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Climbing the Muro Di Sormano


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The only way is up

Climbing the Muro di Sormano: a necessary evil or the reason we cycle?

Most of us have a difficult relationship with climbs. They tend to sit on a knife edge of love and hate. Yet without them many of us probably wouldn’t ride our bikes as we do. They’re painful and they’re arguably unpleasant, but they hone our skills and give us purpose. They can also be generous, giving us satisfaction, extra fitness and of course, those descents.

A  few of us at All Things Ride thought we’d share our most memorable climbs. Here’s (Al’s) mine:

‘Muro’ means ‘Wall’ in Italian

In this instance, I’ll use the term ‘favourite’ loosely, as most of the way through this particular climb I’d have great trouble using this word to describe it. For me, a climb with some kind of heritage adds to the satisfaction of completing it. The greater satisfaction following its completion the more I can say, as the dust settles, I enjoyed it. Questionable logic, but when applied to the climb around half way into my favourite continental sportive, I find myself the winner.

The clue is in the name: ‘Muro’ meaning ‘Wall’ in Italian, this ascent well and truly earns its title. Some numbers for you: 1.9, 15.8, 27

This climb is 1.9km long. Short enough for me to overlook it when prepping for the event last year. Perhaps I was consumed by the heritage around the event (currently in its 112thedition, with more legendary pro stories than many other races, oh and did I mention it’s the 5th  of the 5 Monuments, one of the most notable one day classic races on the pro calendar. I didn’t take a good long look at the gradient illustration of this climb.

I mean, how hard can a length of road less than 2 km actually be?

Being 2nd of 4 named climbs on the 110km sportive, I approached ‘Il Muro’ fresh faced and still in the honeymoon period of the event. Italian cyclists present themselves well, look sharp and lull you into a false sense of what is normal pace at the beginning of a cycling event. Approaching the climb, there is plenty to distract you. Roads are wide, the streets have plenty of cheering fans and the view to one side is breathtaking, meaning any switchbacks on the approaching ascents give you much to focus on, other than gradient figures. The road soon appears to end as you are ushered left by the route and into what feels like a tarmacked pedestrian trail route. A park bench nearby indicates this is terrain not used by motor vehicles.

Then the writing on the floor starts. As does that ramp. Everything slows down and gravity is seemingly turned up to the max. The road messages are written in neat white stencil. I speak less than minimal Italian and at that point decided in my head that all these words were personal messages written purely to get the best out of me for all those 1900 metres.

Then the writing on the floor starts. As does that ramp.

15.8% is the average gradient of the climb. I’ve never experienced a climb where my focus migrated so quickly from getting up it in good time ahead to just staying on the bike and not falling off. The line you choose to take becomes as important as pedalling left and right. 1st gear feels like 20th. Spinning might be winning, but there was little opportunity to apply such an approach here.

Did you make it to the top of Muro di Sormano without putting a foot down?

27% is the maximum gradient. At times I felt so slow that toppling over was a real possibility. In fact it was as several times on the way up the narrow and occasionally wooded, occasionally exposed to hot sun trail I had to yank the handlebars left or right to avoid a falling cyclist. Cheers from the frequent pockets of spectators were 100% responsible for me making it to the crest, lungs bursting, sweating profusely, but without toppling. It may have all been in my head, but the applause at this point felt like genuine respect for making it to the top and indeed many riders later asked the question, not ‘What was your time?’ or ‘Where did you finish?’ but ‘Did you make it to the top of Muro di Sormano without putting a foot down?’ A proud cyclist proclaims ‘Yes I did’.

All Things Ride have a few remaining spaces at this year’s Il Lombardia. For weekend packages over 4/5 days, including 4* accommodation in Como and Bellagio, plus sportive entry, click here.

For Il Muro Strava segment, click here