Museo del Ciclismo (Flashback – RIDE #34)
In RIDE Cycling Review #58, Colin O’Brien reports from the 2012 Giro di Lombardia – the last edition of the Italian ‘Monument’ that Fiorenzi Magni would get to see. The Italian was a formidable rider, a triple champion of the Giro d’Italia, but also a passionate supporter of the sport after he retired from racing. He helped create the ‘Museo del Ciclismo’ near the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel. A month prior to its opening at the end of 2006, Rob Arnold visited the museum and wrote about it in RIDE #34.
Here is a flashback to that piece that was originally published in October 2006.
Inside Look: Museo del Ciclismo
The Madonna del Ghisallo overlooking Lago di Como has long been a site of significance for cycling fans. A museum has been built near the historic chapel that lines the route of the Giro di Lombardia and, as Rob Arnold discovered, it’s the perfect place for a pilgrimage…
In 1949 Father Ermelindo Vigano was given the blessing from Pope Pius XII to declare the Madonna del Ghisallo the patroness of cyclists. The small chapel is perched at the top of a steep climb out of the popular tourist haven of Bellagio. It’s become a sacred site. Hanging in the rafters are a number of bikes used by men like Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser. One bike in particular catches your attention: predominantly blue, the Caloi frame will be familiar to fans of racing in the 1990s. Closer inspection reveals a torn saddle and the name of Fabio Casartelli marked on the top tube. This is the resting place for the bike used by the 1992 Olympic champion.
Outside is a small stand where souvenirs are sold. For six Euros you can buy a small frame badge complete with a chain and sprocket motif and the words ‘La Madonna ti protegga’. They’re sold by the handful on weekends and apparently have been blessed by a pope. I’m not sure which one, but I couldn’t resist: I bought one and it sits above my computer at work.
I’m a cycling enthusiast and sooner or later I, like many before me, would have visited this place. When a day trip was arranged by organisers of the EICMA show, my opportunity arrived. As of this October, there is an even better reason to make the pilgrimage. After eight years of meticulous planning the Museo del Ciclismo is now open to the public.
Fiorenzo Magni, the winner of the 1948 Giro d’Italia, is the man responsible for the project. He lobbied local governments for funding and worked closely with architect Davide Bernia who, like most Italians, is also passionate about the sport. “One aim of the design process was to minimise the impact a new building would have on the site,” said Bernia. “But I also wanted to retain a cycling theme to the interior. That’s why visitors will walk down a ramp that resembles the switchbacks of a mountain pass before reaching the lower floor.”
On day of our visit, we were joined by Gino Bartali’s son Andrea. He escorted us through the building and explained how he and his family cooperated with Magni to ensure as many authentic items as possible were put on display in this shrine to generations of cyclists.
Outside the chapel are several monuments including busts of Father Vigano, Fausto Coppi and Bartali senior. I sauntered from our minibus and followed Andrea who was drawn to the homage to his father. A tear fell as he stared at the sculpture and re-read the inscription for the umpteenth time.
The project has been a labour of love for the 86-year-old Magni who wanted to join our crew during our guided tour but was unable to attend because of an illness in his family. Mass is conducted in the Madonna del Ghisallo on Sundays and, as we waited for Bernia, locals and tourists arrived for the service via bike, car and foot. Moments after the crowds emerged the souvenir stand was open for business.
Postcards personally signed by Gino Bartali are amongst the paraphernalia you can buy. The winner of the 1938 and 1948 Tours de France past away six years ago at the age of 85 but his legacy lives on. There are reminders of his impact on the sport as well as references to the role he played with the Italian resistance during World War II. It’s laid out for all to see in the museum; like a technicolour dream you can see holes in his maillot jaune from 1938, the result of bombing raids during the conflict that limited his chances of becoming the most prolific winner in our sports’ long history.
The museum is not just a shrine to Italian cycling. There are bikes from all over the world, spanning numerous generations on display although the collection is still growing.
As well as the bikes and jerseys on display, the museum has an auditorium where you can view classic cycling footage. You can also browse through the comprehensive newspaper archive or visit the library and separate reading room.
The interactive component was not active for our visit but it has been designed to help afficionados and novices alike trace the history of all styles of cycling competition. The aim is to have all the disciplines represented – track, cyclocross, MTB and BMX – but road racing is leading the way. The Madonna del Ghisallo’s new development isn’t the only cycling museum in Italy but its location should ensure its popularity.
– By Rob Arnold
(Address: Museo del Ciclismo – Madonna del Ghisallo, via Garibaldi, 22030 Magreglio CO, Italy)
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