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Race of the Falling Leaves - Travelogue
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 10/14/2004
Race of the Falling Leaves - Travelogue

The third race of the Trittico d'Autunno - the autumn triple - will be not only a showdown supreme, it is also the last big race of the season, and is also the final race of the very last World Cup. As we wax sentimental about the our love of the World Cup, and think of the brand new "world" that awaits us next cycling season, we can also take in the sights of northern Italy.

This year the Giro di Lombardia starts in Mendrisio, Switzerland, at 10:25 local time, and after a short loop to the edge of Lake Lugano, comes into Italy, to the Lombardia region (see map to left), where the race will weave its way roughly around Lake Como. The race will visit three different Italian provinces - Como, Sondrio and Lecco - and then return to Como. It has been over 40 years since the race has taken this direction.

Autumn is setting in in the region - rain has been forecast for Friday, and is now forecast for Saturday (a 50% chance). Temperatures will range from a low of 9 C (48 F) to a high of 14 C (57 F). We had hoped for a mild weather day, but now it looks like it could be a difficult six hours for the riders...

You will need the altimetry and parcours we present a "travelogue" of what you might see following the riders in the race of the falling leaves.

Click for larger image - opens in new window. Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport.

Click for larger image - opens in new window. Courtesy Gazzetta dello Sport.

As we said, this year's race begins in Switzerland, and Mendrisio is in full swing - this week the Mendrisio Ministry of Sport is having a photo exhibition chronicling the Giro d'Italia, to celebrate the departure of the 98th Giro di Lombardia from its city.

Coming from Mendrisio, but still in Switzerland, the riders will now pass through the towns of Coldrerio, Balerna and Chiasso.

Balerna. Courtesy Comune di Balerna.

The Pontegna Castle in Chiasso. Courtesy

Provincio di Como

The race now comes to the Como province - a mixture of the cosmopolitan and industry, ancient fortresses, the most famous chapel for cyclists, and wilderness - where one might be lucky enough to see stags, chamois, deers, ibexes and perhaps a royal eagle, though none of these would be particularly welcome on the roadway.

The race turns along the lake at Cernobbio - this first 20 kilometers of the race is a little hilly and a few hundred meters above sea level. Ten kilometers further along the lakeshore the riders pass through Argegno.

The town of Argegno. Courtesy Travel Plan it.

The riders turn away from the lake at Argegno to meet their first mountains. The town of Dizzasco heralds the first climb of the race, the San Fedele d'Intelvi at 749 meters (average 6.6%, max of 10% climb). The riders then descend toward Lake Lugano to continue their journey.

Dizzasco. Courtesy Corriere di Como.

Away from the lakeshore, the parcours take the riders past the Lago di Piano and back to the shores of Como. 58 kilometers under their wheels, it is now 60 kilometers until the next climb, the Premana. The riders, still fresh and conserving their energy (but for whatever breakaway might be out in front), pass various little towns, many of them with just a few thousand inhabitants - Acquaseria, Dongo, Gravedona, Sorico.

Lago di Piano and Porlezza. Courtesy Cadenabbia di Griante.

Menaggio in a warmer season.

Acquaseria in the bleak of winter.



Provincia di Sondrio

At the furthest end of Lake Como, the race spends a whole four kilometers in the province of Sondrio, just long enough to nod at Pian di Spagna before moving into Lecco province. There is a nature preserve at the nearby Lago di Mezzola, home to swans and many other aquatic birds, otter, fox and deer. Less than 10 more flat kilometers till the beginning of the next ascent, the second of six climbs in this race.

Pian di Spagna. Fotocoppia.

Provincia di Lecco

Pedalling south along the lake again, the town of Dervio marks the beginning of the Premana ascent, now in Lecco territory. This is the longest ascent of the race at 21 km. In this town, the race makes a sharp jog and turns away from the lake for the hills. Up to Vestreno of stone building and tiled rooves. A bit of leveling off at Tremenico - another ancient village with feldspar mines and caves in the mountainside. This is just about the halfway point of the race...

