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Giro di Lombardia - An Historical Perspective
By Giles Belbin
Date: 10/16/2009
Giro di Lombardia - An Historical Perspective

Giro di Lombardia - An Historical Perspective
A look at the history of the now traditional season closing classic known as "the race of the falling leaves" - the Tour of Lombardy.  Includes Race Palmares

It is 1905 and at the Crema junction, some 50 kilometres from Milan, history is about to be made. The peloton are approaching a pivotal point in the inaugural Milan - Milan cycle race, (the race will be renamed the Tour of Lombardy in 1907) and Italian rider Giovanni Gerbi is quietly smiling to himself as a plan he secretly hatched a few days earlier is about to come to fruition.

To follow the race route the riders have to cross a section of road where there are rail tracks. Gerbi knows this. He also knows that if he leads the bunch into the tracks it would be virtually impossible for them to get out of them without coming to grief. They would either have to dismount and walk over, or take a chance and, most likely, crash. A few days before the race the wily Italian had marked a point at which he could get out of the tracks safely whilst still aboard his trusted steed.

As the bunch come to the junction Gerbi goes to the head of the bunch and leads them into his trap at speed, at the right moment he exits at the marked place, buries his head and stamps on the pedals. Behind him chaos reigns as the bunch collapse into the predictable heap. Gerbi breaks away to win by a huge margin of over 40 minutes. Just one race in and the Tour of Lombardy is already assured of its place in cycling's rich history.

Four time winner Alredo Binda (Courtesy

Some 104 years and 102 editions later and the Tour of Lombardy enjoys its place at the top table of professional cycle races. It is, of course, one of the five "Monuments", and, along with Milan-San Remo; the Tour of Flanders; Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, it is one of the most important one-day races on the calendar. Paris-Roubaix may be known as the queen of the classics and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the oldest of all the classics, as the Doyenne, but the Tour of Lombardy is surely the most romantic of them all. If its nickname - "la classica delle foglie morte"  or "the race of the fallen leaves" isn't proof enough then just take a look at its route.

Originally run from Milan to Milan, like most of cycling's classics, the route has developed over the years. At first climbs were gradually introduced to the parcours, in a bid to make the race harder on the racers. Then, in 1961, the race finish was moved from Milan to Como and in one broad sweep of genius race directorship the identity of the race was fundamentally changed.

The long and flat run-in to the finish in Milan was gone, in its place was a stunning lake-side finish, just 6kms from the top of the last climb. Despite an occasional return to finishing in Milan, the race had developed a new personality: one defined by tough but short climbs amid spectacular scenery with a beautiful waterside finale. That the race is the last classic of the year and takes place in the autumn, as the leaves on the trees blaze a beautiful golden trail around Lombardy, just serves to add a dash of cream to an already sumptuous feast of a race.

Bettini, Sanchez, Wegmann and Moreni race past the Madonna di Ghisallo chapel in 2006 to the cheers of the tifosi who line the roads each year. Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Today the race route features five difficult climbs but, over the years, one above all others has become indelibly linked with the race, and indeed with cycling generally  - the climb to the Madonna di Ghisallo chapel from the shore of Lake Como. The climb is a little over 10 kilometers long with an average gradient of 5.2%, with stretches of over 10%, but this climb is not about the numbers. The Madonna di Ghisallo climb is far more than the sum of its parts, it is a climb of true meaning for all cyclists, a climb that leads you from present-day Como and takes you back in time as you reach the sanctuary of the Madonna de Ghisallo chapel, a shrine to cycling's great and storied riders.

In 1949 the Madonna del Ghisallo was named the patroness of cyclists. Today the chapel is full of cycling memorobilia, including the bikes of Fausto Coppi and  Felice Gimondi as well as numerous signed jerseys and the aura of cycling's past is strengthened by the presence of the nearby museum. On race day, as the peloton climb to the Santuario della Madonna del Ghisallo, the chapel's bells are rung, greeting the very riders she seeks to protect.

The Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel    Photo © 2009 Tim Lee

Over the years the race has been dominated by Italian riders. To date 67 of the 102 editions have been won by Italians, their most dominant period being between 1921 and 1961 when there were just four victors from other countries. The great Fausto Coppi has won the race the most, winning on five occasions between 1946 and 1954. In the modern era, Italy suffered a relatively lean period in the 1980s and 1990s, taking just six wins in twenty races but they have fared much better in the 2000s, having won the last eight editions.

