Just to the north of Lake Como in northern Italy is a small hill that received its name from a legend coming from Medieval times when the Count Ghisallo was saved from robbers by an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The apparition become known as the Madonna del Ghisallo and eventually the name was given to the hill.
Dwarfed by the Alps that surround the entire area the hill is topped by a small church, which over the years has become a shrine to bike riders after a local priest proposed that the Madonna del Ghisallo become the patron saint of cyclists.
Inside there is a wealth of cycling memorabilia, leaders jerseys and bikes from the greats of the sport, bikes donated by Merckx and Fausto Coppi amongst others. There is also an eternal flame that burns for cyclists that have died.
There is a very poignant item on display too, one that I remember seeing live, lying on the floor next to its dying owner. Fabio Casartelli, a resident of Como died in a crash on the Tour de France in 1995 on a descent of the Col de Ported d’Aspet. His bike sits between others, but somehow seems to transcend everything else around it. The debate rages still about whether a crash helmet would have saved him, its true that the following year helmets became compulsary in the Grand Tours. I remember vividly too the stage being neutralised the following day and the entire Motorola team led the freewheeling peleton across the finish line in respect of their fallen comrade.
There is a small cycling museum about 100 metres from the church, its nothing to write home about but if you’re there and a cyclist, its certainly worth an hour of your day, although not sure its worth the entrance fee.
For a cyclist the church is a must visit if you’re ever in the area, if only to see bikes ridden by the true legends of the sport and to pay reverence to a fallen rider.