If you’re really serious about being a bike racing fan, you have to go and see the five ‘Monuments:’ Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Lombardy.

You can get Ryanair punishment flights to airports which are convenient for all of these races; use Care Hire 3000 and the Peter Venere website to get cheapo hotels.

I can do my best to take you there, but the first time you see Lake Como, the view from the Ghisallo or cram into a little caff with 50 Italians to watch the finale live on TV – I don’t have the descriptive powers; it’s special, and worth the effort.

Our view of Ghisallo.
Our view of Ghisallo. (click for full image)

Saturday dawned bright, and I’m not ashamed to say I was excited about the prospect of seeing my second Classic of the Falling Leaves.

I grew up on Cycling Weekly and how Tom Simpson won alone, the rainbow jersey on his back; Gimondi sending Italy into raptures and Merckx, hands high, on the Como velodrome.

The start is in Varese, an unspectacular place but doing it’s best for one of the best races on the planet.

The start was at 11:00, signing on opened at 09:55 – we knew that most of the riders would leave it late, but if you’re doing a photo essay of a race, you have to have a beginning,: : a middle, and an end.

Even the sign-on for Lombardy is lovely.
Even the sign-on for Lombardy is lovely.

Johnny Hoogerland gave us a good sound bite and was happy to pose for pictures – it’s part of his job – he looked lean and mean.

Johnny Hoogerland chats to VeloVeritas.
Johnny Hoogerland chats to VeloVeritas.

We had to bolt early to get to the Intelvi before the race and the drive was made a lot easier by the satnav. The intelvi is 8.5 K with an average gradient of 6.6% and a max of 10%.

Nicolas Roche looked good in the break; glad to see that AG2R have kept his Irish champ’s jersey nice and simple.

Irish Champion Nico Roche leads the break.
Irish Champion Nico Roche leads the break. (click for the full image)

The bunch was ambling, Dan Fleeman gave us a shout and we were off, back down the hill to catch the race further up the lakeside, whilst the parcours loops round by Lake Lugano.

Dan gives us a cheery hello.
Dan gives us a cheery hello. (click for the full image)

Menaggio – the local cop was trying to keep order among the local children, shut the road down, and kid-on he wasn’t stressed. He did all three with a smile and little drama.

The break was working well and the gap had yawned to around nine minutes.

The field was a long line with Silence prominent at the front.

With the camera in ‘sports mode’ rattling however many frames-per-second, it’s hard to identify individual riders. It’s not until you get them on the laptop that you can see what you’ve got – the ratio is maybe six or seven to one,: ‘deletes’ to ‘nice pic!’

We took the ferry across the Lake to Bellagio – the Lake dominates the area; there’s no way you can pass the race.

Phil Deignan on the Ghisallo.
Phil Deignan on the Ghisallo.

Our philosophy is that it’s best to see the race properly three or four times than snatch six or seven glimpses. With that in mind, we headed for the Madonna di Ghisallo. The climb is 8.58 K with an average gradient of 6.2% and a max of 14%.

If you’ve read predictions, you’ll have seen the guy who wheely-ed all the way up – not sure what that was all about!

The views are amazing, breath taking, albeit the crowd was a lot smaller than two years ago.

I was just ranting as to the reasons for this – Italian cyclists non-delivery of the goods or drugs scandals? I don’t know. What ever the cause, it made it a lot easier to take pictures.

Hoogerland looked good, but it was apparent that the peloton wasn't flat out.
Hoogerland looked good, but it was apparent that the peloton wasn’t flat out.

I think the ‘capo’ know that the final decisions are made on the smaller Civiglio (2.5 K 7.2% & 11%) and San Fermo (2.85 K 6.8% & 10%):  climbs inside the last 20 K and don’t fully commit on the Ghisallo.

We watched the finale on the TV in the café up there – Gilbert was spectacular and glad to see none of that ‘high cadence’ carry on from him!

Santambrogio got blame from Cunego for riding like a diddy. He's leaving Lampre soon, so he's probably not bothered by that.
Santambrogio got blame from Cunego for riding like a diddy. He’s leaving Lampre soon, so he’s probably not bothered by that.
Maybe shouldn't have had those half-dozen bottles of beer last night, eh Tommy?
Maybe shouldn’t have had those half-dozen bottles of beer last night, eh Tommy? (click for the full image)
Our chum Rubens took the Ghisallo steady.
Our chum Rubens took the Ghisallo steady.
Cadel, looking braw in the rainbow jersey.
Cadel, looking braw in the rainbow jersey. (click for the full image)
Soon-to-be-winner Gilbert hides behind Vansummeren.
Soon-to-be-winner Gilbert hides behind Vansummeren. (click for the full image)

Race finished, we wandered back to the chapel to see it as it should be; quiet, calm.

Dave had never seen the Museum on the Ghisallo, so we took that in; great pics, some great authentic bikes but a lot of bikes that aren’t what they say – 50’s bikes with 80’s brake levers?

Moser’s hour record bike is for real, though – still a “tool.”

Moser's famous Hour Record bike.
Moser’s famous Hour Record bike.

By the time we’d done that, the roads were clear and we headed down to Como – and traffic chaos.

Free of that, it was edit, caption and send the pics time. Ace wi-fi in the hotel made that easy – just for once!

Milan – San Remo; the Giro and Lombardy – I can’t grumble!

Ciao, ciao.