As one local pointed out to us when asking for directions on the way up, pronounced “Geezallo“. I have wanted to ride this climb for years. The Tour of Lombardy has always been one of my favorite races, with the best name ever: “The Race of the Falling Leaves“. In all of our trips to Europe we have managed to miss this region, so this time a whole 9 days was dedicated to Lake Como and then up into Bormio. You don’t have to spend long on the roads around the lake to realize that you are close to the pulse of Italian cycling. Riders of every size and age were out clocking miles on some of the best roads you will ever ride. The Ghisallo climb itself has been the decider in many races, from the Giro to the Tour of Lombardia, and the lesser known Coppa Agostini and Giornata della Bicicletta. They live and breathe riding here. Lombardia has over 700 registered cycling clubs with over 12,000 members. If you are wondering what they all do for the year, they have a choice of over 1200 races to to choose from.
The climb itself isn’t particularly spectacular. You spend most of it wrapped in trees. But the draw of the Shrine to Cycling, and the views from the top are what makes this ride worth the effort (we did it twice, once at the start of the trip and once at the end). We started on the east side of the lake where we were staying and rode the 10 miles up to Varenna to catch the ferry over to Bellagio where the climb started. Right out of the village the road pitches up to over 10%, and at that point you aren’t even really on the climb, but you know you are when you hit a little roundabout. From there you just sit on 8% – 9% for about 3km, easing for 4km before you hit the village of Civenna. This is where it gets a bit cruel, as you start to go downhill. Wait, did I miss the church? That can’t have been it? Brilliant views appear through the trees and there was no sign of any shrine, but the riders all seemed to be going in one direction. Then there it is, not the shrine, but the sign. The 8 turns sign. The last 2km take you around 8 hairpins at 9% – 10%. Rounding the last turn you can see the church’s spire and you know you are on that last famous stretch to the brow where the church emerges out of the hedges. I hammered it, deep into the red, and arrived at the little statue of Coppi hyperventilating. What must he have thought?
Note: Incredibly proud of my wife. Someone who gets herself mostly out in the Park, put herself on her own training plan and dragged herself up the Ghisallo twice!