“One last climb, then ‘gelati’ and cakes!”
It all sounded so good in theory, except for one minor detail – that “one last climb” was up a whole mountain. We’d set off early and already taken in some big ups, the legs were tired and heavy. The trail didn’t help either. Changes in gradient, technical sections, water erosion and ruts, loose stones – it had it all and it seemed determined to make our progress slow. Thankfully we had Fabio’s running commentary to keep us going and, after what seemed like several millennia, one final painful effort took us to the top. Once the exhaustion subsided, it was all worth it – incredible views followed by a fantastic singletrack descent and then best of all, wonderful Italian ice-cream on the lake shore.
It all started with an email, an idea for a long weekend. It never takes much convincing to get me to Italy but the prospect of the Milan bike show followed by riding in the mountains around Lake Como was too much to resist and the bike was packed quicker than you can say “Mario Cipollini”. Okay, so you dont say “Mario Cipollini” very often, but you know what I mean. I was keen, the bike was keen, we were going, enough said.
Friday, and first stop the show, four massive halls packed full of the latest bikes and bits. As Italy is the home of the beautifully crafted road bike, there were plenty of skinny tyres around. The show didn’t disappoint those who like it muddy either. All the big brands were present – Specialized, Scott, SRAM etc – plus the Italian home-grown manufacturers such as Scapin and Marzocchi.
Thankfully it was a “look but not own” event, which meant the credit card stayed well and truly tucked away and cooler than a set of disk brakes on a 10km climb. Good news, otherwise it would have been far too easy to have been flying home on the Sunday evening with several new bikes in the hold (and oh how BA would have loved that – not!)
After the show we headed to the centre of Milan and the biggest bowl of pasta we could find. After all, we’d been walking all morning, we had plenty of kilometres ahead of us on the bike and well, we were in Italy, it would have been rude not to! Some time later, precise time unknown due to the effects of fatigue and wine, we made the transfer to Como by train. Bleary eyed and exhausted we piled into the apartment and slept the deep, sound sleep of mountain bikers on tour.
On Saturday morning the fun really started, it was trail time! Thankfully the bikes had survived the flight (always a relief) so after some hurried fettling, we headed off for an early meet outside the bike shop with local rider Fabio.
Fabio is a story in his own right. Local Como ‘playboy’, house on the waterfront, dated every beautiful woman in Northern Italy (or so he claims), he is a general guide to all things good in and around the lake. Yes, last visit we did actually end up in the lake. It’s a long story for another time but let’s just say that the wakeboarding didn’t flow quite as well as the sweet, local singletrack. After drinking ever so slightly more than the equivalent of several Camelbaks worth of lake water, I called it a day and vowed never to leave dry land again. Well, yes, okay, so next time I’m sure I’ll be stupid enough to try again but for now I don’t even want to see a speedboat, let alone be dragged helplessly behind one (and pay for the privilege).
Anyway, to complete the Fabio mini story, he rides a matt Scapin full suspension bike which has disc brakes “della Madonna” as the locals say (ie big and powerful) and has to be one of the few mountain bikers on the planet who never leaves home without his Rolex.
The plan for the day was to follow the Sentiero Italia from Como to Bellagio. The trail starts high above Como and runs along the mountain ridge between the two towns, wonderful!
The first hour was a road climb up through Brunate to the trail head. Okay, so it’s probably not the best way to start the day but it does have great views and it took us up high with relative ease. As a sensible alternative there’s a funicular railway that goes from the lake shore up to Brunate itself. The funicular option misses out two thirds of the climb. Thinking about it, we were mad to ride the road. But we’d convinced ourselves that we needed the training and it felt more like a complete ride to use two wheels for the whole thing.
Immediately after the Tarmac and the car park at the top the trail is wide and relatively smooth. After several kilometres though things start to get interesting. Rocks, singletrack, open sections, wooded sections, stunning views on both sides as you ride the spine of the mountain range. Long story short, it was a blast, especially the singletrack through the woods with the precipice like drop to the left. So much so that by the time we arrived at Refugio Riella, some home made cake went down as quickly as Cedric Gracia at the Red Bull Rampage! Fabio was in his element with the chocolate cake, and it proved a suitable anaesthetic after an earlier encounter with some rocks, ugh!
About half an hour after leaving Riella, we rode through Piano de Tivano. It was after Tivano that we encountered the big climbs of the day, just when the legs needed them least. That’s when thoughts turned to food and ice cream, the best motivator of all. That and the promise of a stunning singletrack descent!
We’d certainly climbed enough, we were owed some fun and just like the ice cream, the descent didn’t disappoint. Rocky and open at the top, twisty, rocky and wooded at the end, even Fabio’s Madonna brakes got hot and bothered – superb!
30 minutes later, buzzing from the excitement and grinning from ear to ear, we cruised in to town. Bellagio was like paradise found. Exhausted and hungry (yes, again) we sat on the lake shore and stuffed ourselves with every type of cake available and, of course, plenty of ice cream.
Surrounded by stunning views of mountains, forests and water, we really could have stayed there forever. Instead we had the small matter of the ride back, but that’s another story for another day. Now, how about one more ice cream before we leave…?As always, a big thank you to Jon Skene of www.teamskene.com for all his support, and Barnaby at Specialized UK for the best bike in the world.