Ok, I lied, There’s actually another climb in there before Villa Vergano. It’s actually the Colle Brianza, and it’s only a few kilometers from Vergano. That must be a slightly irritating thought for the suffering racer – I’ll be back in nearly this same spot in about three hours.
Also, the climb isn’t technically called Villa Vergano – that’s the name of the town at the top of the climb. According to the organizers, it’s the Salita di Ello. I prefer Villa Vergano though, as it’s the destination. Ello is just a midway point. Yes, I just named my own climb.
The perfect final test for the contenders.
If you had any questions about what might lie ahead – the Madonnna waiting with a rosary at the turn to the start of the climb might give a subtle hint as to what lies ahead.
The climb doesn’t actually start off all that hard. It’s a pleasant opening. Of course, there will be nothing pleasant when the race hits the climb to Villa Vergano. Even on the lower, easier slopes, the pace will be relentless, as the favorites use up the last of their able-bodied teammates to hopefully put rivals under duress.
The views to the lake below are nice, but not all too common as the road rises steadily through switchbacks and trees.
The road seems to know that it’s the marquee spot on the route of this year’s Giro di Lombardia and gradually steepens – as any self respecting final climb should.
The amusingly titled town of Ello comes into view soon after the realization that the road is getting harder. A quick right will take the racers on to the dance floor. The road narrows drastically, the gradient pitches, the fun begins.
The theme of the climb is basically – turn off the main road on to a ridiculously small side road that chops off a huge chunk of what the main road will cover on its more generous rise to Villa Vergano. On two occasions, you hit main road, then turn off immediately on to a tiny road. It’s a cobbled together climb, one that you’d never figure out on your own without the Lombardia turn signs. Funny I mention that, as we couldn’t figure it out either…until the sign mounters from the race finally arrived on the scene. This is not an intuitive climb – directions are necessary.
This first ramp is only a short section though. Perhaps 400 meters. After that, there’s a quick left, followed by a turn off to the right (from main road to back alley). If the party began with the turn before, the party ends with this one and the knife fight begins.
A set of switchbacks hit hard and fast, followed by a straight section through a well to do neighborhood with gradients far into the teens. It’s hard to imagine the winning move NOT going on this section. It’s unrelenting, it’s narrow, it begs for an attack.
In other words, what I’m trying to say is: it’s Philippe Gilbert’s launch pad to glory.
Of course, that’s not assured or anything. It has been an unbelievably long season for the winner of 18 races in 2011, but after riding up this stretch of road, I’m surprised it doesn’t have Phil written from bottom to top. It’s tailor made for the Walloon’s ample talents.
The steep section eases for a moment to give the riders a chance to show off their driving skills. The road is barely wide enough for one car, and the easing of the grade will see riders accelerating rapidly…they’ll need to mind their shoulders through a couple of those turns.
As the much appreciated crest of the climb nears, the houses disperse, the main road comes into view, and an ample sigh of relief is hard to hold back. It really is a tough climb, and I absolutely can’t imagine that it’s not more than enough for tomorrow’s winner to lay waste to his rivals on.
At the top, riders will encounter a 180 degree turn on to a more normal sized road. From there, they have a technical descent into the outskirts of Lecco, followed by three kilometers to decide the winner.
At the end of the day, all that was left was getting home. The lake hugging road to Bellagio is like nothing else. It’s worth pulling over every once in awhile to appreciate the views.
Joaquim Rodriguez had neither the weather nor the time to appreciate the views last year but he did enjoy the Villa Vergano, using it to launch his bid for victory.