Hoists from afar On two wheels Zweiradberge

Insight Uphill: Meeting Fausto Coppi

Finish. Just finish. Seven days of Transalp and this is the last of them.

This July, I crossed the Alps with a group of friends. We went from Munich to Como, so this was kind of like cycling home for me. The way we followed was maybe a bit unusual as compared to most Transalp routes that I have seen floating around, so I labeled it a bit encroachingly the Zweiradberge-Route – that’s the name of our Whatsapp group. I already gave a synopsis of the route some time ago. Now, stage by stage, I want to go a bit more in depth with the route.

And here are details on stage 7 (the last one). Complete with a link to my Strava ride, a most insightful visualization of the route generated by Relive.cc, and the YouTube video that summarizes our experience.

Route

This last stage is best described with the German term Ehrenrunde. For me, it was a stage on home-turf, since I have been on all these roads before. (At least, however, for the most part never in this direction.) A loop going up to the famous and infamous Madonna di Ghisallo, then going down to Onno, another occasion to swim at a lesser known beach with a beautiful view (it’s a pattern, somehow, that the best beaches at Lago di Como are also the least well-known), then a short and hilly run-in to Como, our final destination.

Eine Ehrenrunde ist das Ablaufen der Zuschauerfront nach Ende eines Sportwettbewerbes durch den Sieger, oft auch durch weitere Platzierte. (Wikipedia)

An honorary loop is the passing of the audience after finishing a sportive competition, usually done by the winner, but often also by other successful finishers.

Addendum: in a wider sense, it’s a loop at the end of a sportive challenge that is not necessary to complete it and serves celebratory purposes.

Doing the loop counter-clockwise, i.e. starting with the Madonna, is the more difficult option. However, it’s the more logical story-line, because then you reach the lake for a last swim after having had the biggest sweat already. So be it then. The actual climb (commonly considered to start at the last roundabout coming from Bellagio, at which point we are already 60-80m above lake level) starts really tough with gradients in excess of 10% over a distance of something like 4km. Then it gets flattish, flat, and even turns into a downhill, before it ramps up again for a final section of hairpin turns. Thinking from turn to turn, this goes fast and is not a big challenge anymore.

The church itself is bizarre. It’s worth a visit in order to form an opinion about it, somehow, but not necessarily because it’s so great and beautiful. I’m not sure it is. But it is certainly impressive. I personally think it’s partly interesting and partly heretic. Christ and God have not much space left for themselves in that church, even less than in a conventional Catholic church filled with Saints.

Careful on the downhill. The street is wide, but there can be quite a bit of traffic, and the road surface is okay, but not always in mint condition. Also, once you cross the tunnel at the entrance to Asso, slow down a bit: It’s not far anymore to the left-turn back to the lake. Reik didn’t pay attention in his excitement over the descending speeds, so Martin had to chase him. After the left turn, there’s a bit of a false flat, reaching 500m again, adn then another downhill with some nice views, some nice rock formations that the road is built through, and a few technical turns.

Completing the loop towards Bellagio is easy. There’s one longer hill at the end, but nothing too big. The hills on the final bit from Bellagio to Como are more challenging and more frequent. If I recall correctly, there are three longer hills (right after Bellagio, then after Nesso and another one before Torno). Behind Torno, I advise not to go through the first tunnel. Right before the entrance, a pedestrian tunnel goes off to the right. (It’s actually the old street and the tunnel is just 20m long.) The second tunnel is short, and the third tunnel has no alternative. Definitely use a light here. There is traffic. Not too much – it’s still an enjoyable ride – but enough to be careful.

And that’s all to be said. Just 65km, yet again 1,200m elevation (the 1,900m that my Strava track indicates are a massive overestimation). And there we are, seven days later: In Como. Without accident, with just two flat tires (I caught one before the trip even started, during the train ride to Munich; Dominic had one on the last stage), with just 45min of rain (30min while we were sitting inside a bar on the Stelvio, and 15min light drizzle on the morning of day 6), and with five satisfied faces in front of the Duomo in Milan.

DSC_7735

Accommodation

Since I live in Milan, we did not stay in Como. For those who go to Milan, I recommend to take a train to Milano-Cadorna from Como-Lago, since Cadorna is paradoxically more centrally located than Milano-Centrale. These trains usually have air conditioning and good space for bikes. In Milano, make sure to inquire about bike parking at your accommodation of choice. The guys just took a cheap apartment 100m from where I live and kept the bikes inside.

In case of rain

From Bellagio, take the ferry back to Varenna and then go by train to Milano-Centrale. Or take a boat to Como – but pay attention, since not all boats between Bellagio and Como transport bikes. (For instance, the fast service does not.)

Make it more or less challenging

There are a few possibilities to add some spice to it. I recognize three main options, all of which I briefly mention below.

First, while climbing up to the Madonna di Ghisallo, a small street goes off to the right in Guello. It leads to Gallasco and later to Piano Rancio, which is at a higher elevation than the Madonna di Ghisallo, so that adds a bit of (steep) climbing.

Second, after reaching the Madonna, get off the main road in Barni and use a more Eastern road via Crezzo. This involves a steepish, but not too long climb, and then a very steep and very narrow downhill. Be careful there.

Third, before Asso, you could actually ignore the loop and cross the Colma di Sormano. The “easy” version of that mountain is already challenging (or so I remember it from the one time I went up there in Italian summer heat), but the Muro di Sormano cuts the distance by two kilometers and replaces it with one full kilometer at 15% and more. It’s considered to be one of the toughest stretches that exist in professional cycling, as it appears once in a while during the race of the falling leaves, i.e. Il Lombardia. This actually cuts the distance by 12km, but it adds climbing.

In order to have it easier, you should do the loop clockwise. It’s the same total elevation, but much less steep from that side. Obviously, you can also forget about the loop entirely and just do hilly 30km to Como. Don’t think about finishing in Lecco, though. From Bellagio to Lecco, a long tunnel soon after Onno is not officially open for cyclists. Also from Varenna to Lecco, the last place accessible by roadbike is Abbadia Lariana – afterwards, the coastal road merges with a kind-of highway which at that spot also runs through some galleries and is strictly not allowed for cyclists. The only ways to get to Lecco are via the Valsassina from Bellano (much climbing) or via Canzo, but on that route there’s much traffic. Just finish in Como. It’s prettier anyways.

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