Giro d'Italia: Italian chapel that's a shrine to cycling's heroes
Updated 0942 GMT (1742 HKT) July 18, 2017
- Church of Madonna del Ghisallo a shrine to cyclists
- Chapels sits atop famous climb from Lake Como
- Giro d'Italia runs from May 5 to May 28
(CNN)If you're an art lover you've probably paid your dues at places like the Louvre in Paris, the Guggenheim in New York, or Amsterdam's Van Gogh museum.
However, if you're a cycling fan you've got your work cut out to reach a shrine that commemorates the sport's history and pays tribute to its fallen riders.
Rather than religious icons, every inch of wall space of the tiny church of Madonna del Ghisallo above Lake Como is covered in two-wheel memorabilia from the biggest races and the greatest riders.
The church is festooned with pre-and post-war cycles, and bikes from legends such as five-time Giro d'Italia champions Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx, plus other former winners Gianni Motta and Francesco Moser, as well as myriad pictures, club pennants and cycling jerseys.
"It looks a bit like an old bike shop," says UK-based Italian Livio Nannetti, who leads cycle tours for the sporting brand Rapha.
"The walls are covered, there are bikes everywhere where normally you get saints and statues."
The ancient tale recounts that the medieval Count of Ghisallo was saved from bandits by the sight of the Virgin Mary, to whom he offered prayers for his safety in a roadside shrine.
The Madonna del Ghisallo became known as the patroness of travelers. Later, cyclists adopted the Madonna, and in 1949, Pope Pious XII gave her the title of Patron Saint of Cycling.
And in the center of the tiny chapel an eternal flame burns in memory of all those cyclists of yesteryear.
Perhaps the most poignant exhibit is the mangled frame of the bike Como local Fabio Casartelli was riding when he crashed and died on the descent of the Col de Portet d'Aspet during the 1995 Tour de France.
Understandably it's an exhibit Nannetti preferred not to linger over.
"It's sad. But as a racer I've learned not to stop and think too much about that because otherwise you will stop," he says.
"You know that can happen but you always hope it's not going to be you."