What's Cool In Road Cycling

Lombardia PEZ: The Colma Di Sormano, Part Two

For every up, there’s a down, and when it comes to the Giro di Lombardia, they have a penchant for picking climbs that require as much talent to get down off the mountain as they do to get to the top. The Colma di Sormano proudly carries on the tradition…

When we left you a few hours ago, the trusty trio of Ashley, Jered, and Steve were crossing over the top of the 1124 meter summit of the Colma di Sormano. In most cases, that should be the end of the story, but just yesterday, following Philippe Gilbert’s second consecutive win at the Giro del Piemonte, the 2010 Amstel Gold winner and the defending Giro di Lombardia champion admitted that he was concerned more with the downward trip off of the day’s penultimate climb.

I know this is the picture I finished the last piece with, but it seems a great starting point, so bear with me.

Keep in mind, this is Philippe Gilbert we’re talking about here, not Ivan Basso. What could possibly be so wild about this descent? I figured it was worth taking more than the typical one picture on the trip down to Nesso and the glorious blue waters of Lago di Como.

The first part of the descent does not leave much room for worry. It’s rather easy, I’d say akin to the downhill off of the Madonna del Ghisallo, which can be done wearing a blindfold. Ok, not really, but it’s anti-technical.

While it might not be technical (at least at first), it’s wonderfully pleasant and scenic and beautiful and superlative laden.

Uh oh, but then the turns start to pop up. It’s usually a good indicator that things are getting a bit twisty when there’s a picture across a large chasm with a rider on the other side perpendicular to you. At least in my experience.

The road is typically, classically Italian narrow, but mostly perfectly surfaced, except in the places where it’s not. It’s not smooth in those places, but luckily those places are very few, in fact, I really only remember one spot, but I was coming into a hard 90 degree right-hand bend at a pretty good clip when I hit the carnage, so that wasn’t my favorite moment.

Again though, road surface will not be the reason for the difficulty of the descent, that much is certain. However, a beautiful trip through a funnel of houses is a lovely respite from the first entrail-like section of twisty, turny fun.

As you can see from this picture, the road engineers could not make up their minds, which direction they should send the road…so they opted for pretty much north, south, east, and west in one 200 meter section.

Keep in mind that there are 12 switchbacks on the descent, and there isn’t a switchback until about 6 km remaining in the downward plunge. If I remember correctly. I’ve been wrong before. If you want to really make sure, you can plot it on any number of route planning programs available on the internet.

Any worries of shoddy road surface were quickly forgotten, as the road to Nesso really began to unveil her true visage. She’s beautiful and one should really make a point to keep your eyes on her.

Even Ashley, a notoriously apprehensive downhill biker following two crashes in 200 meters of descent a few weeks back, took to singing the happy tune of an amazing downhill run.

Like the ascent, the descent is picture perfect. They even included a picturesque bridge to complete the postcard series.

While I may make light of the descent, and I may sign the praises of its fun, it will require major focus and some damn fine bike driving come Saturday afternoon. Some perfectly placed (or perhaps terribly, depending on if you’re Sammy Sanchez or…not) straight stretches at a fairly steep grade allow for some big speed to accumulate in a very short amount of time.

The relative ease of this straight stretch along with the first big views of the Lago far below add to a sense of sublime security, contentment, and happiness. How could you not be happy and content at this moment? It’s a warm, sunny, October day and you’re descending down to Lago di Como. If you’re not happy and content at this moment right here, you should really take up dishwashing as a hobby.

Flowers bloom, birds sing, the deer eat out of your hands in this Nirvana!

Uh oh, what’s that? Oh crap, brakes, brakes, please, right now! Thank you. Yes, that’s Ashley riding back UP the climb. She wanted her picture taken.

The switchbacks begin.

The lower half of the descent is filled with every kind of switchback imaginable – wide and open, narrow and not open, switchbacks with views, switchbacks without views, some with benches, some without benches, some with holy moly views of the, oh I can’t believe I’m going to say it, don’t do it, oh I can’t help myself…azure…waters below, and other switchbacks just have a large wall of trees.

This is one of the switchbacks with the holy moly views.

The descent includes pretty much every switchback from the 101 level all the way up to your post-doctoral thesis. This is my personal favorite, the teardrop.

Ashley and Steve liked it so much that they stopped and enjoyed some during-ride gnoshings, while heckling another rider as he slogged up to the summit far above. Well, we’ll call it heckling if yelling vai vai vai is heckling. We would never actually ‘heckle’ a rider. That’s just asking for a karmic KO. Besides, in a moment like that, when you hear a rider come huffing and puffing by, which you were just doing only a scant few minutes ago on the other side of the climb, can’t you feel his/her pain? It makes me wince sometimes.

The sign for Nesso would seem to indicate that the end is nigh.

Unfortunately, it’s followed almost as quickly by a dastardly turnaround. The lower part of the descent really bares its teeth in the lower reaches as the lake draws ever closer.

Oh sweet, only 30 kilometers to go! That should be easy, right?

As if the descent couldn’t get any prettier with the lake as the backdrop for the final little bit down, Nesso sprouted a church belltower to make it just that little bit more ridiculous.

What I’m meaning to say in all of this though is – if a strong group gets away on the ascent and knows how to drive their bikes downhill in rapid fashion, they could easily put time into a chasing group on this very demanding plummet to Lake Como.

From the base of the descent, it’s only 15 kilometers to Como, and just under 20 kilometers to the base of the San Fermo della Battaglia…and 28 kilometers in total, from this point, to the finish line.

I doubt that the descent will be critical, but it has the ability to be so. I don’t think it has the potential to be a game-breaker like the Civiglio’s was though. I’ve never seen a descent like the Civiglio, and with its proximity to the finish line – just a scant few kilometers – the Civiglio was unique in its demands. The Sormano has a tough descent, but it’s reasonable, especially for those that did their homework over the past two days, which anyone who has any aspirations on Saturday did.

I just added one more picture of the tower just because I like it that much.

As for our trio? We’ll be up bright and early tomorrow morning to finish off taking a closer look at the final three climbs of the year’s final Monument. We checked out the Madonna del Ghisallo today (you’ll see more on that next week) along with the Sormano. Tomorrow, we’ll ride straight into Como to see what the final climb of the Giro di Lombardia has to offer, the San Fermo della Battaglia. For all the words we’ve devoted to the Sormano, it’s highly likely that the winning move will go clear on its slopes, so it only seems fair that we’ll see what’s so special…even if special is just that it comes 255 kilometers into an amazingly difficult race.

After that, we’ll head north to Argegno, still on bikes of course, watch the race pass, continue north some more to Cadenabbia, catch the ferry across to Bellagio, then find a good vantage point (which shouldn’t be hard) on one of the most famous climbs in all of cycling: the Madonna del Ghisallo.

I’m excited. I hope you are too. Thanks for tolerating my very tired rubbish. I have to have a little fun when I get tired, otherwise, I’ll just go to bed, because that’s more fun.

Good night!

Earlier, we enjoyed the expansive views offered by the fantastic Il Perlo Panorama…now we get that same view, but in the inky darkness with sparkling little stars lined up perfectly along the lakeshore. It really is incredible to look out your window to this. It’s a dream.

For lots more, check out all of our pictures from today over on our Flickr page. Be patient though, it will be a little while before we get all of them uploaded.

If you’re looking for more fun, there’s always www.JeredGruber.com

Just in case you’re really looking for me, there’s Twitter and my email address: [email protected].

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