(AFP) – Vincenzo Nibali expects to have the eyes of the peloton trained on him as he bids to win a second Giro di Lombardia in his homeland on Saturday.
The Shark, as the 32-year-old Sicilian is known, won the fifth of the year’s five prestigious ‘Monument’ races two years ago, his only success in one of cycling’s major one-day classics.
Saturday’s race will cover 247km of undulating terrain from Bergamo to Como.
Nibali has been in good form this season, finishing second to Chris Froome at last month’s Vuelta a Espana having come third in May’s Giro d’Italia.
“I’m in good form, everyone knows I’m going well, but it won’t be easy because a lot of people will be focused on me,” said the Bahrain Merida rider.
Nibali faces unusual competition in the form of Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, a Grand Tour specialist who has never shone in one-day classics.
Quintana was second in May’s Giro but paid dearly for his efforts in July’s Tour de France, where he finished 12th, his worst finish in four attempts and the only one in which he failed to make the podium.
He may not be the main Colombian threat in Lombardy, though, as in-form compatriot Rigoberto Uran is looking to improve on three third-place finishes, including last year, when another Colombian, Esteban Chaves, triumphed.
In July, Uran also enjoyed his greatest achievement in cycling to date, finishing second to Froome at the Tour.
“I lived in Lombardy when I arrived in Europe,” said Uran, who first took third at ‘Il Lombardia’ in 2008. “The Tour of Lombardy is the first race in which I showed my abilities — the route is perfect for me.”
Chaves won’t be defending his title after breaking a shoulder blade in a crash at the Tour of Emilia last week.
The route favours climbers with tough ascents including the Sormano Wall, which reaches gradients of 27 percent at one point, but also punchers.
It has a stellar line-up with 2014 champion Dan Martin, Italian Fabio Aru, Dutchman Woet Poels and Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe expected to challenge.