FEATURE: The mighty Monte Zoncolan.Sat 19 May 2018
The 2018 Giro d’Italia marks a return to the relentless slopes of the Monte Zoncolan for the first time in four years for a challenging stage 14 that boasts all the ingredients to shape the final week of racing.
Eight mountain-top finishes are included in this year’s race, all with names that echo through history –Mount Etna, Gran Sasso, Sappada and the epic Colle delle Finestre with its final eight kilometres of unpaved road coming on the final Friday - but it’s the Zoncolan that strikes the chords of fear and strikes them with intent.
Part of the Carnic Alps in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, the Zoncolan has appeared five times in the Giro since its debut in 2003 and can be ascended up three roads from Ovaro, Sutrio and Priola with this year’s stage tackling the hardest side to the west from Ovaro.
A total of 1,750metres of elevation over more than ten kilometres at an average gradient of 12% and ramps reaching 22% the climb is widely regarded as the hardest in Europe alongside the Vuelta a Espana’s Alto de El Angliru.
Although the climb’s statistics can be deceiving they are never forgiving and like the Angliru there is no respite, no time to catch a breath and no moment when the pain won’t be excruciating.
The riders will pass through the village of Liariis, 8.5kilometres from the summit and disappear into the forest for six punishing kilometres at 15% before hitting a series of tunnels and alternating switchbacks that reach up to 18% before the finish.
First appearing on stage 12 of the 2003 Giro, Monte Zoncolan’s reputation was instantly sealed in the annals of cycling folklore that day, as it bore witness to the last time Marco Pantani fought for a stage victory at the Giro d’Italia, not just a stage victory, but a summit finish on the Zoncolan.
Climbing up the “easier” side from Sutrio, ‘Il Pirata’ lit up the race with an attack three kilometres from the summit, and for a few brief moments it seemed as though the world would stop right there with Pantani in flight once again, but it was Gilberto Simoni’s day and Pantani would end up fifth on the stage.
Pantani would not return, but the Zoncolan would, featuring in 2007, 2010, 2011 and again in 2014 when Australian Michael Rogers made the most of good fortune and won his second stage of the race with a memorable solo attack out of the breakaway.
2012 Giro d’Italia stage winner Roman Kreuziger described the Zoncolan as probably the hardest climb he’d ever done, and today, the experienced Czech climber will be scaling those fearsome slopes once again. This time in the colours of Mitchelton-SCOTT and in support of Simon Yates.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.