PONTE DI LEGNO, Italy (VN) — The Mortirolo climb in the Giro d’Italia’s stage 16  has had riders getting their bikes fitted with small chainrings and large sprockets.

It is not one of the longest or highest climbs, running 11.9km and up to 1854 meters, but it is steep, averaging 10.9% and touching 18% in sections.

“It’s hell,” Mikel Landa (Movistar Team) said. “But it’s depend on the legs you have.”

And maybe what gears.

The climb is the last in stage 16, leaving those grasping for air at the top with 27.7 kilometers to the finish in Ponte di Legno.

“It’s so hard,” said former cyclist and two-time Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador. “For every cyclist, you think: ‘Ah, it’s a very hard climb.’ For sure it will be crucial at this Giro d’Italia.”

For comparison, L’Angliru in Spain climbs 12.2 kilometres and averages 10.2 per cent. The Zoncolan, often used in the Giro but not this edition, averages 11.9% over 10.1km and touches 22%.

“Zoncolan is maybe more regular,” said Contador. “Also Angliru has some parts at 27%. But for sure, it’s in that group.

“I think the perfect gear is 34 in the front and 32 in the back. Maybe you don’t need 32. But if you need it in some moment when people go very slow, you can put [it in the] 32 and just stay at the side and recover. If not, you need to stay out of the saddle. It’s always better to have 32 than 30.”

American Larry Warbasse (Ag2r La Mondiale) has been forced to go for a sightly larger gear. “I’ll use a 36-32, because that’s the easiest that they’ll let me use!” he said “I’d like to have a 34 but it didn’t work out.

“It’s just a wall,” he added of the climb. “Probably one of the steadiest steepest climbs in cycling I would say.”

Comparing the Zoncolan and the Mortirolo, stage 15 winner Dario Cataldo (Team Astana) said: “It’s difficult to say, because the Zoncolan is very steep, but there are some parts to rest. Mortirolo is very hard from the beginning to the top. It’s one of the hardest in Europe.”

For the bigger riders like Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jacopo Guarnieri (Groupama-FDJ), it will just be a case of survival.

“I hope to have a lot of people cheering for me, to give me an extra boost, because for the heavyweights it will be really tough,” said Guarnieri.

But, he adds: “It’s a glorious climb, the Giro has passed there many times, it’s going to be a huge party. It’s always an experience…it’s my first Giro, so I’m super excited, even if it’s not a stage for me.”

To tackle the climb, Guarnieri’s bike has been prepped by his mechanics with a 36 ring in the front and a 32 in the back.

“I’m not looking forward to doing it, but [will be very pleased] to complete it,” he said.

Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) appeared to be using a 34 front ring – just like his team leader and race favorite, Primoz Roglic.

Kuss, sitting on the start line said, “I’ll take the easiest I can get!”