The star-studded field (Nibali, Roglic and Gilbert to name a few) will race over 243 km from Bergamo to Como but our ride was a loop of approximately 110 km, taking in several of the landmark climbs from the race and over 2,000 m of climbing.
Starting from our base in Cernobbio on the west side of the lake we rolled through Como lakeside before heading in the direction of Erba. A steady climb warmed up the legs for the more serious challenges to come and there was plenty of excited chat about really how difficult could a 1.7 km long climb (the Muro di Sormano) be?… Before the infamous section could reveal itself we still had the small matter of reaching Sormano village by way of a 6 km 6% climb.
Passing through the village you quickly reach the well-marked turn for the Muro itself. Strava indicates the average gradient as 15.5% over the 1.7 km length and every altitude marker is helpfully/vindictively painted on the road. Previously described as a “spiral staircase. A torment. A joke. Impossible. Absurd” the climb is really not much more than a well surfaced forest path of not more than 2 m wide, on the steeper sections even the professionals will use the full width to ease the grade just a little. From our group one or two brave (looking back, foolish) souls went at it hard out of the blocks and pulled out an early 30 second lead, which on such a climb is actually just a painful, handful of metres.
Tackling the climb before provides little advantage over first-timers, other than the knowledge that for most riders it’s a case of putting it in the easiest gear and find your own survival pace to avoid the dreaded “foot-down”. It really is a climb that will give you a sense of achievement for completing it without stopping, trying to clip back in on 15%-20% gradients is no laughing matter either. Although objectively the last few hundred metres are less steep the damage done earlier means that for all the pained faces and heavy breathing, the result is little more than walking pace. Having finally conquered the seemingly interminable climb we reached the finish line of a barrier across the road and a small area of panting, exhausted cyclists and slightly bemused car drivers and motor-bikers.
After our group had reformed we rolled down the other side in search of sustenance and fortunately stumbled upon a fantastic lunch in Zelbio (Ristorante National) of regional charcuterie followed by hearty dishes of pizzoccheri and pennette alla norcina. Unlike the racers on Saturday you can then enjoy some of the most stunning views around the whole lake as you descend towards Nesso and the views continue all the way to Bellaggio where the next landmark climb awaits.
Although Bellagio would make a fine coffee stop we forged on and in no time you reach the foot of the Madonna del Ghisallo climb. The climb is actually stepped, with 4 km at 8.5% then a mid-section which is flat and downhill before a final 1.5 km again at 8%. Coming after the Muro its easy to mentally underestimate this climb, but coming after the Muro your legs may protest more than you’d otherwise expect.
As you turn the final hairpin the summit offers cafes, incredible views, a cycling museum and monuments and even a chapel partly dedicated to cycling memorabilia. This is a spot that the race cameras if not the racers will dwell upon but if you’re riding for pleasure then take a few minutes to enjoy it. The inside of the chapel should not be missed by any cyclist.
Once we had our fill we took the very fast descent off the summit and the predominantly down hill route back to Como for a well deserved gelato before looping back to our start point of Cernobbio. The racers instead will face a potentially decisive final ascent and descent close to Como town before the final kilometre. With good weather forecast Il Lombardia should provide stunning backdrops to an exciting and open race. As our ride showed the area also offers fantastic opportunities for mere mortals to experience memorable parts of the race route but also to enjoy the spectacular views and food and to create some new “war stories” to recount on our regular rides!
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Max elevation: 1093 m
Total climbing: 2170 m
Total time: 07:30:59