Italy's steepest monster debuts in 2007
After four years, the Monte Zoncolan is making a return to the Giro d'Italia. In 2003, the Corsa Rosa visited the climb for the first time, starting from Priola, where Gilberto Simoni won before going on to take the race overall 10 days later. In 2007 the Zoncolan will be approached on a different road; departing from Ovaro, it will be a longer climb with more undulating gradients.
From Ovaro, the 10.1 kilometre climb contains sections of 22, 20 and 18%, with an average gradient of 11.9%. The Zoncolan, at 11.9%, easily overpowers all the climbs in Italy; the Mortirolo at 10.5% (over 12.4km), the Colle dell Finestre at 9.1% (18.6km) and Passo Gavia at 7.9% (17.3km). The mid-section will bite the hardest; from kilometre 2.1 to 8 the riders will be struck with an average gradient of 14.9%.
"I tried it last Thursday [November 30] with my teammate [Ricardo] Riccò. It was a beautiful day. A brutish fatigue," noted two-time Giro champion Simoni to La Gazzetta dello Sport. When asked if he thought it could be one of the hardest climbs in Europe, the 35 year-old from Trento responded, "No. For me it is."
In comparison, Simoni thought that the approach from Priola, in 2003, was harder in the finale. "The last kilometer was the hardest I confronted in my life as a climber." He continued, "Overall, it is less difficult. This time  it will be worse."
"The Mortirolo is hard. Very hard," il Trentino continued, comparing climbs. "But it is a climb where, if you have a little strength, you are able to hold on to your opponent's wheel. On the Zoncolan it is very easy to drift away."
The 2007 Giro will reintroduce a mythical climb and one that Simoni has never raced, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It has been 18 years since the Corsa Rosa passed the climb, when it was topped by Colombian Luis Herrera.
"I had never seen it, and the hour finally arrived," noted Simoni of his recent reconnoitring mission. "The scenery is magnificent. I went there last Friday [December 1] with Riccò. At the top there was snow but I am stubborn and I continued the same, arriving at the top. With respect to the Zoncolan it is less demanding; the gradients you can climb 'in steps.'"
Will Simoni repeat 2003, winning Zoncolan and then the maglia rosa in Milano? "I don't know. Last Thursday I went really slowly, in a way to memorize the climb well."