The Il Lombardia Classic, the UCI WorldTourâ€™s second last event of 2013, takes place this Sunday October 6th - and one of the key questions to be resolved is whether second-placed Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) can close the gap on WorldTour leader Chris Froome (Sky ProCycling), or perhaps even overtake him.
Prior to the Italian Classic - the final â€˜Monumentâ€™ of 2013 - Froome has 587 points and RodrÃguez 507. For Rodriguez to overtake Froome, the Spaniard has to win, netting 100 points, and Froome fail to score any points whatsoever. Should RodrÃguez take second and gain 80, he would be on a level pegging with the Briton, with just one UCIWorldTour event - the Tour of Beijing (October 11 - 15) remaining.
For Rodriguez to net the victory in Il Lombardia and the number one spot overall would be difficult, but not be impossible. Last year, he did exactly that with an exciting solo breakaway over the Villa Vergano in torrential rain, netting Spainâ€™s first ever victory in Il Lombardia, and simultaneously ousting Bradley Wiggins, Sky ProCyclingâ€™s winner of the Tour de France in 2012, from the top spot.
Furthermore, the Spaniardâ€™s form is currently excellent, having taken silver in a very hilly World Championships, and after such a narrow defeat in the Worldâ€™s to Rui Costa (Movistar Team) Rodriguez is itching for sporting revenge in the Italian race.
However, as ever in â€˜The Race of the Falling Leavesâ€™ , as Il Lombardia is known, the course is as dauntingly hilly. Now in its 107th edition and with 25 teams taking part, the race starts in Bergamo and finishes on the lakeside town of Lecco, and for the second year running it includes the much-fearing Muro di Sormano â€˜wallâ€™, continues with the ascent to the Madonna del Ghisallo sanctuary and concludes with the Villa Vergano, which has sections of up to 15 percent and a difficult descent into Lecco.
The level of competition will also be extremely fierce. Froome is one contender, but if we consider the top ten of the UCI WorldTour alone, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team), Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) and his team-mate Rui Costa, recently crowned the World Champion, will all be present. Other key names include Robert Gesink (Belkin ProCycling), Ivan Basso (Cannondale ProCycling) and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff).
In the other UCI WorldTour classifications, if Spain is now mathematically unreachable as the leader with 1,621 points, the battle for the next three highest places is far less resolved. Less than 80 points separate Colombia (1052 points) from third placed Italy (1011) and Great Britain (975), in fourth. Although with 782 points, the Netherlands chances of improving on its fifth place are low, then, the final order of second to fourth best-qualified nation in the UCI WorldTour rankings. is not at all clear.
The top three spots in the UCI WorldTour teams classification is far more defined. With just two races remaining, Sky ProCycling look stable in first place (1,561 points) and there are large gaps between second placed Movistar Team (1,363), Katusha (1,200) and RadioShack Leopard in fourth, have 1,026. However, just 66 points separate RadioShack Leopard and seventh placed Saxo-Tinkoff, meaning there may yet be changes in this segment of the classification. Even if the end of the 2012 season is fast looming, Il Lombardia should resolve a lot of these issues - and in the process produce some very exciting racing as well.