Tremenico. Courtesy Lecco Tourist Bureau.

Now up two small climbs to Premana at 916 meters. Premana has been reknowned through the ages for its ironworking and cutlery, as the local mountains have been mined for iron since pre-Roman times. For that reason the town of 1000 has not suffered the migration of its youth to larger population centers. The town has snow until through May each year. There are more photos of this remarkably mountain-perched town here.

Premana is home to numerous premier cutlery companies. Courtesy

Premana. Courtesy La

Our riders now swoop into a mountain valley, past Taceno and Cortenova and climb up a bit again to the Colle di Balisio at 723 meters. On either side are mountain peaks ranging from 1700-2000 meters.

Taceno, a slight bit chillier in this photo than it will be on Saturday... Courtesy La Valsassina in 1000 foto.

Taceno. Courtesy La Valsassina in 1000 foto.

Balisio. Courtesy La Valsassina in 1000 foto.

Cold does not dampen a local carnival. Courtesy La Valsassina in 1000 foto.

A steep descent and a flat stretch back along the lake are next, from kilometers 162-190 of this race. Then it's onto the famous Madonna del Ghisallo ascent - a fitting climb to visit the chapel of the cyclists.

Provincia di Como

Back in Como province now, Regatola di Bellagio marks the beginning of the next ascent - we found this great postcard from days gone by of steps up a Bellagio lane, and a present day shot that looks quite a bit like the same street...

Courtesy - an interesting website that discusses replacing automotive transport in cities.

Courtesy U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation.

The riders are now in the region known as Triangolo Lariano - the triangle. Bounded by Como on two sides, the bottom part of this triangle of land is dotted with a string of small lakes.

The tip of the triangle - looking at the Bellagio promontory from Civenna.
Courtesy Province of Como.

Now it's time for the Madonna del Ghisallo - the protectoress of cyclists. Countless thousands ride to her little chapel each year to convey their private thoughts, and to visit the cycling museum there. For those on the road today, it will mark the beginning of the end of a long season and a long race. However, the cyclists must work for their blessing - the 8.6 km climb has early stretches above 10% in grade, and in fact one bit is 14%. The road levels off past Guello, then climbs again past Civenna, again at grades between 8 and 12 percent.

The Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel. Courtesy Province of Como.

Tribute to cyclists. Courtesy Province of Como.

Unfortunately, the official Madonna del Ghisallo museum website is under construction at the moment, so instead here a site with some photos of the chapel and the museum, and the excellent Laborraccia site has a special Madonna del Ghisallo page from 2002, when Paolo Bettini, one of Saturday's favorites, donated his jersey to the museum.

Back to racing through the Italian countryside, upon cresting the Madonna del Ghisallo, the riders now have 45 kilometers to go, but two more climbs...they descend down to Erba and immediately start back up to the 643 meter Civiglio, devilish in its early, nearly 10% portions, then a very steep descent into the town of Como. Getting close now...

Then up again on the San Fermo della Battaglia (another tough, 7.8% average climb, a 10% portion just before its crest) through the wooded Parco Spina Verde di Como, then to the finish.

The "green spine" - Spina Verde park next to Como. Courtesy Lario Online.

Tired legs will be crying out now, 6 kilometers to go with perhaps a sprint - a lakeside resort city will do little to assuage them for the flat final run in - which features a few tough turns on the Via Bellinzona, along the Via Borgo Vico, then doglegging onto the Via Roselli and finishing along the water on the Lungo Lario Trento.

The lakeside city of Como and another view of the park. Courtesy Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni.

Opposite angle. Courtesy Stamps of the Old Italian State.

Almost evening now. The race and, for many, the season finished, the late sun, if we've seen it at all today, casts its faded light over Lombardia...ah, the race of the falling leaves.


Some other interesting articles:
Francesco's Verona Adventure
The UCI World Cup: A Look Back at 15 Years and a Look Ahead
2002 Giro di Lombardia Travelogue

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