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Paying respect at Ghisallo
November 18, 2014 Max Burgess
  • Madonna del Ghisallo

Paying respect at Ghisallo

Bergamo, Italy

Posted in Rides

Bergamo seems to be the centre of the Italian bike industry and a visit there for Podia is always a busy one. On this occasion, we thought we should take time to see some of the scenery by bike.
Who better to show us around than Podia contributor and former pro, Diego Caccia.

Diego knows the roads well, having grown up and raced in the area, but it would be a special route and one of his most hated of climbs, the Passo del Ghisallo, he chose for our ride.

The Passo del Ghisallo is often referred to as the spiritual home of cycling. It has featured in the Giro di Lombardia for many years, usually as one of the decisive moments, but that is not what makes it so special. Apart from the stunning views of Lake Como and the surrounding area, it is the chapel at the very top of the climb that makes it extraordinary and if you have time to stop, it is a must see.

The work of a local priest in the 1940’s meant the Madonna del Ghisallo would become the patron of cyclists and ever since then the chapel has become a shrine to them. Any cycling fan’s breath is absent as you walk through the doors and see the walls adjourned with all manner of memorabilia; from Fausto Coppi’s bike to Pantani’s jersey. There is of course a more serious tone to the shrine with dedications to fallen cyclists as well as the eternal flame that is kept alight for all those who died while racing. Diego’s first action as he enters the shrine is to make a contribution and light a candle. It’s the first time I have seen him being serious all day.

Earlier, even when he was complaining about the Passo, he would still fly up half of it in the big ring, only dropping to the small ring to take one foot off the pedal and pretend to smoke a cigar. Anyway, it is an enlightening day on a number of levels. Watching Diego chase a car up the climb is the first time I see him short of breath as he tells me he hasn’t got his legs anymore. According to Diego he is not a good climber, so I can only imagine what it must be like behind Contador or Nibali.

Diego raced Il Lombardia several times (see his account here) spending the majority of those races in the breakaway. We re-enact our favourite photo of him cresting the Ghisallo in the 2010 breakaway and then head for the descent. Following a former pro, who knows the roads well, down winding descents is an experience like nothing else and sadly it is over far too quickly.

As we wind our way back towards Lecco, Diego informs me that we will go down a really good descent where I can properly test the Passoni bike I am riding for the day. The wind had been playing on my mind, it is a very windy region, and as we turn the corner to hit the descent I find myself bent over in the wrong direction to the curve of the road. And so it continues all the way down, rather than fighting the forces of gravity, we are fighting the force of the wind; of course Diego meets such peril with a laugh so loud that I can still hear it in the gale force winds.