Monday, August 1, 2011

Ghisallo Pilgrimage

Guest contributor Rich, a member of the Stockton Bicycle Club who was on a tour with CycleItalia, writes about his ride and visit to Madonna del Ghisallo and the Museo del Ciclismo.

Ghisallo Pilgrimage

"I’m going to begin at the finish. After 10 days of climbing and descending through the Dolomites in northern Italy, we began our last ride on the flat shores of Lake Como. After a 23 km spin along the lake, we took a ferry to Bellagio and the start of the climb to Madonna di Ghisallo. This climb is a regular part of the Tour of Lombardy, also known as ‘the race of the falling leaves’, which is the last major classic of the year and the traditional end to the cycling season.

After enjoying mostly perfect weather for the previous ten days, we encountered a few showers as we rode along the lake, and on the climb it started to rain. No matter; it wasn’t cold and somehow the clouds and damp road and raindrops gave the climb a feeling of autumn and melancholy. While I was certainly missing Diane and Luke (our dog) and was anxious to get home after almost two weeks away, I wasn’t quite ready for the trip to end without one final climb to a sacred place for cyclists in a country where ‘a bicycle is not a toy’, as Mr. Colnago put it.

The climb isn’t especially hard, and since it was the last one, and fairly short, I let myself push the pace a little and arrived at the top panting and satisfied with my 11 rides totaling 430 miles and 66,000 feet of climbing for the trip.

The Madonna di Ghisallo was declared the patron saint of cycling in 1949. The chapel has bikes, jerseys, and race signs and banners from great riders like Coppi, Bartoli, Moser, Gimondi, and Merckx.

Outside there is a statue of two cyclists, one with his arm raised in victory, and other fallen to the ground and beseechingly looking for help. A prayer is inscribed on the statue asking God and the Saints to protect cyclists. Whether one is religious or not, goose bumps and maybe a few tears will make an appearance at this point. They certainly did for me.

Inside the chapel, there are prayer candles that pilgrims to this shrine of cycling can light to ask for protection for themselves and their friends as the ride their bikes on the roads. The candles are electric: so many cyclist do this that there would be too much soot if real ones were used. I put an offering into the box and picked up two candles, one for Diane (Stoker) and one for me. My hand shook a little as I lit them and my eyes started to water. It must have been the rain. Our candles are the two at the bottom right.

And here is the chapel.

There is also a fantastic cycling museum adjacent to the chapel, with an incredible collection of bikes, jerseys, photos, videos and other cycling related memorabilia. I could have spent hours here, and I did stay so long that by the time I joined our group at the café for lunch, the pizza oven was shut off and I had to settle for a pannini named after Fausto Coppi (prociutto, cheese and tomatoes). I didn’t really mind; I’ll have lots of chances to eat pizza, but who knows when, or if, I’ll get back to this holy place for cyclists."

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