The Tour of Lombardy was created as an idea of journalist Tullo Morgagni. Morgagni wanted to give Milanese rider Pierino Albini the opportunity to take revenge for his defeat against Giovanni Cuniolo in the short-lived Italian King's Cup. His newspaper la Gazzetta dello Sport organized a new race as a 'rematch' on 12 November 1905, called Milano–Milano. The race attracted vast crowds along the course and ended in Milan with the victory of Giovanni Gerbi, at the time one of the stars of cycling. Gerbi won the race 40 minutes ahead of Giovanni Rossignoli and Luigi Ganna.
The race soon became a fixture as the closing race of the Italian and European cycling season. It was renamed Giro di Lombardia in 1907. After the pioneering years, the race was dominated alternately by Frenchman Henri Pélissier and local heroes Gaetano Belloni and Costante Girardengo, all winning the race three times.
Race of the Champions
From the 1930s to the 1950s, Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, icons of Italian cycling, were the main protagonists and immortalized the race with their exploits. Coppi won the race 5 times (of which 4 consecutive wins) and Binda 4 times. Coppi finished solo on every win, following a successful strategy of attacking on the Madonna del Ghisallo and maintaining his lead to the finish in Milan. Gino Bartali was the king of the podium with 9 top-3 finishes (3 wins, 4 second places and 2 third places).
The race of 1956 was a particularly fascinating battle. At 60 km from the finish a breakaway was formed with Fausto Coppi, seeking his sixth victory. Italian rider Fiorenzo Magni had missed the break, and as he fell further behind, a car passed him with Giulia Occhini, Coppi's infamous mistress, sitting in the back. The two did not get on and as her car passed, Magni saw her sneer at him. Infuriated, Magni set out in an improbable solo pursuit of the breakaway and caught the leaders in the final kilometres. He and Coppi openly argued and André Darrigade, sensing their indecisiveness, attacked to claim the victory, thereby relegating Coppi and Magni to second and third place.
In 1961, the finish of the Tour of Lombardy was moved from Milan to Como and the identity of the race changed fundamentally. The previous flat finale towards the finish in Milan was replaced with a spectacular finish by Lake Como, just 6 km after the top of the last climb. Despite an occasional return to finishing in Milan, the race had developed a new personality, defined by a series of arduous climbs amid a mountainous scenery.
Over the years the race has been dominated mainly by Italian riders. Frenchman Henri Pelissier and Ireland's Sean Kelly were the only non-Italian riders to win the race three times. Cycling legend Eddy Merckx won three consecutive victories from 1971 to 1973, but his last win was stripped after a positive doping test and awarded to second-place finisher Felice Gimondi.
The race of 1974 gave birth to another memorable anecdote. Eddy Merckx wanted to get his revenge, but fellow Belgian Roger De Vlaeminck attacked early in the race, inducing Merckx to make his team work in pursuit. De Vlaeminck, not really intending to go solo, stopped and hid behind a bush to let the peloton pass. He rode back to the front of the peloton and jokingly asked a baffled Merckx whom they were chasing. De Vlaeminck won the race ahead of Merckx.
The Autumn Classic
For nearly 70 years the race was called "il Mondiale d'Autunno" in Italy ("the World Championship of Autumn"), as the real World Championship was held at the end of summer. It lost this particular role in 1995 when the UCI revolutionized the international cycling calendar and moved the World Championship from August to October, one week before the Giro di Lombardia.
From 1988 to 2004 the Tour of Lombardy was the final leg of the UCI Road World Cup and was often the decisive race in that competition. In 1997 Michele Bartoli needed to finish ahead of Rolf Sørensen in the race to be the winner of the 1997 World Cup. For 30 km he did solo work in a four-man breakaway, so sacrificing his chances to win the sprint. The edition was won by Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, Bartoli finished fourth and won the World Cup.
The race had become the most important Autumn Classic together with Paris–Tours in France, which was mainly won by sprinters or escapees. By the early 21st century however, Paris–Tours lost its status as a World Tour race, and the Tour of Lombardy was the one remaining major Classic in autumn, the only Monument in the latter part of the year. Damiano Cunego imposed himself as the Lord of Lombardy with three victories.
In 2006, the race celebrated its 100th edition, won by Paolo Bettini, one week after becoming world champion. The edition was particularly emotional because Bettini's brother had died in a car accident just five days before the race, and the Italian was overcome with emotion when he crossed the finish line. Bettini is one of seven riders to win the Tour of Lombardy after becoming world champion earlier the same year. The other six are Alfredo Binda, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Giuseppe Saronni and Oscar Camenzind.
Since 2012 both the World Championship and the Giro di Lombardia have a new, earlier date on the calendar at the end of September, and the name officially became Il Lombardia. It was the beginning of a remarkable revival for the Monument race. The Tour of Lombardy is now the classic par excellence for riders to take revenge for the world championship or to achieve an "Autumn Double win". In recent years Philippe Gilbert, Joaquim Rodríguez and Vincenzo Nibali all won the race twice.