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Giro Stage 14 - You Come at the Kaiser, You Best Not Miss

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San Vito al Tagliamento - Monte Zoncolan (186 km)

2014 Giro d'Italia - Stage Twenty Photo by Harry Engels - Velo/Getty Images

A summit finish on the mighty Zoncolan in the first real high mountain test (sorry Etna) of this Giro.

What’s It About?

Suffering. Suffering by the sprinters trying to will their bike up the (arguably) hardest climb in Europe to beat the time cut. Suffering by the TT specialist GC candidates who will have to put out quite a few more watts than the Pozzovivos of the peloton while ascending 10 kilometers at an 11.9% average gradient. Suffering by the GC contenders who are on a bad day and who will see their aspirations disappear up the road. Suffering, all for the delight of us watching at home.

When the dust settles on the Zonc, we should know what the GC battle is going to look like in this Giro.

Stage Details

Profile:

Monte Zoncolan:

According to Will’s mountain preview this is only the second hardest climb in this Giro, losing out to the Colle delle Finestre. As Will notes, this may come down to issues with his formula as 10 kilometers at 11.9% is probably going to inspire more fear in the peloton than 18.5 kilometers at 9.2%.

The leg softeners before the Zonc:

As you can see, the riders will be facing a few muritos prior to the Zonc. This is going to be one hard stage.

Did You Know?

While part of the fun of grand tours is half racing and half travelogue, let’s not kid ourselves that this stage is about anything but the glorious beatdown that the Zonc is going to put on the riders.

Though the Zonc has a fearsome reputation that precedes it, the mountain is a relative newby in the cycling world, having only been “discovered” by the Giro in 2003.

Zoncolan was made part of the Giro thanks to football coach Francesco Guidolin who was on summer vacation and was taken up the Zoncolan by a local guide and told about the epic climb to Davide Cassani and Enzo Cainero. Guidolin described his experience on the Zonc, as interpreted by the Google gnomes, as follows “I saw nothing, I was blinding by fatigue and when I finally leaned against a wall of the gallery to catch my breath, it was dirty and there was mud everywhere: the same that they found the soldiers of the Great War.”

Even though the Zoncolan was first used in the men’s Giro in 2003, perhaps it should be nicknamed Woke Mountain, as it was used in the Giro d’Italia Femminile in 1997 where Fabiana Luperini won the stage on her way to taking one of her five victories in the Giro Donne. But, of course, the Zonc wasn’t really discovered until a man “found” it six years later.

Monte Zoncolan has only been used in the Giro 5 times prior to this year (2003, 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2014). There are three roads that go up Zoncolan, one from Ovaro, one from Sutrio, and another from Priola. The climb from Sutrio was used in 2003, with the climb from Ovaro being used every subsequent year including this year. Thus, this side of the Zonc has only been used on 4 previous occasions. The route from Ovaro is considered the hardest at 10.1 kilometers at an 11.9% average gradient, which actually downplays how hard the climb is where it doesn’t really start until about 8.5 kilometers to the summit with most of those kilometers at an over-15% average gradient. The climb from Sutrio is 13.5 kilometers with a 9% average gradient. The Giro has never gone up the road from Priola which is the shortest but steepest at 8.9 kilometers and 12.8% average gradient. You’ll have to ask Will if there is some kind of club for those who ride up all three sides in a single day.

The mountain has been nicknamed “the Kaiser” for obvious reasons but also “Simoni Mountain” because of Gilberto Simoni’s two wins on its slopes in 2003 and 2007. Ivan Basso won on the Zonc by over a minute in 2010, which helped propel him to his GC win by a minute and fifty seconds. In 2011, Igor Anton, in his swan song from relevance, won ahead of a later-disqualifed Contador. In 2014, the Zonc was the penultimate stage of the race and ridden conservatively by the GC riders as Nairo Quintana had already wrapped up the pink jersey. Michael Rogers won from the breakaway that year.

Whom Does the Stage Favor?

Only the most masochistic of riders.

While the break took the stage the last time that Zoncolan was included in the Giro, that was the result of the peloton riding conservatively because Don Nairo had a solid hold on the maglia rosa. The peloton have not given the break any leash this entire Giro and there are quite a few teams with GC contenders that are minutes behind that are not going to want to give Simon Yates and Tom Dumoulin an easy ride.

2014 Giro d'Italia - Stage Twenty
The riders will figuratively and literally put themselves through the pain cave on this stage
Photo by Bryn Lennon - Velo/Getty Images

While Yates has looked like the strongest rider in the race, the Kaiser will be a real test for him. He has a reputation as being better on the shorter, punchier climbs, which the Zonc certainly is not. But seeing how he is riding this Giro, it’s hard to bet against him. Helpfully, he’ll have the services of Mikel Nieve and Roman Kreuziger who have raced on the Zoncolan previously.

This climb really does not suit Dumoulin who will need to push out an extreme number of watts to stay with the smaller climbers. This day is going to be all about survival for Doom. If he can keep the other GC contenders close, he will slot into being the favorite for the Giro. However, based upon Doom’s performance in the high mountains last year, he may end up losing two minutes or more.

Domenico Pozzovivo has the advantage of having raced the Zoncolan on two prior occasions. In 2014, he was 25 seconds behind Nairo Quintana who won the ascent in the GC group. In 2011, he lost 12 minutes and would pull out of the Giro the next day.

Chris Froome, Miguel Angel Lopez, and Fabio Aru will all be looking to turn their races around on the Zonc. Froome certainly did not enjoy his experience on the Zonc back in 2010 when he finished 22 minutes in arrears, though that was pre-GC transformation Froome. He’s looked terrible this Giro and it would take a minor miracle for him to be resurrected on the slopes of the Zoncolan.

Lopez seems to have a habit of starting off grand tours slowly and if he can find the form that he had in the latter half of last year’s Vuelta, he could take this stage.

Aru has lost the sheen of looking like an up and coming GC superstar back in 2015 where he came in 2nd in the Giro and 1st in the Vuelta. Still, despite his inconsistency, he seems Nibali-esque in his ability to pull a big performance out of nowhere. He’d like to salvage this Giro by getting a win on the Zoncolan.

Thibaut Pinot has bagged the Alpe d’Huez for his resume and would like to continue his love affair with Italy by winning on the Zonc. It’s still hard to see the super steep slope suiting Pinot that well.

Richard Carapaz has accomplished a bunch of firsts for an Ecuadorian at this year’s Giro- from starting the Giro, to wearing the white jersey, to winning a stage. If he wins on the Zonc, he will also likely become the first Ecuadorian double restricted rider in next year’s FSA VDS competition.

Besides the GC contenders, Tim Wellens may try something during this stage. In 2014, he finished only several seconds behind Quintana on the Zoncolan stage.

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day

The Wine: Ronchi de Cialla Ribolla Gialla

Roncs, in the dialect of Friuli, means vinery cultivated hills. Cialla is a small valley facing from North-East to South-West, surrounded by woods with chestnut, oak and wild cherry trees, in the d.o.c. (controlled wine) Colli Orientali del Friuli area, and it is officially recognised – with a Ministerial Decree dated 30.10.95 – as cru CIALLA only for the cultivation of native vines from Friuli (white wines: Verduzzo, Picolit and Ribolla Gialla; red wines: Refosco dal Peduncolo rosso and Schioppettino) and the production of vintage wines.

Pick to Win

I think, perhaps delusionally, that Miguel Angel Lopez and Astana have been waiting to strike until this stage. I’ll go with Superman conquering the Kaiser.