The Falling Leaves are here

So the Tour of Lombardy takes place this coming weekend. It doesn’t seem right that we’re already at the end of the season. Cadel Evans attacking during the Tour Down Under while wearing the Rainbow Jersey really doesn’t feel like ten months ago. But ten months ago it is as we reach the final monument classic of the season, and indeed the final classic of the season.

The penultimate classic was raced last weekend, Paris-Tours, and was won by Oscar Freire. As Fit Tech Eric from BikFit pointed out to me recently, Freire is the first person ever to win both Paris-Tours and Milan San Remo in the same year. As both races are considered sprinter friendly, this is quite a shocking fact. Although there is perhaps more scope than usual to unearth surprising facts when Paris-Tours is involved seeing as it’s the only major race which Eddy Merckx never won.

Freire also becomes the first ever Spanish winner of Paris-Tours, which is perhaps not as surprising as you might think. Spaniards, on the whole, have a fairly poor record when it comes to winning classics. Only three Spaniards have ever won one of the five monument classics, Alejandro Valverde has won Liége-Bastogne-Liége twice in the past few years, Miguel Poblet won Milan san Remo twice back in the fifties, while Freire himself is a triple winner of the Italian monument. No Spaniard has ever won Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, which is perhaps to be expected as they tend to be more a climby lot rather than the brutish hardened classics type. More unusual though is that there has never been a Spanish winner of the Tour of Lombardy, although Samuel Sanchez has tried his best to address the situation, as he’s finished on the podium in three of the last four years.

Apart from their own Clasica de San Sebastian, a race which they have dominated, the Spaniards fare little better in the other classics. Igor Astarloa and Valverde have both won Fléche Wallonne, Juan Antonio Flecha and Samuel Sanchez have both won the Championship of Zurich and Francisco Ventoso recently won Paris-Brussels. The only other Spanish classics victory is again by Freire, in the 2006 Vattenfall Cyclassics. What is striking, is that apart from Poblet’s victories in Milan San Remo all of the Spanish classics victories have come in the past six or seven years. There was a barren spell of 44 years between Poblet’s 2nd Milan San Remo victory in1959 and Astarloa’s win in Fléche Wallonne in 2003.

Also by wining Paris-Tours, Freire has become only the fourth man to win what should perhaps be considered the triple crown for sprinters, Milan San Remo, Paris Tours and the World Road Race. The other three riders to achieve this set of three in their careers were Rik van Looy, Jan Raas and Francesco Moser. If we were to include the Tour de France’s green jersey in the equation, Freire would be left with only Rik van Looy for company.

Oscar Freire becomes only the 2nd man after Rik van Looy to win Paris-Tours, Milan San Remo, the Worlds Road Race and the Tour de France Green Jersey

The leader's jersey of the now defunct UCI Road World Cup

If the UCI Road World Cup was still being run we would be heading into the final race where riders could rack up points and hope to win the prestigious one day racing crown.

With the introduction of the Pro Tour in 2005, the World Cup series was scrapped in favour of a season long competition which included one day races, week long stage races and Grand Tours. I’ve championed the cause of bringing back a World Cup style competition before, as I feel it would bring back a much needed air of excitement in a season long competition.

The World Cup was a prize coveted by riders and which encouraged riders to stay competitive across the whole year. Whereas since 2005, the Pro Tour prize has been a damp squib and has been a by-product of the racing season rather than an integral part of it. Perhaps it was headed this direction regardless, but the eradication of the World Cup format has no doubt contributed to the uber-specific race schedules which riders adhere to these days.

But what if the World Cup was still around? And the Tour of Lombardy were the last opportunity for riders to gain points to overhaul their rivals? What would the points scenario be heading into the final classic of the season? Using the old UCI points system, where points are awarded to the first 25 riders in each race on a sliding scale starting at 100 points, the leaderboard would currently look like this:

The ten races I considered for this table were the five monuments, along with Amstel Gold, San Sebastian, Vattenfall Cyclassics, GP Plouay and Paris-Tours. Of course, if the riders were actually taking part in a World Cup series, then perhaps they would have targeted and ridden more of the World Cup series of races which means the points in the above table would be different. So although the points tallies are moot whatever way you look at it, I still find it quite interesting to imagine the scenarios that may have played themselves out. Each one of these six riders would technically be in with a chance of taking the World Cup title. Obviously the smart money would be on Gilbert, seeing as how he is in the lead and is also the outstanding favourite for victory on Saturday. But as far as I know, he is the only one of the six due to take to the startline.

If a World Cup was at stake, perhaps we might have seen the metamorphosis of Cancellara from cobbles classics rider to hilly classics rider sooner rather than later. Depending on the situation of the other favourites, we could have seen Vinokourov embark on a trademark kamikaze escape to try and pinch the victory. The hills would probably have proved too much for Boonen and Farrar, but Freire on the other hand has finished this race in 13th place before, and has also finished 11th in the other hilly monument Liége-Bastogne-Liége. Lying only eight points behind Gilbert, if he could hang on he could have put his sprint to good use to take the World Cup, which he could add to his stellar palmarés. He would also be achieving another first for his country, from the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo through to the Super Prestige Pernod International right up to the World Cup, in 57 years no Spaniard ever won cycling’s season long competition.

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