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Cycling from Geneva to Milan: a diary of day 4, Como to Milan

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Cycling from Geneva to Milan: a diary of day 4, Como to Milan

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July 28th, 2015

The final stretch! A gentle 90 mile jolly around Lake Como, then south over a fantastic climb, through picturesque Italian countryside and towns, and into Milan: the Moral Capital of Italy (or so we’re told!). 

Today’s planned mileage and elevation were 89.1 miles and 9,831 feet respectively. The map is below and for this post it’s taken from Ride25’s Strava account because my Garmin conked out en route, only managing to record the first 71 miles.

Geneva to Milan elevation and route

Click to expand!

I started the day by cracking a raw egg onto my breakfast plate.

I’d planned it to be hard boiled, but missed the sign next to the bowl of eggs that presumably said ‘self-cook’ in Italian (this also next to the machine that, presumably, did the cooking).

Other than that, the morning went smoothly. The routine was second nature by now and we were fed, watered and ready to go in record time. We were on the road at 8:27am.

All packed up and ready to go

Image by Steve Reynolds

Today was the first day that we’d be cycling exclusively in one country. Riding in Italy had so far met (and exceeded) expectations: it was pretty, people were friendly, food was good, and temperatures continued to soar.

We spent the morning skirting Lake Como, mingling with thousands of cyclists in pelotons going in both directions. It was a festival of lycra. I got speaking to a guy at a water fountain stop; he asked me about the trip and received the Ride25 pitch, then nodded in approval. It also turned out he’d lived a couple of postcodes over from where I grew up. Small world!

On the lakeside ride we speculated about the location of George Clooney’s house, took plenty of photos with beautiful backdrops, and at one point saw a couple getting fruity in the back of a Transit van with the doors wide open – privacy apparently not their concern! (Probably a good thing we didn’t find George’s pad, though: people who disturb his privacy face a 600€ fine!)

Then, in Bellagio, we left the lake and met the Madonna del Ghisallo – a famous and iconic ascent in the cycling world – and began another protracted upward slog.

It’s a nice climb, but a deceptive elevation profile. You climb for 3.5 miles then descend for a while (a descent which tricked many of us into thinking we’d missed the group at the top), before another cheeky mile of climbing appears.

False peaks

At the top of the climb is the shrine of Madonna del Ghisallo – the patroness of cycling. Her chapel-cum-cycling-museum is, literally, filled up to the rafters with bikes. There are bikes that have won the Tour de France, the Parigi-Roubaix, the Giro d’Italia; the bike Francesco Moser used to break records, a bike used by Italian sharpshooters in World War 1, and many more. Each a snapshot of cycling history.

Jerseys, badges, stickers, plaques and photographs filled every spot without a bike in it. At the back of the shrine, an eternal flame burns in honour of all cyclists who have passed away.

It’s an incredible place.

Up to the rafters

Images by Steve Reynolds (screenshots from his video)

Statues were scattered about outside too – the locals apparently intent on fitting as much memorabilia as physically possible into the area (which is absolutely fine with us!).

Pipped at the post

The cycling goober

After the Ghisallo climb was the inevitable descent – just shy of 20 miles – to the lunch break. Bumpier surfaces and windier towns on the way down prevented us from reaching yesterday morning’s speeds, but it was still exhilarating.

Consensus seemed to suggest that this lunch was the group’s favourite – a buffet of sliced meats, cheeses, salads, and multiple delicious variations on aubergine: a true Mediterranean feast. There were even (slightly tacky) imitation Greek statues to complete the image, and a beach visible outside. But we were all too focussed on the end (and the food!) to swim.

Restaurant statues

From the restaurant’s website, here

Straight after lunch there was a formidable hill which, combined with the temperatures, drained my energy levels uncomfortably low (“which b*stard put that there?”, someone concisely asked at the top). A couple of pieces of flapjack propped me up until the next stop, but it was the first time during the trip I’d felt tempted to stop and have a little lie down.

An entire town on the route was closed for a 1950s festival which caused brief chaos for Smudge and Christina in the vehicles, although the cycling route wasn’t affected. We continued along tree lined paths, through Italian villages, then onto the canal tow-path that would accompany us for the remaining 21 miles into Milan.

Huge crowds lined the canal-side seating area where we stopped for the afternoon coffee break. Artists were selling their wares while hundreds of revellers revelled. The gelateria was impenetrable.

Some of the group were struggling with chafing as the tour progressed, despite padded shorts, chamois cream and Sudocrem being employed with vigour. The phrase “an a*se like a blood orange” was uttered as we climbed on the saddles for the final time – all part of the fun of cycling, they tell us!

The tow-path ranged in width from one to three cyclists and it was rammed the entire way into Milan. Every age group and bike design was represented in the throng of people. Families trundled, couples sauntered, everyone was enjoying themselves. Our pace was slightly above the average so we had to weave our way gently forwards, dodging the occasional hotrod who would zoom past and disrupt the equilibrium prompting shouting and gesticulating from the crowds.

The arrival at Milan cathedral was phenomenal: it is pure, imposing grandeur. A perfect backdrop for photos of sweaty, haggered-looking cyclists who’ve opted to conquer 360 miles and 20,000+ feet of elevation to get there.

oustide Milan cathedral

Dinner and accompanying wine went down an absolute treat, as did the hot shower that preceeded and the well-earned rest that followed.

So to summarise the Geneva to Milan ride: 10/10 – would ride again.

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