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July 11 2007 - Ovaro


Change in Plan! Hell Ride Today, Climb Monte Zoncolon

Well today I can confirm we are truly crazy as everyone has been telling us. Since the weather was questionable, we decided to ride the crazy Monte Zoncolon rather that the regular ride in the Dolomites. The idea was since it could rain, we’d rather be on a short climb than a monster 6 hour ride.  More about the Zoncolon later in the journal.

We were so concerned about the climb that Paul got himself doped up with Andro Gel just like the pros do.  Luckily the doping agents didn’t confiscate this as they did with Tom’s energy bars.  As it turns out .. it didn’t help much!

The drive to the ride was fairly uneventful, although it was quite long. We started out by driving the way we had ridden the proviso morning, except rather than turn left towards the Tre Cimi, we turned right and descended out of the Dolomites at a very steep incline for what seemed like an eternity. We all agreed that this would have been a long miserable ride up on a bike, but since the van had good brakes, we were golden. After a long drive in the valley that took us through several small villages, we stopped at a hydroelectric facility in Auronzo di Cadore for a bathroom break and to stretch our legs for a minute.

After finishing our business, we continued on through the winding roads and small towns towards the Zoncolon. Leave it to the Italians, they have the strangest unmarked road closures in these small towns. On we specifically ran into caused us to turn right and meander though some small roads through town fields, cross back over the state road and then end up on a narrow one lane road that led back to the main state highway. Finally after spending about 20 minutes crawling along behind a truck on the windy mountain roads, we found the parking area just as I had planned in on the back side of the mountain. My maps had indicated that there was public parking and it turns out we parked at a ski area. Didn’t matter,  it was quite and it worked.

The weather was looking very questionable and it was quite chilly where we parked. I was sure it was going to rain, and it would, but not until much later. Due to the cold, we dressed for cold weather riding again since the first part of the ride was all downhill.   The rain held off during the descent and in fact, the sun came out.  The valley road was a nice ride, and with the sun out, it became quite hot. As a result, we stopped at a gas station and took off all the warm weather clothes and prepared to start up the climb.  After another bathroom break at the start of the climb, we were off.

While this picture is out of sequence, I think it shows an alternate view of how miserable we all were after making it up this climb. It was cold, rainy and steep .... need I say more? Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled web page!

For those who don’t know, The Monte Zoncolon has two sides …. The hard side and the ludicrous side.  Today we climbed up the ludicrous side which is shorter, but very much more difficult than the hard side. The average gradient is 11.5% with a maximum of 22%.  It is listed as one of the most difficult mountain climbs in the world and the recent stage in the Giro d’Italia was won by Gilberto Simoni. We all have new respect for him as this was sick stuff and we all suffered greatly during the ride.  This was compounded by the sudden heat and difficult climb.

Tom rode with extreme difficulty to the top with a time of 1 hour and 2 minutes. Paul and I, being mere mortals, suffered like dogs and finished in about 1:32 minutes. I stopped almost every ½ kilometer on the lower slopes and every kilometer up higher … Paul took nutrition breaks.

Since Tom is always finishing ahead of Paul and I he tends to meet all kinds of interesting characters on the summit of these climbs. This time he met an Italian guy who’s brother worked in Washington DC .. since Tom also spends a lot of  his time there, he wanted to know if he knew him …. Anyway, contrast the conditions at the top when Tom arrived compared to the picture below whe Paul and I arrived.

The views from the summit were great and you could look back down at the town where we started from.

It would have taken nothing to convince either Paul or I to turn around as we all agreed that this was the hardest mountain climb we’ve ever done! It was harder than Mt Washington and harder than the Tre Cime di Lavaredo that we did yesterday.  We did finish and have now checked off a monster box that not many others can say they’ve done.

Even this cross didn’t help.... also, ntice the BLACK Skies!

We descended slowing in the rain, then sun, then rain, then sun. It was freezing and we had to proceed slowing due to the slick conditions. When we were almost near the bottom, we got to see a raging car fire and were able to watch the fire department put out the flames.

The drive back was long, but we made good time. Upon arrival back in Cortina, we stopped at the grocery store to get more water and for Tom to get some Yop. Yop is a liquid yogurt drink in France so we just call the Italian version Yop also …. and Tom loves it.

Each of the kilometers on the climb (and some partial kilometers) was marked by a sign with a famous rider in Giro history.  I wish I could have taken more time to read them, but I was really struggling.

The climb was very very difficult at the bottom and I’m not sure if I was just out psyched by the difficulty or if it was really that hard. Paul was struggling also so I suspect that it was just a difficult climb.

About 2/3 of the way up, the road leveled just a bit and the ride because easier and we could ride straight up and not have to zig zag doing the mailman and resting all the time.

Near the top, it started to rain and soon after that, we reached the first of the three narrow tunnels that led to the summit. These tunnels came right on top of each other and were well lit and would have been a relief on a warm day.

While it was warm at the base, it was now getting quite cold and windy and the rain didn’t help that situation. Luckily it slowed down as we exited the third tunnel where we could now seem the summit and the final switchbacks that we needed to climb. It was here the Gilberto Simoni pushed his way past Leonardo Piepoli in the Giro to take the stage win. 

Paul accelerated away from me on this section and he finished second with me pulling up last place.  Almost immediately the rain really started coming down at this point. Tom had taken shelter from the wind and rain behind the Zoncolon sign.

After getting back to Cortine, we went shopping … Tom bought some gifts ..  I bought some topographic maps that I couldn’t find elsewhere .. (Planning for our next trip??? Maybe a motorcycle trip is next for me!) Speaking of motorcycles … We were eating dinner and I guess we must have been being loud as we were approached by a guy from San Diego named Bob who wanted to talk to us in English since no one else here speaks it. Turns out he and some friends are Harley riders and they are spending three weeks riding through the Alps. Bob also thinks we are crazy for riding our bikes up these mountains … I guess there is a common theme here …. We are nuts! We’d run into Bob and his wife several more times while we were in Cortina.

After dinner, we were walking to get some Gelllato (I had rum raison, Tom had nuts and chocolate, and Paul had black raspberry) when we saw these two dogs standing on the roof of one of the hotels barking at everyone who went by. Cool dogs.