To the Patron Saint of Cyclists?

Yesterday we discovered some hills that I did not know Normandy boasted – and all varieties of Norman French weather, except snow.

Breakfast hail ceased, with Roger and I having fitted new inner-tubes, les quatre cyclistes d’apocalypse were foolishly enjoying the sunshine as we rode up la vallée de la Sée towards Brécey. Climbing out of Saint Pois, we discovered the first real hill of the day, and storm Barney’s north wind throwing rain into our faces. The descent towards Vire, and omellettes, frites was epic, as was the later descent towards a 5 pm espresso stop in Aunay-sur-odon – that one enlivened by the local fuzz flying downhill even faster, sirens ablaze.

Days like this call to mind warmer climes, and Madonna del Ghisallo, the Italian patroness of cyclists. 500 metres above Bellagio and Lake Como sits a chapel dedicated to the Madonna – atop a climb that has often featured as a stage finish on both the Giro di Lombardia and Giro d’Italia.

Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel

Inside, the chapel walls are hung with cycling memorabilia – including poignantly the twisted bike of Fabio Casartelli, the Lombardi cyclist who died in a crash on the 1995 Tour de France, and a jersey of gifted Italian climber Marco Pantani, who overdosed on harder drugs after testing positive for EPO.

Madonna del Ghisallo Chapel Inside

In the evening sunshine outside the chapel, I met an Italian cyclist – still riding in lycra into his seventies, on an afternoon jaunt from Milan. I still remember the swooping descent to my evening port of Lecco.

Last night, espresso revived, we climbed out of Auney in the dark. Ricky’s friend Pierre’s light met us at the top of the hill, and guided us back to his Calvados farmhouse in Vacogues-Neuilly. Our patron has entertained us royally on our rest day.