There is always a veil of melancholy when a racing season comes to an end, mostly due to winter keeping us away from professional cycling for 2-3 long months. But if this is coupled with Thibaut Pinot bidding farewell to professional cycling, then sadness might truly to take over. We are being slightly ironic of course, but Thibaut’s imminent retirement is one of the big topics of this 117th edition of the Dead Leaves Classic, the traditional swan song of the cycling season.
Pinot’s hardcore fans have already indicated that they are ready to peacefully invade Bergamo to pay their respects to their idol, who after 14 years as a professional, amid stunning victories and crushing defeats, exploits and tears, will hang up his bike at the end of this season. It is no coincidence that he will do so in this very race, which he won in grand style back in 2018, in what was probably one of the most thrilling moments of his career. After all, as his famous tattoo says, “only victory is beautiful”.
However, one should not get overwhelmed by the tears, because a great battle between world cycling heavyweights can and must be expected. It is only fair to start with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), winner of the last two editions and certainly back for more, seeking to emulate Fausto Coppi and Alfredo Binda with his third straight win. This season he does not seem to have reached the ludicrously high standards he has set in recent years, but a champion like him can pull the rabbit out of the hat even when he is not in top form, especially if supported by a super-equipped UAE Team Emirates line-up, featuring the likes of Marc Hirschi, Davide Formolo, Diego Ulissi and, above all, Adam Yates.
In contrast, the latest Maglia Rosa, Primož Roglič, appeared fairly energetic after winning the Giro dell’Emilia in style a few days ago. By his own admission, this will be his last appearance in the Jumbo-Visma jersey after eight years and more than 70 victories. The stage seems to be set for a romantic farewell. No doubt he will be looking to finish it off in style, and securing his second Monument will be a big goal to tick off for the 33-year-old.
However, the two Slovenians are set to face stiff competition from a young Belgian, Remco Evenepoel, who, as we know, has a score to settle with Il Lombardia dating back to that horror crash in 2020. A fully fit Evenepoel can beat anyone, but his condition is unknown, as he hasn’t raced since the Vuelta a España, which saw him win three stages without, however, being able to compete for the general classification. Soudal-QuickStep is well equipped: the time trial world champion will count on Ilan Van Wilder, winner of the Tre Valli Varesine, Julian Alaphilippe, Andrea Bagioli and Fausto Masnada, who took second place behind Pogačar the last time Il Lombardia arrived in Bergamo.
It’s not always the strongest rider on paper that wins one-day races. Among the outriders are Enric Mas (Movistar), second last year, and Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), both of whom looked rather brilliant in the recent races on Italian soil. Bora-hansgrohe also have plenty of cards to play, with Jai Hindley, not particularly impressive in the last few races, Aleksandr Vlasov, Sergio Higuita and Lennard Kämna all potentially in with a chance of a good placing. The same goes for Ineos Grenadiers, who will bet on Pavel Sivakov and young Carlos Rodriguez. Pair of aces also for Jayco AlUla, with Simon Yates and Filippo Zana, who is probably the best Italian hope for this edition of Il Lombardia.
It is also worth mentioning riders who have already won this race, though their spark is no longer what it once was, such as Esteban Chaves (EF Education-EasyPost), Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech) and Bauke Mollema (Lidl Trek). Finally, let’s not forget athletes such as Michael Woods (Israel-PremierTech), David Gaudu and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), Romain Bardet (Team dsm-firmenich), Felix Gall and Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), Guillaume Martin and Ion Izagirre (Cofidis), Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost), Damiano Caruso and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious).