The riders of the 90th Giro d'Italia will face what many consider to be the toughest climb in Europe, Monte Zoncolan. The 10.1-kilometre climb, rising from Ovaro (530m) to Zoncolan (1730m), has an average gradient of 11.9%, and 14.9% average between kilometre 2.1 and 8. Yesterday, 2006 Giro Winner Ivan Basso tried the climb for the first time.
"It is terrible but I like it," said the 29 year-old to Luigi Perna of La Gazzetta dello Sport. The climb will be used for the first time in the Giro, the other side, from Priola, was used once, in 2003, when Basso's arch rival Gilberto Simoni won.
"The gradient is tough, although constant. It was made with a constant rise as opposed to a whole bunch of stair-stepping gradients, and that is better for me. All in all it is harder than the Mortirolo. On the Zoncolan you pedal sitting down, with the proper cadence, at 10-12 kilometres per hour; you can not attack and relaunch. It will be a decisive day for those who are dropped."
Ivan Basso has a hard year; since winning the Giro d'Italia in 2006 he was dragged through the dirt when his name was linked to Operación Puerto and, since signing for Discovery Channel for 2007, he has had a couple of early season injuries. He explained that the injuries are healing and that his last race gave him confidence.
"It is fundamental to re-win the Giro. I am determined," he continued. "I have come off a long stop and the start of this season I suffered, with my right knee in California and the sprain of my left wrist in Tirreno-Adriatico. However, at Castilla y Leon I was up front with the favourites and in this last phase of training I am working intensely like in 2006."
Today and Friday, the rider from Varese will reconnoitre stage 15, to Tre Cime de Lavaredo. He will cover San Pellegrino, Giau, Tre Cime Falzarego and Pordoi. The training and racing (this year 18 days of racing, still to come Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège) will leave him ready to start the Giro on May 12, from Sardegna.
Basso reckons the fans will still support him, even if he's is linked Operación Puerto, along with riders like Jan Ullrich, who subsequently was affirmed via DNA testing. "The fans are with me. ... And it is not important to me if anyone has any doubts.
"All of what happened last year has also affected my personal life. To return is not easy; my mentality is strong, and now even more so."