Monte Zoncolan will serve as the summit finish of stage 14 of the 2018 Giro d'Italia and will also feature on the Giro Donne route, La Gazzetta dello Sport has reported. The fearsome climb's first appearance in a major race came at the 1997 Giro Donne, and it has since featured five times at the men's Giro, most recently in 2014.
The full route of the 2018 Giro will be presented in Milan on Wednesday, but most of the course has already been leaked in the Italian press. A return to the Zoncolan has been strongly rumoured in recent weeks, and the news was confirmed on Sunday by La Gazzetta, which is part of the same RCS stable as the Giro organisation.
As has been the case since 2007, the Giro will take the most demanding way up the Zoncolan, approaching the climb from Ovaro. Just over 10 kilometres in length with an average gradient of 11.9%, the Zoncolan is a brute of a climb, and compact chainsets will be the order of the day as riders tackle the steepest section of 22%.
The difficulty will be augmented on this occasion by the fact that the Zoncolan is just one of five climbs on the menu for May 19 of next year. According to La Gazzetta, stage 14 will set out from San Vito al Tagliamento, and the 181-kilometre leg will feature the climbs of Monte di Ragogna, Avaglio, the Passo Duron and the Sella Valcalda before the final haul up the Zoncolan.
The short but steep Passo Duron and 12% pitches of the Sella Valcalda, in particular, should provide something of a softening up process ahead of the Zoncolan, but, as ever, the mighty 'Kaiser' will be the highlight of the afternoon.
Gilberto Simoni was the first Giro winner atop the Zoncolan in 2003, a feat he repeated in 2007, the first year that the race went by way of Ovaro. Ivan Basso soloed to victory on the Zoncolan in 2010, while Igor Anton secured victory a year later.
Michael Rogers won on the Giro's last visit in 2014 although there was controversy as his breakaway companion Francesco Manuel Bongiorno was impeded by overly-enthusiastic fan and forced to unclip in order to prevent himself from falling.
While part of the attraction of the Zoncolan is the natural amphitheatre towards the summit that makes for an atmosphere akin to a football stadium, it remains to be seen if RCS Sport will take an additional precautions in 2018 to allay the risk of exuberant tifosi interfering with the racing.
On the day after the Zoncolan stage, it is expected that the Giro will feature a stage finish at Sappada, 31 years after the famous day when Stephen Roche controversially divested his Carrera teammate Roberto Visentini of the maglia rosa on the 1987 Giro.
Speaking to Tuttobici during the week, Giro director Mauro Vegni jokingly decried how much of the route has already been leaked in the Italian press, but suggested Wednesday's presentation could feature important news regarding the 2018 Giro start list. "We still have to reveal something important regarding the participants," Vegni said. "And there will be surprises…"
RCS Sport is especially keen for Chris Froome (Sky) to return to the Giro for the first time since he was disqualified for holding onto a police motorbike on the Mortirolo in 2010. Froome has made a remarkable metamorphosis in the years since, winning the Tour de France four times and claiming the Vuelta a España in September.
Riding the 2018 Giro would give him the opportunity to emulate Bernard Hinault (1982-83) and Eddy Merckx (1972-73) by holding all three Grand Tour titles at the same time. Although Froome has already stated that winning a fifth Tour de France is his priority in 2018, a recent report in the Times suggested that he was giving serious consideration to riding the Giro.
The route of the 2018 Giro Donne, meanwhile, will be unveiled in Tricesimo on December 16, but La Gazzetta reports that the Zoncolan will be the summit finish on the penultimate stage on July 14 of next year. Fabiana Luperini was the first winner atop the Zoncolan in 1997.