Race Analysis: How Pogacar Can Win His Third Il Lombardia

October 5th, 2023

Words by Zach Nehr,

Photos by Sprint Cycling Agency

From the Ronde van Vlaanderen in April to the Tour de France in July, Tadej Pogacar has continually shown that he is one of the best riders in the world. Tadej has taken 20 victories since February, and he’ll try to make it 21 at this weekend’s Il Lombardia.

The ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’ is the final Monument of the cycling season, and Pogacar has already won twice before. In 2021, he beat Fausto Masnada after attacking on the Passo di Ganda with 35 km to go. Last year, Pogacar outsprinted Enric Mas on a very different Il Lombardia course that featured three short and steep climbs in the final 35km. This year’s Il Lombardia returns to the 2021 route, which features longer climbs and valleys than last year’s version.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at what it could take for Tadej Pogacar to win this year’s Il Lombardia, and the equipment he’ll choose to do it on. Stretching 238 km from Como to Bergamo, the 117th edition of Il Lombardia is one of the longest races in professional cycling. In 2021, Pogacar won in a time of 6 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds on the exact same route.

There are 4,646m of climbing in Il Lombardia spread across seven major climbs: 

  • Madonna del Ghisallo (8.8km at 3.9%)
  • Roncola Alta (9.4km at 6.7%)
  • Berbenno (6.9km at 5%)
  • Dossena (11.1km at 6.1%)
  • Zambla Alta (9.8km at 3.3%)
  • Passo di Ganda (9.3km at 7.1%)
  • Colle Aperto (1.3km at 7%)

In truth, Il Lombardia is a race of two parts: before and after the Passo di Ganda, which tops out at 31 km to go. Pogacar saved his legs until the Passo di Ganda in 2021, where he attacked solo ahead of the reduced peloton.

The race could be won or lost on the Passo di Ganda, which is arguably the hardest climb in the race due to its combination of length and gradient. You don’t see epic mountain passes in Il Lombardia, such as the Stelvio (26 km at 7%) or Monte Zoncolan (10.5km at 11.6%). That means that the climbing speeds are higher at Il Lombardia, somewhere around 21-24 kph for Pogacar. In fact, Pogacar posted his 2021 Il Lombardia ride on Strava, so you can see his exact climbing times and speeds.

On an ultra-steep climb like Monte Zoncolan, Pogacar would ordinarily choose a super-light wheel option like the sub-1,200 gram SES 2.3 . But on the Passo di Ganda, Pogacar will have an advantage using the SES 4.5 wheels, which are the ultimate balance between lightweight and aero efficiency. 

That efficiency becomes an even greater part of the rest of the course that includes a 12km valley after the Passo di Ganda summit – then there’s still the Colle Aperto and a downhill run-in to the finish. Despite the 4,646m of ascending, Pogacar will want as much speed as possible for the majority of the Lombardia course. The SES 4.5 wheelset paired with the SES Aero One-Piece Handlebar that was designed specifically with Tadej’s feedback gives him one of the fastest wheel and cockpit options available.

In 2021, Pogacar climbed the Passo de Ganda in 23 minutes and 15 seconds at an average speed of 23.4 kph. But it’s safe to say that the competition in 2023 is better than ever. On Saturday, Pogacar will go up against Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel, and last year’s runner-up, Enric Mas, for the Il Lombardia title. Based on Pogačar’s incredible form in 2023, we can expect faster climbing times at Il Lombardia. In order to win, we expect Pogacar to climb the Passo di Ganda in 22-23 minutes at an average speed of 24-25 kph.

Estimated climbing time on the Passo di Ganda (9.3km at 7.1%): 22:30 – 23:00

Finally, with 5km to go, there remains the Colle Aperto (1.3km at 7%). Despite being the shortest categorized climb in the race, the Colle Aperto is one of the hardest climbs in Il Lombardia because it comes after nearly six hours of racing – and it features bumpy cobblestones.

It took just over three minutes for Pogacar to climb the Colle Aperto in 2021 at an incredible average speed of 25 kph. If there is still anyone left with Pogacar on the Colle Aperto, expect to see massive attacks on the cobblestone climb with 5km to go.

Estimated climbing time on the Colle Apero (1.3km at 7%): 3:10-3:15

What will Tadej’s equipment choices look like for Il Lombardia? With over 4,600 meters of climbing, would you go with aero wheels or climbing wheels? Why not both? Tadej Pogacar rides SES 4.5 wheels during most of his races, including mountainous Monuments. The SES 4.5 wheels are both aero and lightweight, perfect for each 7% climb and the long valleys in between.

Tadej Pogacar continually proves that he is one of the best cyclists in the world, and on his day, he is unbeatable. Pogacar has been dominating on ENVE SES wheels from February to October, including his victories at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Amstel Gold Race, and Tour de France. Tadej’s handlebar of choice is an unreleased one-piece version of the SES Aero Road Handlebar that was delivered to the team just ahead of the Tour de France, and it features a few geometry tweaks so that it is perfectly built for Pogacar.