teach us much about many things: Expect fluoro colour palettes and box fresh garms

The other notable feature of this very Italian of sportives is the riding pace of the locals! From the off, no one hangs about! It takes conscious effort to take the tortoise, not the hare’s approach to a timed cycling event 110km long. Il Lombardia features no less than 4 major climbs. One climb averages 15.6% gradient for nearly 2km, topping out at granny gear beating 27%! For the record, Saturday’s pro race includes 6 signature climbs, 4000m of elevation and a total distance of circa 255km.

4 major climbs, one of which averages 15.6% gradient for nearly 2km

Taking place on Sunday, Il Lombardia sportive borrows nearly all its features from the longer (and more brutal) pro race. Though steeped in history, the sportive itself has only recently been put back in the calendar. Il Lombardia sportive has had a decade-long hiatus, adding to its exclusivity.

This event starts and finishes in Como, a beautiful town at the southern tip of Lake Como itself. Most of the time you are blessed with some of the most impressive, positively distracting vistas I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing on a ride of any kind. Tarmac is smooth and the topography is varied. There’s a relatively flat first segment. The middle proves fairly hilly with a long descending approach back into Como. There’s a final climb out to the east of Como, prior to the finish.

The most impressive, positively distracting vistas I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing on a ride

Where to stay? 40-odd minutes drive north out of Como, following the winding coastal road that hugs the edge of the lake,  you arrive at the picturesque town of Bellagio. Along with its beautiful architecture, Bellagio is situated at the foot of the famed ‘Il Ghisallo’. This makes it super convenient for watching the pro race. All along the 8.6km there are numerous points worthy of watching the action. However, arguably none beat the final ascent at the top next to the church and adjacent to the impressive cycling museum ‘Il Museo di Ciclismo’. The latter incidently has an extensive collection of bicycles rich in competition history. Here you’ll find numerous Maglia Rosas and a comprehensive history of Il Lombardia.

For those looking for more facilities and a roof terrace and the convenience of being near the start/finish line in Como, the 4* ‘Hotel Como’ might be the preferred option. Being a stones throw from the lake, the hotel offers great food. It is a relaxing place to stay and never far from quiet roads nor what the surrounding area has to offer.

Top tips – Don’t be fooled by fast paced masses once the start gun goes. Resist the temptation to battle for position early on and focus on maintaining a familiar and sustainable pace.  The event contains some testing sections. Il Ghisalo comes half way through and offers much in the way of visual distraction ahead of peaking at the church after 8.5km at an average of 6.2%.

Resist the temptation to battle for position early on

For the first time riding a bike, I actually felt proud of myself for completing a climb and not falling off. Such was the severity of the gradient for Il Muro di Sormano’s 2km climb with an average of  15.8%. The ascent involves as much all round fitness as it does choosing a good line. Other riders threaten to become stationary obstacles as the gradient takes its prisoners. Yes at times its hellish, but in the grand scale of the event, its relatively short.  The crest welcomes you with a feed station to refuel and continue on with a proud smile on your face.

I actually felt proud of myself for completing the climb and not falling off the bike

Remember there’s one more climb! I made the error of not observing the number of climbs nor acknowledging the final ascent, the Civiglio, a punchy 4.2km climb averaging 9.7%. Neglecting to save a little in the tank here left me crawling up it at a snail’s pace. The climb was tough, though an incredible view on the way up softened the blow. What also helped was the push and presumed Italian words of encouragement from a fan on the way up. Grazie ragazzi!

Remember there’s one more climb

Once at the summit, the only challenge presented toward the finish was navigating the occasionally non-marshalled traffic. Italian partial closed road sportives require a little extra diligence. The local traffic police may have the best intentions. The local drivers often have their own plans on whether roads are accessible or not. All this adds to the character of a truly beautiful and unmissable classic that sits firmly in its place as my most enjoyable sportive to date.

A truly beautiful and unmissable classic