Bergamo (Italy) (AFP)

A challenge: the winners of the last two Grand Rounds, the Slovenian Primoz Roglic (Vuelta) and the Colombian Egan Bernal (Tour de France), compete on Saturday on the autumnal roads of the Tour of Lombardy, the last great classic of the season cyclist, on 243 kilometers between Bergamo and Como.

Will classics specialists leave room for men in general rankings? In Lombardy, climbers are most often at the party just like the last winner, the Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, absent this time just like Julian Alaphilippe who gave up in the week.

Roglic, impressive last Saturday in the final climb of the Tour d'Emilie, is named as the man to beat by the Canadian Michael Woods, the strongest Wednesday in Milan-Turin and one of the riders to watch closely on the shores Lake Como.

"He is the favorite," says Woods, who saw him go on the attack in Emilie where the Canadian was preceded only by the Slovenian. "I saw a video where he was called Robocop and it was impressive, he did not seem to have to force himself as he progressed."

For Roglic, however, the region is reminiscent of bad memories. If he has already played twice Lombardy (40th in 2017, 17th in 2018), he mostly lost on these tricky roads most of his chances of winning the Giro last May. Due to a problematic trouble-shooting approach to Como and especially a fall in the descent of the Civiglio, the penultimate difficulty of the course Saturday in the last 15 kilometers.

- The luck of Valverde -

Faced with the world number one, with 13 wins this season and strong recovery time approach (only one race, the Three Valleys Varines, in the week), Bernal runs the risk of paying the efforts to win Thursday the Gran Piemonte, the former Tour of Piedmont.

"Now I'm going to Lombardy with peace of mind," said the Colombian climber after his success in Oropa, the first of his career in an online race. "I spent energy, but it was worth it."

Present, but in second line, during the last two editions (13th in 2017, 12th in 2018), the Colombian possesses the qualities to compete. First on the very steep wall (1920 m to 15.8%) of Sormano, which serves first sorting 50 kilometers from the finish. Then on the Civiglio (4 km to 10%), before the last obstacle, the uphill climb of San Fermo della Battaglia, on the heights of Como.

The demanding course seems even more suited to a regular, Alejandro Valverde, who has always failed in his first eight participations (2nd in 2013 and 2014). At 39, the Spanish veteran has a new chance. Especially since it has recently been more convincing than many others. "I'm in shape," he said when Milan-Turin (2nd) arrived.

Other "thirties" (Fuglsang, Mollema, Nibali, D. Martin), very comfortable in Lombardy, rub shoulders with the last "monument" of the season the young generation embodied by Bernal (22 years) and the French hope David Gaudu (23), even the Belgian Tiesj Benoot (25). But is the experience still decisive in view of a year reversed by the new wave?

"I do not want to ban anything, the level is very high, but anything can happen," says Gaudu. First lieutenant of Pinot in the Tour de France, here he is now invested with other responsibilities.

© 2019 AFP