Blog post by Grant: Monte Zoncolan Tuesday 21/07/15
Monte Zoncolan was another climb that had grabbed my interest when watching the Giro d’Italia on TV several years ago. I recall Simoni riding for Saeco on a Cannondale and I think Pantani was trying to re-establish himself after a ban.
There are seemingly a couple of roads that climb to the top of Monte Zoncolan, but the one used most recently in the Giro and deemed the most challenging approach, starts in the town of Ovaro.
Ovaro is about seventy miles from where we were staying in Arabba. That sort of distance can take more time to travel than you might think, as the mountain roads can make travelling by car quite a slow (but beautiful) process. The journey took about three hours, but the scenery remained mountainous and spectacular throughout, so the time passed quickly.
The outbound trip contained a couple of minor incidents, the first being grumbled at by a cantankerous bus driver after we stopped for just a few moments in what must have been a bus stop. Unfortunately, the combination of being reprimanded in Italian and attempting to apologise in English achieved little, but thankfully we managed to get back on track quite quickly! The second incident involved us being flagged down by the Police. This was just a simple check of my driving licence. The process still felt a little unnerving as we’re just not used to seeing guns when in the UK, and the Italian police are armed. Having these two occurrences within the first half of the drive started to make me silently question…..what next?
On arriving at Ovaro, the little town seemed quite busy with an outdoor market in situ. With the aim of creating a pre-climb warm up, a short drive beyond town seemed the ideal thing to do, in the interest of finding a good place to park, set up the bikes and start pedalling. This little plan didn’t go well…….and resulted in me discovering a tiny village perched on an extremely steep hillside with no space for visitors in a large estate car! Back to Ovaro!
We eventually managed to find a spot to park slightly above the main valley road, it was actually the road up to Monte Zoncolan, near a large church. We rode back down to the valley road for a short ride along flatter roads to get warmed up before swinging around to head back to the base of the climb.
I find it difficult to eat anything other than gels on even moderate climbs, so I chose to take on a Torq Banoffee Caffeine gel before we got going on the steep stuff! The climb is actually “only” 10km (6 miles) but we both agreed it was the hardest climb we’d ever done! It starts pretty steep, then eases for a short time, before the kilometre marker signs begin. Pictures of world class riders accompany the km signs, maybe to help keep you motivated! The top sits at 1730 metres, and the section of road between 2.5km and 6.5km are truly evil, with gradients touching 19% and 20%. Emma was gutted to have to stop on this brutal climb, but with a heart rate shooting through the roof, she climbed off at the Eddy Merckx sign, just for a few minutes to get her heart rate down. The heat was so intense, even though the climb was very tree lined, the sun seemed to beam right into the narrow channel of road, with the temperature around 35 degrees.
We’d not started riding until around midday, so the road was desolate, as somewhere between the hours of twelve and three lunchtime prevails. This was a good thing as the road is quite narrow, so at least we didn’t have to worry about oncoming traffic.
During this mountainous trip I had been really pleased with my new semi compact chainset, which combined with a 28 tooth cassette set-up was essential for me today. Before the climb Emma had been speaking about making changes to the gearing on her bike, so I wondered what I would hear at the top of this climb!
When the entrance to a tunnel came into view, I knew the top was near. There are three tunnels, thankfully well lit, and they were filled with cool air that felt so good in the stifling heat. Then came the summit and although the heat was still intense, the cloud was bubbling up and it felt like a storm was brewing.
The top of the Zoncolan opens up into quite a large paved area which was virtually deserted today, but probably gets filled to the brim with ski traffic in the winter. These quiet little mountain roads frequently have their quirky features. At the Zoncolan’s summit was a small wooden kiosk placed in what seemed like the middle of nowhere! It was staffed by a young woman, who was equipped with just a few refreshments to sell. It seemed a pretty lonely job!
I rode back down just a short way to greet Emma, and I could see the relief on her face at reaching the summit! We didn’t hang around for long as the sky was now looking very imposing, and a wet descent was not something to be relished. So after taking some photos as a memento of our day, we headed down the way we came. You could hear thunder in the distance, but good fortune was with us and we reached the car on dry roads. After initially stating that this was definitely a “once in a lifetime only” climb, Emma was soon pondering that with a 32 tooth cassette on the back rather than a 34/28 set-up, she’d be able to ride the climb next time without stopping! I foresee a return to Ovaro in the future!
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