Girornata Nazionale della Bicicletta del Ghisallo


Imagine my surprise when taking a leisurely Sunday ride to the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel, expecting to watch and photograph the end of a junior men’s race, when I found myself in Asso, overtaken by a peloton of fierce junior Italian women testing each other‘s legs up the long southern climb to the Ghisallo summit. Traffic was pulled over to the side, clearing the full road for the women. I could feel the race caravan behind me and pulled off in the grass to capture their young suffer faces. The front group rode steadily behind the brightly lit motos, while those who had been dropped were strung out for the next 10 minutes, each look more and more defeated until you saw those who were quite content to have been dropped and left to spin their way to the top. Their 65KM race had started in Monza just north of Milano. Only 8KM of climbing to go. 

The Tifosi


After the caravan had passed I continued riding north through the valley up to the Ghisallo summit. From the south end by way of Erba and Asso, this side of the mountain is considered the “easier“ way up, but it‘s still a long, painful 530 meter climb even without the +14% grades. The last little village before the summit is Magreglio and it was a kilometer of bumper-to-bumper-small-Italian-car-traffic, all friends, fans, and families trying to find a place to park before their respective race finished. I wheelsucked a moto white-lining past the stopped cars straight to the top. We crested the hill to see the Ghisallo chapel and the energy of a thousand tifosi awaiting the finishers‘ arrival. 



I missed the first group of junior women to finish, but not long after the announcer on the loud speaker narrated the junior men’s status up the famed, steeper Ghisallo north climb. The tifosi lined the wall next to the chapel and cheered as the first man crested the hill all alone. Behind him two battled for the other podium places, and the rest had the look in their eyes of a very brutal 107KM race started 3 hours ago in Olgiate Molgora south of Lecco. 


As the women and men racers approached the 1KM sign below the summit, we knew their arrival by the ringing of the chapel‘s church bells. How can your heart not dig deeper hearing those centuries-old bells calling you home, the same bells that ring when professionals crest the exalted climb in the Giro di Lombardia? These young racers knew that meter-by-meter they were ascending closer to the fabric of their country’s history, as interwoven in Italian culture as Coppi and Bartali.


The final race was the second junior women’s field that started 42KM ago at Cesano Maderno, also north of Milano. Again the announcer narrated the final minutes of the race as the Ghisallo bells echoed through the air. The paparazzi crowded at the finish and the first girl came to the line all smiles, either showing an ease of winning or excitement for the summit’s spectacle - or both. Lucky girl!

For the next 10 minutes the rest of the finishers arrived and their eyes showed more and more of that 1000 meter hollow stare. You could visibly see the race destroyed many of the young women, racing their hearts out and learning a bit more of what it means to suffer and live. They fell to the ground or leaned over their bikes. Staring, crying, getting sick….but most importantly eventually pulling it together and moving on. Their families swarmed the finish and Ghisallo plaza, welcoming them home with loving arms, like young women learning to do battle. I hope the ringing of the bells and emotion of the finish line remind them how beautiful racing is and they continue for decades to come, generation after generation. 


The beauty of Italian expression, in smiles and common hand gestures.

Jill Greco Bodnar