The 2014 road cycling season is nearly over, with many riders already off on their holidays. But as Autumn arrives, the last of the season's ‘monuments’ - aptly nicknamed ‘the classic of the falling leaves’ - is upon us.
The final of the 2014 season five monuments - known officially as il Lombardia - follows on from the Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège and takes place this Sunday in Northern Italy.
This race not only symbolises the ‘real’ end of the season but it also gives the recently crowned world champion the chance to showcase the rainbow jersey for the first time.
Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski has that honour this year after his victory in Ponferrada, Spain last Sunday. The Pole will be hoping to replicate his victory on a course that should suite his riding style, however there will be a number of riders looking to end their season on a high and avenge Kwiatkowski’s late attack in Spain.
One of these favourites is Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez who has won the last two editions of ‘Lombardia’ and him and his Katusha team will feel confident heading into the weekend after a highly successful result at this week's Milano-Torino. That was won by Giampaolo Caruso with other teammates Dani Moreno (third), Rodríguez himself (fifth) and Sergei Chernetckii (seventh) all finishing within the top ten.
Other contenders include recently-crowned Vuelta a Espana winner Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo, who finished sixth in the Milano-Torino but has never been able to replicate his grand tour form into this hilly one-day classic.
Contador has backed up his poor record in the classics by saying: “Although one-day races are not my specialty, I’m excited about getting back to racing this week and getting a good result”.
He will be hoping to at least improve on his ninth place result in the 2012 edition, which is also his best monument finish in his career to date. Another rider to look out for has to be the best young rider of 2014 - Fabio Aru of Astana.
He finished third overall at the Giro d’Italia as well as taking a stage win. He also managed a fifth place overall finish at the Vuelta in a star-studded field along with two stage victories.
Finishing amongst Contador and Rodriguez at Milano-Torino suggests that Aru cannot be discounted despite a heavy workload this year. As with most classics, the unpredictability involved always means an outsider could come through and claim glory.
il Lombardia is no different with the added lottery of a new 12% ramp within the last 5km this year, with part of this climb being on potentially treacherous pavè. However, the race is expected to pan out similar to a World Championships 2.0, so picking a winner should come from the favourites already mentioned.
Outsiders who could snatch a win or a podium place come in the form of Dan Martin (Garmin), Phillipe Gilbert (BMC) or 2013 World Champion Rui Costa (Lampre- Merida). Regardless of the winner, the racing should be explosive and the perfect way to end the 2014 season.