Il Lombardia: review of Lago di Como ride weekend

The final Monument of the 2019 road season “Il Lombardia” takes places on Saturday 12th October.  With a glance to the race parcours and as a wider review of the area as a cycling destination, we revisit a recent trip to the area and share some tips should you be planning to ride in the area. 

There is just something undeniably classy about the Italian lakes and Como proved a fantastic setting for three days of challenging riding, great eating and discussions around the sport we love.  Como is a short-transfer from the Milan airports and offers spectacular lake views from every angle as well as a variety of rides.  Naturally you eat extremely well and given the location prices actually offer good value.  On the more negative side we found car drivers to be fond of a close pass and though our trip coincided with fantastic weather, outside of the summer months it may be less predictable than destinations further south such as Girona or Mallorca.  So, what did we learn that could help you plan a trip?

Logistics:  To arrive at Como it is quite practical to take a train from either Milan airport.  In our experience if you are in a group the convenience of a booked transfer will outweigh the hassles of a rental car with not a dissimilar cost.  Our rental apartment was close to Cernobbio, just a few kilometres from Como town centre.  Either area would provide a convenient base from which to explore, with more bustle in Como if you prefer that.  We rented good quality Bianchi bikes from a friendly firm in Bellagio who delivered, making life easier on a short trip.

Rides: We started day one with the “Lagone” or lap of the lake.  Totalling around 165km with 1200m of altitude gain we set-off in a clock-wise direction as this makes it easier to slip right on to smaller roads to avoid a number of traffic tunnels.  There are several tunnels that can’t be avoided so bringing a rear light may increase your peace of mind.  The stretch north toward Menaggio was probably the busiest around the lake but beyond that the traffic thins, while there are still options for refreshments and lunch relatively frequently around the whole lake.  The terrain only becomes more rolling in the second half, particularly in the stretch approaching Como but even then the extra altitude improves the views .  A coffee or gelato in Como centre provides a well-deserved conclusion to the route.

For our second day we tackled two of the classic hills of the area, the infamous Muro di Sormano and the Madonna del Ghisallo.  Both of these feature toward the end of Il Lombardia and may well prove decisive in forming the final group of contenders.  On our shortened route of approximately 110km we passed through Como and quickly started gaining altitude on a steady ascent in the direction of Erba.  To reach the “Muro” you then climb 6km at 6% from Asso to Sormano village.  The Hollywood-esque signs give an indication of something big to come and the Muro doesn’t disappoint.  The Strava segment marks it as 1.7km in length with an average gradient of 15.5% but you’ll feel every metre travelled so try and find a survival speed and keep your front wheel on the floor.  Given the unusual difficulty level, this is a climb which will leave you with burning legs but also a sense of achievement.  After heart rates subsided we rolled down and stumbled upon a fantastic lunch in Zelbio (Ristorante National) of regional charcuterie followed by hearty dishes of pizzoccheri and pennette alla norcina.  Continuing to descend toward Nesso the lake views are perhaps the nicest on the lake and you’ll enjoy these all the way to Bellaggio where the next climb awaits.  The climb to Ghisallo is actually stepped, with 4km at 8.5% then a mid-section which is downhill before a final 1.5km at 8%.  The summit offers cafes, incredible views, cycling monuments and museum and even a chapel partly dedicated to cycling memorabilia.  Once we had our fill we took the very fast descent off the summit and retraced back to Como for gelato then evening drinks and recounting of experiences, with tales of mental battles on the Muro featuring heavily.

With a flight to catch day was three short and sweet.  After a lakeside warm-up and coffee we started climbing straight out of Cernobbio to Monte Bisbino.  Small settlements quickly fade leaving you on silent and deserted roads as you tackle 15km at a very consistent 7%.  Although the road surface is not good the views on the lower stretches, the tight hairpins and the stunning forest toward the top help the kilometres tick by.  This time the dead-end summit close to the Swiss border may be something of an anti-climax compared with the climb, with low cloud a possibility above 1200 metres.  The challenging descent will however keep your mind occupied with the best lake views to be had during the second half.  If the weather is hot a refreshing swim in the lake can round off a terrific trip in a beautiful setting.  Hopefully this gives some inspiration for 2020 planning!  Good Riding!!