Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Rainbow in Lombardia

Philippe Gilbert (BMC)'s victory in the World Championship in Valkenburg heralded his return to winning ways. Following his two stage wins in the Vuelta a Espana, his blistering attack on the last ascent of the Cauberg opened a huge gap immediately and put the chasers into indecision. Now that he will be sporting the Rainbow Jersey for the next year, what other races are left for him to win this year?

Photo by corto.maltese, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Fear not, for we still have Paris-Tours and Giro di Lombardia: both races he has won in the past. How will the Rainbow Jersey fare in these two races? Read our preview here and read on below for our history of the Rainbow Jersey and the fall classics.

Il Lombardia has long been a great place for the World Champion to show his mettle. Most recently, Paolo Bettini won an emotional edition in 2006. Driving late at night to arrange celebrations for his brother, Mauro Bettini perished in a car accident just days after Paolo Bettini's victory. Fighting off tears, Paolo Bettini literally rode everybody off his wheels with sheer willpower, and at the finish line pointed a finger at the sky in honor of his fallen brother.

Bettini's win ended a drought: the previous two times Rainbow shone on Lombardia were in 1998 when Oscar Camenzind of Switzerland won and in 1982 when Giuseppe (Beppe) Saronni of Italy won. Is it a coincidence that Saronni was manager of Lampre during Damiano Cunego's last two wins in Lombardia? Maybe someday Cunego will earn his Rainbow stripes, too.

Fellow Italian Felice Gimondi also won Lombardia wearing the Rainbow in 1973. It was a different race then, perhaps more suited to roleurs than climbers. Note that it ended in a small sprint featuring Belgians Roger De Vlaeminck and Herman Van Springel, and Italian Franco Bitossi among others.

We would be surprised if Eddy Merckx hadn't accomplished the same, and indeed he did in 1971. This time he beat Bitossi, De Valeminck, Gimondi, and Joop Zoetemelk by 3:31. Merckx attacked valiantly on the Passo d'Intelvi to establish an elite group with Luis Ocana, Frans Verbeeck and Roger De Vlaeminck. As a re-run of the Tour de France of that year, Merckx rode Ocana off his wheel on a descent and flew solo to the finish. This was the third time a reigning World Champ won in Lombardia.

A rider who was perhaps more famous in death than in life, Tom Simpson was second to accomplish this feat in 1965. He pulled away with Gianni Motta, away from the French rival duo Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor. A wily rider, Simpson attacked and disposed of Motta rather than risk a sprint or capture by the chasers. Notably, as of today Simpson is still the only UK rider to have won this race.

Unsurpringly, the first rider to accomplish the Worlds-Lombardia double was Italy's Alfredo Binda, the original great champion of cycling, in 1927. Cycling Revealed has the race results here. At the end of his career, Binda had won Lombardia FOUR times, bested only by Binda's prodigy Fausto Coppi with FIVE wins.

Speaking of records, Gilbert has won Lombardia twice: in 2009 and 2010. Of the current active riders, Damiano Cunego of Lampre won three times: in 2004, 2007, and 2008.

For Paris-Tours there is much less correlation with the Worlds. There are several who have won both, but never in the same year: Freddy Maertens, Francesco Moser, Rik Van Looy, and Jan Raas just to name a few.

Stay tuned for our preview of Paris-Tours next week!

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