In Flanders, cycling is sacred. For every road, there is a bike route running right alongside it. So, what better tribute to this region's culture of cycling than the Tour of Flanders?
In every Giro there is one particular stage that, more than any other, takes the cyclists where the race gives its final verdicts: the Alps.
The Cittadella–Monte Zoncolan stage is the best example of how one segment can go from “comfort zone” -despite the riders having already had their share of suffering in the 13 previous legs- to an ascent in the midst of the Carnic Alps that any cycling enthusiast knows to be among the toughest in Europe.
If the Giro d’Italia could speak, it would probably say: “If you think that was tough, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”.
Then again, there’s nothing about Cittadella that lets you even imagine the agony that awaits the riders five hours down the line. It’s a beautiful and enjoyable city, that lives peacefully within the wonderfully preserved 13th century elliptical walls. The Venetian Pre-Alps form a reassuring backdrop for the Medieval panorama and are the natural training ground for the thousands of bike travellers and amateur cyclists that ride across the Veneto plains every day.
Instead, it’s the border between the regions of Veneto and Friuli that gives an idea of how the stage will end, because the magnificent Valcellina -another area very popular among bikers for its natural beauty- changes at Tramonti di Sopra during the climb up to Forcella di Monte Rest, which is nothing but a warm-up for what lies ahead.
Beyond the pass, there is Carnia with its spectacular alpine landscapes and its many bike rambling options, both on and off road.
The climb to Monte Zoncolan, aka the Belvedere of the Carnic Alps, is a legendary cycling attraction, where physical strain can be eased by a stay in one of the picturesque spa resorts of Arta Terme, right at the start of the almost twenty-kilometre ascent.
You just need to choose whether to enjoy Arta’s thermal baths before or after the great feat, or if you wish to include Zoncolan in a broader package that includes not only bike and spa, but local cuisine and lakes as well.
Nonetheless, the true legend of Monte Zoncolan is in the stories of cycling enthusiasts but also in the tales told by the professionals, who often aren’t even able to fully describe the sensations felt during the climb.
At times you will hear a mid-standings rider confide in a teammate:
“You see someone just ahead of you. You think you’re almost wheel-to-wheel. But when you reach the top of Zoncolan, you realise that there’s actually more than a minute between you. Still, at the finish line, it’s almost like you can touch it”.
Nothing can better express what it feels like in the end, at the finish line, when all the efforts put into the climb really make you think that all you need to do is simply raise your arm and touch the sky.
THE BIKE OF THIS ARTICLE
Wilier 0 SLR – Admiral Blue
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