The race has seen some fascinating battles, none more so than in 1956, famous not really for who won the race, but  rather who did not.

As tells us, coming towards the end of his cycling career, Italian rider Fiorenzo Magni was finishing his season by riding the 1956 race. There was over 60 kms of racing left when a breakaway formed, comprising Louison Bobet, Andre Darrigade, Fred de Bruyne and the great Fausto Coppi. 

Magni had missed probably the race's decisive break. As he fell further behind a car passed him, sitting in the back was Giulia Occhini, Coppi's mistress. The two did not get on and as her car passed, Magni saw her sneer at him.

Infuriated, Magni, fuelled by pure adrenaline, set out in an improbable pursuit of the breakaway. Incredibly as the race neared its climax, he caught the leaders. Into the final kilometres and he and Coppi began to hesitate, posturing, eager not to lead one another out for the sprint for victory. Derrigade, sensing their indecisiveness, opted to attack and opened a lead on the others. Derrigade held on to claim the victory, relegating Coppi and Magni to second and third respectively. Arguably, the sneer of his mistress had cost the Campionissimo his sixth Tour of Lombardy title.

Damiano Cunego clinches victory in 2007 Giro di Lombardia
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The current Lord of Lombardy is the 'little prince' Damiano Cunego, who will be going for his fourth victory in the race on Saturday. We will have to wait and see whether he can add to his already impressive record in the race and start to knock on the door of the great Coppi, but it is certain that regardless of whether Cunego wins or not, another fascinating chapter in this glorious race's history will have been written.

Full list of Giro di Lombardia winners below.

2008: Damiano throws a kiss to his fans after the finish.
Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Daily Peloton References:
Pilgrimage to the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo
Giro di Lombardia 2008 - Varese Photo Gallery
Giro di Lombardia 2008 - Live Ticker & Photos
102nd Giro di Lombardia 2008 - Results & Photos
101rst Giro di Lombardia Live Report (2007)
101rst Giro di Lombardia - Results and Photos
100th Giro di Lombardia - Live Report (2006)
100th Giro di Lombardia - Results & Photos
99th Giro di Lombardia Live Report (2005)
98th Giro di Lombardia (The Final Showdown) Live Report
98th Giro di Lombardia - Team & Rider Comments (2004)
Damiano Cunego - Cyclist of the Year 2004?
Race of the Falling Leaves - Travelogue
97th Giro di Lombardia - Live Report (2003)
96th Giro Di Lombardia - Race Preview (2002)
96th Giro di Lombardia Live Coverage! It's Bartoli!
A look at the past winners of the "Race of the Falling leaves" (2002)

