Tuesday, September 28, 2010

adventures in Italy: Madonna del Ghisallo

I was in Italy for a bit over a week and brought my trusty Ritchey Breakaway. I really love that bike, steel frame and all. It's relatively bomb-proof, packs nicely into its near-regulation-sized travel case, and rides really well. It's no weenie @ 17.5 lb or so with clinchers and first-generation SRAM Rival, but then again 17.5 lb ain't so bad either. I wouldn't use it for a hillclimb time trial, but it's certainly a race-worthy bike.

So my first target was the legendary Ghisallo climb from Bellagio on Lake Como. The Ghisallo ends at the Madonna del Ghisallo, the internationally famous church dedicated to cyclists.

The climbing actually begins deep in the center of Bellagio. However, here's where I consider the true climb to start, at the 9 km to go sign at the traffic circle (below this traffic is too heavy):

the start of the climb
the start of the climb proper

From this point, here's the route profile, riding along the main road as opposed to the alternate back-road ascent:

Ghisallo route profile
Not quite 9 km by my GPS, but close enough. The climb rates 113% on the Low-Key Hillclimbs rating scale, where Old La Honda is by definition 100%. Note the substantial descent along the way: as a result the rating is almost as large just riding the first portion. But to do that would be to miss some of the best climbing. Traditionally it's said to be 14% maximum grade, but you can see from the profile any 14% grade isn't sustained for long.

But wow -- what an amazing experience! I passed three Italian randonneurs on the way, the only cyclists I encountered during my climb on that Tuesday morning, but later on my ride (after stopping at the church and the associated museum) I was humbled by an extremely fit looking guy with an SRM: an obvious racer.

summiting Ghisallo (staged)
staged shot of summiting the climb (I put my camera on timer and then recrossed the line, slowly)

Here's the segment on Strava. My goal had been to set the KOM on this legendary climb and I succeeded. However, Strava hasn't yet caught on in Italy, but when it does my time won't last long. Still, it's really nice to have reached my goal on what's a super-legendary climb.

Merckx's Merckx
Merckx's Merckx with an honored position inside the church

So all you riders in Italy: sign up for Strava and start posting that GPS data! I want to see some real numbers for this one. It's an absolutely fantastic climb: steep sections, gorgeous scenery, easily accessible by train and ferry, smooth pavement, and what a reward when you get to the top: the church and the museum are almost worth a trip to Italy on their own.

Afterwards I climbed further to San Prima. This is also a rewarding climb, and in combination with the climb to the church makes for a nice combination. But how can one not stop to admire the church? But I'm sure someone will soon enough post a Strava segment for the two together.


Felix said...

Hey Dan, just wanted to let you know I've been really enjoying your blog which I just "discovered" a couple months ago. I've seen your name all over the place as far back as when I was an undergraduate at Stanford in the 90s, so it is great to read more about you.

Congrats on being the King of the Mountain on Ghisallo too. You even bettered Amanda Miller, the current Queen of the Mountain. She is a pro cyclist who lives in Fort Collins, CO, where I reside. It seems like I am chasing all of her Strava times!

djconnel said...


Thanks for the note! Wow -- I love your old double century route sheet page (I just tapped into it recently to verify Mt Tam Double course changes), and I was pleased to read about your more recent exploits in trail running (a joy I recently discovered).

Anyway, the Giro Donna riders were just cruising over Ghisallo, clearly. I loosely based my ride on that stage and so followed the Ghisallo with the climb to Pian del Tivano da Nesso. While I wilted on that long climb, the Giro women upped the pace, and my time fell well short of hers. She still has the overall KOM (not just the QOM) for that climb.

Anyway, I'll post more on my climbs from the trip. I've been a bit overwhelmed by the start of the Low-Key Hillclimbs.