Ghisallo Museum of Cycling

If you journey to Lake Como to see the Madonna del Ghisallo, you’ll also find the Museum of the Ghisallo next door, making Magreglia a cycling Mecca of sorts. The museum was essentially set up to house the overflow of the church, which itself is brimming with exhibits, and the impressive steel and glass construction is built into the side of the hill, which would usually give you great views across the hills, unlike when I was there the second time: the below image was taken during one of the few breaks in the incessant rain that had earlier characterised the Tour of Lombardy’s passage by the same road earlier in the year.

Still, weather good or not, the museum is a day out in itself, and at just 6 Euros to get in and be whisked around the wonderful world of cycling history, packed with vibrant characters and colours, you can forgive the Madonna for not blessing you with better fortune for the weather…

Inside, the Museum is split over three floors, one of which is a basement which really just houses the toilets, albeit toilets decorated with route maps, photos and art work on Italian legends of the Giro d’Italia. The First floor, seen here, which you descend to via a ramp, is where 90% of the material is. Here there is a small theatre, enough exhibits to keep you occupied forever, enclaves of cycling greats, the Giro for Ghisallo magila rosa collection and in a neat touch, lots of bean bags to collapse and relax on.

Seen from the top of the ramp, the museum is surprisingly modern yet full of romantic flavour, and as you can see here, on of the best parts is that not everything is sealed behind glass – you can, should you wish, touch the jerseys of Contador, Hesjedal, Basso and co, as well as various bikes. It’s a mixture of hands on and visual exhibits that keeps everyone entertained.

Popes have a big history with cycling – Pope Pious XII is supposed to have confirmed the Madonna del Ghisallo, and Pope Benedict turned up in 2006 at the museum as well.

Here, Pope John Paul meets Fiorenzo Magni, the driving force behind the museum and the rider famed for using a piece of cloth tied to his handle bars to pull on with his teeth after breaking his collarbone.

This is of course is Italy, where Fausto Coppi is campionissimo – he is arguably the greatest cyclist ever (now now Merckx fans) for his social as well as sporting impact, and he is the most frequently referenced and exhibited cyclist in the museum.

Coppi tragically died of Malaria in 1960, yet as this 1963 journal shows, he was not forgotten. At his funeral, people mourned in their thousands, a lame man supposedly walked to it, so beloved was his hero, and the masses wailed that ‘God would send them another Coppi.’ This 1963 journal heaps that pressure on this unfortunate rider, who was never able to shoulder the burden – no one has managed to emulate the great Coppi, and the only man who has any legitimate claim to being even close to him in terms of social impact in recent years is the mesmerizing Marco Pantani, who, like Coppi, saddly died young.

The jerseys on display are a highlight of the Museum. here we have some world champions jerseys, including a second from Cadel Evans (the first is in the church alongside his yellow jersey) as well as a 1993 one from Lance Armstrong, who still gets to keep that one, by the way, even if his results have been removed.

Some jerseys are behind glass – the one on the right here is from 1923 – but the placement alongside Paolo Bettini’s 2006 effort shows the incredible progression of textile technology in the last century.

It’s not all about racing though – there are bikes from other walks of life. Here are some examples of the ‘working’ bikes – bikes from military divisions, for instance, as well as his ridiculous fireman’s bike – can’t quite see how much use it would be. At least it has a horn…

Of course, with my surname being Crisp, i was fascinated by this titanium bike by Italian manufacturer Crisp. Unfortunately it looks so beautiful, I doubt I’ll be able to get one and claim I have my own personal manufacturer!

Just to prove how influential Coppi was, here’s a razor blade named after him. For those who didn’t like him, rival Bartali also had one, which was displayed to the left of this image.

Lucky charms (or underwear according to past sports team traditions…) have always been part of sport, and many bikes had notable additons on their stems – a religious medallion for luck.

The ‘Giro for Ghisallo’ collection has recently reached 50 items, and there are many others on show around the museum. Here’s the board of which were on show.

Again, the remarkable progression from woolen, front pocketed jerseys to the synthetic wonder tech we see today was on show. It was also noticeable that the amount of pink is getting less, thanks to influxes of sponsorship and detailing such as italian tricolore piping. This does give you an opportunity to get close to some Dolce and Gabanna clothing without being thrown out of the shop for being a mess though, as the 2009 Centenary, represented by jerseys from winner Denis Menchov, was produced by the Kings of Italian Fashion.

Jerseys are also shrinking it seems, part of a recent trend for crazy aerodynamic gains. It remains to be seen in the purple bands on the 2012 jersey (bottom right) bearing tweets from the public and famous riders will make it onto the 2013 jersey though, although they should bring back the ‘tummy trail’ tricolore of the 2011 jersey (bottom row, second from right) which was there to celebrate 150 years of Italian unification (and happily, won by an Italian, Michele Scarponi…after Contador was stripped of the title. Now Scarponi, previously banned for Puerto, is in more trouble. Still, Nibali was 3rd, so…)

In the centre, there are two C-shaped enclaves, which on their outsides, feature various front pages of the paper that began the Giro d’Italia, the Gazzetta dello Sport. Here, they celebrate the Lion King, Mario Cipollini, winning the worlds in Zolder. There’s also copies of the L’Auto that announced the first Tour de France, as well as L’Equipe reporting the crash of Luis Ocana on his way to beating Merckx, and Lemond’s improbable 8 second triumph over Laurent Fignon in 1989.

On the inside, there are two banks of 24 ‘windows’, each housing the image and palmares of 48 of the greatest cyclists history has seen. This is the second half of the alphabetically listed names – and yes, Armstrong still has 7 Tours under his palmares. Besides the fact the windows make a tremendous noise when you close them due to magnets sealing them closed, my thought was that three additions could be made: Cavendish, Boonen and Cancellara, although to be fair, all the riders in the lists were retired, so maybe their time will come.

The ever popular Colnago for Ferrari models are also on show for you to lust over and dream of.

Impressively, Pozzato managed about as many tricolores in 12 months (  as across the span of history seen in this exhibit.

A small case showing off just a few of Eddy Merckx’s many prizes.

On the second floor, aside from a cafe (which wasn’t open) and a gift shop (which was…well, not great), there is a few pieces on Italian cycling at the Olympics, with a poster on their achievements at every Olympics, perhaps to remember the glory days when they dominated the team pursuit. Personally, I love Paolo Bettini’s world and olympic champion Sidi’s – classy and gorgeous.

This is just a small smattering of what the Museum has to offer – it really is worth a treasure trove of memorabilia and history, and if you ever find yourself in Como, or even Milan, which is but an hour and a half away at worst, you should pop in for a look.

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