The Monte Zoncolan is a legendary, feared, climb in the world of cycling. However, it was a relatively unknown climb until 2003, when the Giro d’Italia included it in the route for the first time. Although it has only been included in a Grand Tour route six times, every bike racing fan knows about the Zoncolan. This beastly ascent is a guarantee for fireworks among the General Classification racers. This year during the Giro, Team Sky’s Chris Froome staged something of a comeback by winning the stage. During a recent edition of his podcast themove, Lance Armstrong noted that Froome had used a gear of 34 on the front chainring with 32-tooth cog on the rear to win the stage—a mountainbike-like ratio that was unheard of in Armstrong’s day.
The legendary status of this climb is not without reason: it’s incredibly steep. While on paper it is 8,1 kilometres long, the Zoncolan has an average gradient of 12.3%, a total of 994 metres of elevation change, and maximum gradients of over 20%. It’s so steep that the team cars can’t get up it, and reserve bikes have to be brought up by motorcycle. Some say that it’s the toughest climb in Europe. We’ll leave it to the professionals to decide whether or not that is the case, as we have yet to try it out.
The Zoncolan is located in the Northeast of Italy, and is relatively unknown by the wider group of bicycle tourists. Since it was only added to the route of the Giro recently, there are not really any legendary stories from way-back-when that refer to it. In the six times it has been included in a Grand Tour, three victories have gone to Italians—Simoni winning twice and Basso once. But it’s certainly one to add to the bucket list.
If you’re interested to see what the climb looks like close up from the back of a bike, check out this video: