IMOLA, Italy (VN) — Basque cyclist Igor Antón (Dimension Data) won three stages in his home grand tour, the Vuelta a España, but his Giro d’Italia victory on Monte Zoncolan stands at the top of his palmares.
The climb is so steep that organizers only began including it in the race in 2004. Saturday’s stage 14 will be the sixth time the race climbs its 10.1 kilometers, noted for its fan-lined road and constant high, leg-zapping gradients. Antón, then racing for Euskaltel-Euskadi, dominated in 2011.
“There’s a measurement, what makes a climb so difficult. We have Angliru in Spain, but Zoncolan is harder,” Antón told VeloNews.
“You think a one-kilometer normal climb is three minutes, maybe less, but this climb is five or seven minutes over one kilometer. Maybe in 10 kilometers, if you go fast, it’s 40 or 41 minutes. That’s a lot of suffering!”
Antón, now 35 with Team Dimension Data, rode away from Alberto Contador. The grand tour star was second at 33 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali and Michele Scarponi were even further adrift.
“There are many things to explain with that mountain, the winners have always been big winners like Simoni, Basso, and Rogers, and, it’s one of the most difficult climbs because it’s so steep and never a moment of rest,” continued Antón.
“It’s constant and steep, maybe the one of the most difficult climbs in Europe or the world maybe. I remember that year I attacked in 2011 because from the bottom to the top, I tried to just stay concentrated.
“I remember the Italian tifosi, but also the Basque fans with our flag. I have some photos from that day and it’s amazing.
“The people are just a few centimeters from you. Then the last kilometer or 500 meters, all the Italian soldiers lining the road and the roar of sound from the fans, and my mechanic on the motorbike in the back because the teams can’t have cars.
“That stage win was the best in my career. It’s an amazing memory and Zoncolan will be special for me.”
The climb averages 11.9%, but often hits sections of 22% on its way up. Organizer RCS colors the different gradients in its race book, red being the hardest, and in the case of the Monte Zoncolan that finishes stage 14, it looks like someone just drew a red line pointing to the sky.
It is one of two mountain days over the weekend with the climb-heavy day Sunday to Sappada. The third and final week continues the same. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) will try to defend his 47-second lead over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) to the race’s end in Rome, and the Zoncolan will be an important step in doing so.
“Simon Yates should do well, he’s small and skinny and has power. Tom is the next one, but he’s bigger and may lose time. Look maybe for Domenico Pozzovivo, a small Italian who can stay in front and perhaps win the stage,” Antón said.
“I told Ben O’Connor it’s like a time trial, don’t panic. Don’t worry about good position, that’s not important. There’s no wind factor with slipstreaming. What’s important is not to have too many bottles on your bike, that’s weight and in the steep sections, you need to throw those off, but before, be careful to eat and drink
“You need a 34-32, it’s better for the cadence. If you need to shift down, you can do it, but if you don’t have that easier gear to shift too, it’s a problem.”
Antón looks forward to the day, but also to a day in the future when he can drive to the northeast corner of Italy with his 1975 Citroën van and feel how it suffers on the Zoncolan’s famous ramps.