Madonna del Ghisallo Pilgrimage

An icon of Italian (World) Cycling and on my To Do List for a long time, the pilgrimage to the patron saint of cycling –  ticked off 🙂

Having seen it so many times on the Lombardia / Giro and read about it in so many books and pored over numerous pictures I still was surprised at how tricky a wee climb this was.  Got a nice wee ferry ride to Bellagio to the start of the climb. You immediately climb out of Bellagio on fairly steep 8-10% ramps until you get out the town and into the climb proper – it was here the unofficial “start” line was painted on the road after a mile of climbing!

The climb is in 3 sections. The first section is about 4.5 miles of steady, steep climbing through trees and rapidly gaining height. Then the road levels off and even goes downhill slightly for the next mile. Time to spin the legs and get the average speed up. Then the final mile is steep again – where you’d make your attack!

It was so familiar as I turned the last corner and could see the summit with the church on the left – all the greats over all ages of cycling have raced up here and it was a privilege to follow them  – albeit half their speed 🙂

The church itself is amazing with memorabilia from Italian World Champions (and a few non Italians) over the years. Spent an age soaking it all in. There is now a museum on site too (5 euro entry for cyclists) which is well worth a visit. You could spend all day looking at the multitude of donated bikes, jerseys, newspapers, books, videos detailing the history of cycling and the riders.

All that was left was the blast back to Bellagio and a gelato by Lake Como to remember all those that have passed this way.

Thoroughly recommend it for everyone and even the non cyclists in my group who drove up enjoyed the history, church and museum.

Some pics which don’t do it justice…

Coppi’s 1 hour record bike

The Garmin stats:

Gran Fondo Stelvio 2016

After last year’s Etape du Tour Heatstroke Hell, the main decision this year was how much winter clothing do we need in June?!

Three of us (Ciaran, Jamie and Graeme C) had signed up for this event sponsored by Santini and Mr Santini himself is there to wave you off and home (if you’re fast enough, he doesn’t hang abut in the snow for too long). Starting in Bormio and taking in the fearsome Motirolo and finishing 2,760 metres up on the Stelvio.

We decided to do a wee warm up climb the day before and so we climbed the Gavia, a mere 25Km climb, topping out at 2,652 metres. As we climbed up and up the weather changed to rain, then the snow comes, lying thick either side of the road. By the time we got to tthe top there was no visibility, it was freezing and you could ski! And tomorrow the Stelvio is 150 metres higher! The descent was awful, absolutely freezing, shivering, hands barely able to break. A real eye opener for tomorrow.

Lovely June day

After thawing out, we went to register and pickup the goodie bag (which was actually pretty good) and then the race briefing. As the 2 hosts chatted and joked away, we were understanding nothing of it at all.Then I realised half was in English, the tannoy was just so bad you couldn’t understand a word 🙂

There was a thousand checks of the weather and lots of decisions what to wear, at least I didn’t have to descend the Stelvio at the end as Lindsay was coming to the finish and would drive me down. Ciaran and Jamie dropped off their clothing bags that they take to the finish so you can change into dry, warm clothes for the descent. We were in different start pens, but as I was in pen 1, Jamie pen 2 and Ciaran in 3 there was every chance we would all meet up as they caught and passed me. Usual hanging about waiting for the off, but the weather was fine.

The first few Kms are neutralised behind the race car, which was “interesting” as people sped up to get behind the car only to then slow down, a concertina start / stop as folks all shouting and brakes screeching. The car peeled off and then all hell broke loose. The pace was stupidly fast (for me) and as it was mainly downhill and with a big day ahead I really took it easy, just spinning and keeping safe.

After about 30 miles you go through Bianzone and hit the first real climb. On the event profile it is a mere blip, in reality it is a 3 mile climb at 9%+ average! After so much descending it was a shock to the legs and I spun up keeping it steady. Half way up is a really steep ramp going through a narrow arch and was a bottleneck but at least nobody in my group had to get off so we made it through and up to the top.This is where Jamie caught me and we stayed together on the descent and the flattish section until you get to Sernio hill (only 2 miles @ 5.1%).

After 50 miles and 2.5 hours we hit the Motirolo – 7 miles @ 11% average. It was, as expected, brutally, unrelentingly tough for the first 5 miles. Some of the ramps are 15-20% and go on for what seems like an eternity. I was managing it okay, trying to keep out the red and just slowly getting there. Jamie had pushed on and disappeared. Then you hit a flattish bit, just enough to get the legs spinning and get ready for the last 1.5 miles. It was around here Ciaran caught and passed me in his usual mountain goat style. Then bang, with a mile to go, you hit a ridiculously steep, rough, cobbled, wet section with ramps 25%+. It is very narrow, very steep and being wet your wheels spun – so almost everybody gets off and walks and you pretty much have no choice with the traffic. Walking was harder than peddaling it! Then get back on for the final push to the summit. It had taken me 1hr 25 to go 7 miles! I filled my water bottles and set off.

The fearsome descent was less so and wasn’t too bad, was expecting worse and even I was passing some folks – unheard of. After 9 miles of downhill, pass through Tialo Basso, a town at 677 metres, and then the realisation you still have 32 miles and 2,000 metres ascent to go and it is all uphill from here.

The next section was a slog, on my own, crawling along and constantly thinking “I still have the Stelvio to climb”. It was nice getting back to Bormio with the crowds cheering and knowing there was just 1 more hill. But what a hill, 21Km and 7.1% average.

Time to engage bottom gear and enjoy it as best I can. After 2 Km I saw Lindsay by the side of the road – it was closed to cars and she couldn’t get to the top! Oh dear, I have to descend at the finish and no warm clothes for me….. I actually enjoyed the climb, it is spectacular,weather was great and views amazing. It did take a longgggg time, but eventually with 2-3Km to go the snow walls start and the scene turns from warm summer to winter again. Finally crossed the line at a crawl and was handed the coveted Finisher’s Cap.

Was worth it for this 🙂

As I put on my summer waterproof the hailstorm started! Quick message to see if Jamie was still at the top (no answer) and I set off. It was bloomin freezing again. After 2-3 Km I saw Jamie coming up – no idea how that happened or where I passed him but the confused look and my frozen brain were struggling to understand! (We reckon it was when he stopped in Bormio for water that I passed him) Thought at 1 point my brake / shifter was broken and then realised it was because 2 fingers were so numb I had no feeling.  After 19K of downhill I met Lindsay where the road closure was and shivering, changed into my warm clothes. Turns out the road closed at 9:3am, but the Police were very nice and even gave Lindsay some of their lunchtime wine while she waited :-0

So that was it – GF Stelvio DONE. Great event, well organised, well marshalled and a very tough iconic route. Highly recommend it, and Bormio is a nice wee town too.

The results for Team Wheelers were:

Ciaran – 7:03 (300th and 56th in age cat)

Graeme – 7:18 (348th and 70th in age cat)

Jamie – 7:31 (464th and 76th in age cat)

The winning time, was a quite frankly ridiculous 5:19 and in total, 3,100 took part.