Gazzetta Challenge - Giro di Lombardia, Como, October 2008
Sunday dawns clear and dry. Numbers pinned, bottles filled, we head out of the hotel’s cobbled courtyard to the start on the lakefront.
The pens of riders buzz with pre ride conversations. “How hard is the Ghisallo?”, “Which course – long or short?”, and “Whose idea was this?”
9 a.m. And we’re off! Bleep, bleep, bleep sounds as all of us pass the start.
The first climb is after only a kilometre. All of a sudden every man and his dog thinks he’s Pantani! A few hundred metres later and they all realise they’re not.
We crest the short climb out of Como and settle into a rhythm on our way to the first feed after 30km at Oggiono. The autumn sun has come out and brings out the spectators too.
At Oggiono the route splits. At an insignificant pink sign, a left turn takes you straight to Lecco while a right adds the Colle Brianza loop of the Corsa Lungo. Left calls my name!
Along the lake from Lecco we find our pace again and head for Bellagio and the Ghisallo. Every now and then a group of early starters from the long course sweep past. Their pace is sickeningly fast, these are the 4 hour guys.
As we approach Bellagio the road starts to twist and turn hugging the shore. Then abruptly you come around a familiar curve and it’s there – the mini roundabout that is the start of the Ghisallo.
From a near standstill you start the ascent to the chapel. In front of you is a wall of autumn leaves that is all at once imposing and breathtakingly beautiful.
The early slopes of the Ghisallo are the hardest part. Never settling on an even gradient, they jump about. 5% then 9% then 11, 12, 14, then back to 9. Never longer than a few metres, each section saps your strength and has you searching for that extra cog.
Guello is a welcome relief. The gradient slips back down away from 10% to a more manageable 6% and finally starts to descend for a couple of kilometres.
All too soon the “8 Tornati” sign hoves into view. Gears clatter as riders caught out struggle to find an easier gear. Conversations stop as we all start the countdown from 8 to the summit and the next feed station.
Fuelled up on pastries and iced tea, we press on. 40km to go, and the first bit is downhill!
Bit by bit we head back into Como. Within sight of the city we are directed up again over Civiglio this time. Only 3km long it looks innocuous on the profile. But after 97km it’s far from it. Once climbed the descent into Como is dizzyingly fast and twisty. At the bottom there is one more “diversion” the organisers have left – San Fermo Della Battaglia. 3km long and rising to 400m it is a deceptive climb. Steepening all the way to the top it finishes your legs off. To add insult to injury the timing control is 100m from its summit, allegedly!
San Fermo conquered (or should that be survived?), it’s a fast drop down to the lakeside finish and a welcome gelato or two!