 Full List of Winners
Year  - Rider - Team

1905  Giovanni Gerbi (ITA) 
1906  Giuseppe Brambilla (ITA) Bianchi
1907  Gustave Garrigou (FRA) 
1908  Francois Faber (LUX) 
1909  Giovanni Cuniolo (ITA) 
1910  Giovanni Michelotto (ITA) 
1911  Henri Pelissier (FRA) 
1912  Carlo Oriani (ITA) 
1913  Henri Pelissier (FRA) 
1914  Louro Bordin (ITA) Bianchi
1915  Gaetano Belloni (ITA) 
1916  Leopoldo Torricelli (ITA) 
1917  Philippe Thys (BEL) 
1918  Gaetano Belloni (ITA) Bianchi
1919  Costante Girardengo (ITA) 
1920  Henri P�lissier (FRA) 
1921  Costante Girardengo (ITA) 
1922  Costante Girardengo (ITA) Bianchi
1923  Giovanni Brunero (ITA) 
1924  Giovanni Brunero (ITA) 
1925  Alfredo Binda (ITA) 
1926  Alfredo Binda (ITA) 
1927  Alfredo Binda (ITA) 
1928  Gaetano Belloni (ITA) 
1929  Piero Fossati (ITA) 
1930  Michele Mara (ITA) Bianchi
1931  Alfredo Binda (ITA) 
1932  Antonio Negrini (ITA) 
1933  Domenico Piemontesi (ITA) 
1934  Learco Guerra (ITA) 
1935  Enrico Mollo (ITA) 
1936  Gino Bartali (ITA) 
1937  Aldo Bini (ITA) Bianchi
1938  Cino Cinelli (ITA) 
1939  Gino Bartali (ITA) 
1940  Gino Bartali (ITA) 
1941  Mario Ricci (ITA) 
1942  Aldo Bini (ITA) Bianchi
1943 No race  
1944 No race  
1945  Mario Ricci (ITA) 
1946  Fausto Coppi (ITA) Bianchi
1947  Fausto Coppi (ITA) Bianchi
1948  Fausto Coppi (ITA) Bianchi
1949  Fausto Coppi (ITA) Bianchi-Ursus
1950  Renzo Soldani (ITA) 
1951  Louison Bobet (FRA) 
1952  Giuseppe Minardi (ITA) 
1953  Bruno Landi (ITA) 
1954  Fausto Coppi (ITA) Bianchi-Pirelli
1955  Cleto Maule (ITA) 
1956  Andre Darrigade (FRA) Bianchi-Pirelli
1957  Diego Ronchini (ITA) Bianchi-Pirelli
1958  Nino Defilippis (ITA) 
1959  Rik Van Looy (BEL) 
1960  Emile Daems (BEL) 
1961  Vito Taccone (ITA) 
1962  Jo de Roo (NED) 
1963  Jo de Roo (NED) 
1964  Gianni Motta (ITA) 
1965  Tom Simpson (GBR) Peugeot BP Michelin
1966  Felice Gimondi (ITA) 
1967  Franco Bitossi (ITA) 
1968  Herman van Springel (BEL) 
1969  Jean-Pierre Monser� (BEL) 
1970  Franco Bitossi (ITA) 
1971  Eddy Merckx (BEL) Molteni
1972  Eddy Merckx (BEL) Molteni
1973  Felice Gimondi (ITA) Bianchi-Campagnolo
1974  Roger De Vlaeminck (BEL) Brooklyn
1975  Francesco Moser (ITA) Samson
1976  Roger De Vlaeminck (BEL) Brooklyn
1977  Gianbattista Baronchelli (ITA) Scic
1978  Francesco Moser (ITA) Samson Campagnolo
1979  Bernard Hinault (FRA) Renault-Gitane-Campagnolo
1980  DeFons De Wolf (BEL) Boule d'Or-Colnago
1981  Hennie Kuiper (NED) DAF Trucks-Cote D'Or
1982  Giuseppe Saronni (ITA) Del Tongo-Colnago
1983  Sean Kelly (IRL) Sem-France Loire
1984  Bernard Hinault (FRA) La Vie Claire
1985  Sean Kelly (IRL) Skil Sem Kas Miko
1986  Gianbattista Baronchelli (ITA) Supermercati Brianzoli
1987  Moreno Argentin (ITA) Gewiss-Bianchi
1988  Charly Mottet (FRA) Systeme U-Gitane
1989  Tony Rominger (SUI) Chateaux d'Ax
1990  Gilles Delion (FRA) Helvetica-La Suisse
1991  Sean Kelly (IRL) PDM-Ultima-Concorde
1992  Tony Rominger (SUI) Tosiba
1993  lPascal Richard (SUI) Ariostea
1994  Vladislav Bobrik (RUS) Gewiss Ballan
1995  Gianni Faresin (ITA) Lampre
1996  Andrea Tafi (ITA) Mapei-GB
1997  Laurent Jalabert (FRA) ONCE
1998  Oscar Camenzind (SUI) Mapei-Bricobi
1999  Mirko Celestino (ITA) Polti
2000  Raimondas Rumšas (LTU) Fassa Bortolo
2001  Danilo Di Luca (ITA) Aqua & Sapone
2002  Michele Bartoli (ITA) Fassa Bortolo
2003  Michele Bartoli (ITA) Fassa Bortolo
2004  Damiano Cunego (ITA) Saeco
2005  Paolo Bettini (ITA) Quick Step
2006  Paolo Bettini (ITA) Quick Step-Innergetic
2007  Damiano Cunego (ITA) Lampre-Fondital
2008  Damiano Cunego (ITA) Lampre-Fondital

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