We assembled in Milan. Among our troupe a handful of Aussies, a Kiwi and a Parisian gathered and shared introductions, coming together for a cycling adventure in one of Italy’s most iconic destinations.
Lake Como, famed for its Y-shaped body of water buried below mountainous pre-alpine territory, sits a stone's throw from Switzerland and some of the most famous alpine peaks. The area around the lake is a geographical goldmine for cyclists, where there are no wrong turns.
We arrived with the expectation of idyllic Italian Spring sunshine and warmth but were surprised by brisk temperatures, hovering a few degrees above zero. After lunch at Lake Como’s best (read: worst) Pizza Restaurant, we settled in to ‘The Doctor’s House’ – a restored mansion with the most spectacular vistas of the lake's shores and snowy mountain tops.
Weary from our respective journeys to Italy, we set to work unpacking and building bikes. We chose to deal with our jetlag in the best way possible, with a light tap along the scenic lake's edge. Basking in the glow of the setting sun, it was an almost ritualistic reconnection with the bikes that would transport us around the region over the coming days.
With bad weather approaching over the days ahead, every moment of precious sunlight was to be filled with riding. The plan was simple: wake at the crack of dawn, brew some coffee, kit up and depart early for of a long day in the saddle.
Leaving shortly after sunrise, there was a buzz of energy as we packed cars with the essentials, playing Tetris with photographic equipment and kits. For those of us on bikes, we whizzed about the carpark in anticipation of the miles awaiting us.
Our adventure began with myself, Mike, Hugo and Lydia pedalling through an orchard of Italian villas. That feeling when the morning silence is broken by the sound of spinning freehubs took on extra joy as we soaked in the views of the lake.
Winding up the switchbacks of the first climb, Colma da Nesso, it became obvious why we'd come to Lake Como. Switchbacks decorated by lush green, and lined by glorious rock walls and 18th century huts. Como’s beauty emerged as we climbed, and we felt as though we were being let it on the secrets of its majesty.
The higher we climbed, the more expansive the views became. Villages etched into mountain faces miles away and the true expanse of the lake became apparent. Peaceful as it was, lungs were burning as we chased the car, winding and jostling amongst each other and Beardy snapped away. Intermittent breaks for kit changes (this was a photo shoot after all) interrupted an otherwise rhythmic climb.
Approaching the top of the climb, the team took a break in small but busy café for croissants, coffee and classic salami sandwiches. The atmosphere was relaxed as we shared banter and jokes about the chill, the painfully beautiful climbs and the descent ahead, before grabbing our gilets and warmers to rug up for the next leg of the day's journey.
Through the hills and towns, we descended fast, sweeping corners on smooth bitumen, until reaching an intersection at the bottom. From here we went up again for the approach to the famous Madonna Del Ghisallo, Church of the Patron Saint of cycling. We surged and fought our way to the top, mimicking the exploits of the pros in the final Classic of the season, the Giro di Lombardia. Ceasing hostilities we came to rest and share a moment at the eternal flame, that burns in honour of all cyclists who have graced these hills.
The mountain top swarms with enthusiasts and tourists alike, who visit the cycling museum; a place of quiet, respectful reflection. The decorated shrine is filled with memorabilia, including the crumpled bicycle that Fabio Casartelli, a native of the region, rode on the day that he died in a crash in the Tour de France. This is a special place to visit and should be on the bucket list of all lovers of our sport.
After a smooth, fast descent into Bellagio it was time to regroup and recover. We gathered and shared a menu of pizzas and stories. As we sat, there was a sense of calm, sharing and reflecting on the days riding just passed, yet a buzzing anticipation of the adventures ahead.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE GPX FILE OF OUR RIDE
We woke the next morning to the predicted forecast of heavy rain. As rain fell, spirits that were so high from the day before were dampening as quickly as the roads outside. We decided to pack the bikes into the cars and head to the west side of the lake and up, hopefully above the rain clouds that were threatening to ruin our day.
After passing the home of Como’s most famous resident, George (Georgio) Clooney we took a left at Argegno, bound for Refugio Venini, situated in a saddle between Monte Galbiga and Monte di Tremezzo. Scaling the narrow, sketchy roads in our wider-than-practical Fiat Ducatos, we made it to the summit, approximately 1576m above sea level.
We got out of the cars to take in the wondrous scenery, scanning across the mountain ranges of both Switzerland and Italy. Within 5 minutes of our arrival the snow started to fall, not just a couple of flakes on the windscreen but a small blizzard. This was exactly what we came for, everyone was on a new high as the temperature hit a new low. As everyone rugged up in winter kit, we knew the gamble of heading across the lake to a virtually unknown location was going to pay off with some incredible shots.
Making our way down the mountain range, snow falling heavier now and the black of the road becoming less and less visible we stumbled across a refuge in Rifugio Boffalora, a quaint cottage serving up hot lentil soup, warm bread and coffee.
As we walked in, dressed head to toe in kit still with a dusting of snow across our shoulders, a table of 6 elderly gentlemen jaws’ dropped as they saw us. They spoke not a word of English but we knew they had questions for us, namely “what the hell are you doing here, and on your bikes?!”
We navigated our way through the twisty streets of Pigra, the snow now turning in to rain and with the temperature still hovering around zero degrees the new winter garments were being put to the ultimate test. XY winter jackets zipped up, neck warmers covering our faces and the winter gloves and shoe covers keeping our extremities warm – we were comfortable, though extremely wary of the slippery cobbled roads.
We finally made it back to the house, the heater was switched on, hot showers were had and all that was left to do was eat, drink and reflect on the day that just was – unexpected weather that turned a search for drier conditions in to a true winter epic.
The next day we woke early and it was time to pack the bags and go our separate ways. Our photographer, Beardy was on his way to Sardinia with Mike for the start of the Giro, Hugo was heading back to Paris, Lydia was off to Verona for a week prior to her 2 month racing stint in the USA and Europe for Roxsolt Attaquer, while I headed for a few decidedly warmer days in Barcelona.