DAN MARTIN UAE EMIRATES
Il Lombardia, as the Giro di Lombardia is now called, is one of my favourite races of the season, and another event that appeals to my love of the history of cycling. But I do wish they would stop changing the course. This year’s route featured the 1.7km long Monte Olimpino as the race’s final climb after the Civiglino, topping out just 3.3km from the finish line. I believe this lack of a consistent identity tarnishes its status as a monument. But one look at the winners of this great race (a palmarés that I feel very privileged to be a part of) leaves no doubt about the esteem in which the race is still held.
I’m not sure if I like Il Lombardia because it suits me, or it suits me because I like it. I have always tried to focus my programme around the races that I enjoy, hence my sporadic appearances at Amstel Gold Race or never having ridden Strade Bianche despite them suiting my characteristics on paper.
I just don’t enjoy them (I rode the strade bianche during the 2010 Giro d’Italia – yes, the wet, muddy one). But having said that, the year that I won Lombardia, in 2014, on paper the race didn’t really suit me. Cycling is funny like that and awesome at the same time. The favourite rarely wins. Anything can happen. So why do I love it? Some of the longest days I’ve had on the bike have been at Lombardia, but often it is wet and cold, and not guaranteed good weather. I also had the fastest crash of my career here in 2010, sliding off in the wet at 70kph-plus, on a straight road - sliding being the appropriate word as I fortunately did just that, and came away very lightly, despite traveling 100 metres on my arse. Indeed, I do have a lovehate relationship with the race, and either finish in the front or don’t finish at all. Lombardia does traditionally mark the end of the season, although when the Tour of Beijing was on I travelled to China directly from Italy, so it doesn’t necessarily have the end-of-term feeling for everyone.
Lombardia is just purely a beautiful race. Great racing roads in a stunning setting, resulting in a complete winner who needs to be able to climb, descend, endure the long distance and be tactically astute. I do not enjoy the current course though, as I think it makes the race too difficult and less about tactics than it should be. Lombardia, like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, used to have a dozen or more possible winners on the start line, but with the current course there is usually a clear favourite who then has gone on to win. Where is the fun in that?
I digress. The roads here are a masterpiece of engineering, clinging to the mountainsides, twisting and turning, plus there is always a very special atmosphere around the race. There is a certain cycling culture in northern Italy, here around Milan. The people understand what Il Lombardia means. From the octogenarians who wish you good luck in Italian spoken at 100 miles per hour on the startline, to the Madonna del Ghisallo church atop the climb being a place of cycling pilgrimage. The industrial areas around Milan are home to Bianchi, De Rosa and, of course, my sponsor Colnago. The region loves cycling and truly deserves its monument.
Dan couldn’t repeat his 2014 win as he rounded out his season with ninth in Lombardia