I just finished riding Tuesday’s Giro d’Italia time trial course from San Vigilio di Marebbe up the Passo Furcia and on up to the Plan de Corones (Kronplatz). I was lucky enough to share the road with a bunch of dead Giro champions.
I snuck onto the Plan de Corones road by climbing up a little forest trail behind a restaurant at the top of the Passo Furcia, since the road was closed even to cyclists. Once on it, I found a much better road surface than I had expected. It starts as concrete, then broken concrete, then crushed rock with fine powder mixed in. Much of the riding in the trees is this surface, much like you find on many family trails around ponds and the like. At the top, it becomes concrete again. The road surface is actually a non-issue unless it rains, since all of the really steep sections are on concrete.
As for the gearing, I’ve ridden the Passo Furcia before with a 39 X 25, and while it is certainly steep enough in places that I was glad to have a 34 X 26 today, a compact is not a necessity for it. But because of all of the hype about the Plan de Corones (and the Monte Zoncolan, which I rode yesterday), I had packed the 34-50 compact and the 11-26. Initially, I was lulled into complacency because the Plan de Corones road was considerably easier than I had expected. I rarely used my 26 cog for most of the way, but I really needed it at the top!
There are four places on the time trial where you actually use your big chainring, three near the beginning before the Passo Furcia begins in earnest, and the last one around the shoulder of the mountain within 2km of the top. But just when you think you’ve got it made, you come past the last switchback sign — the one with Marco Pantani on it — and it gets very steep (on concrete). You hardly catch your breath after the steep pitch following The Pirate, and you hit another long pitch even steeper, followed by two more almost as steep. Boy, was I glad I had that 34 x 26 — the lowest gear I’ve ever had on one of my personal road bikes. And then you’re at the finish.
Pantani is actually the last of 13 deceased Giro champions who adorn signs at every switchback. Fausto Coppi is fifth from the top and Gino Bartali is seventh.
Incidentally, you may have noticed that Plan de Corones is often written as Kronplatz, and up at the ski station itself, all of the signs say Kronplatz. This is because Kronplatz is the German name for it; both “corona” and “Kron” mean “crown.” Why German? Well, this area was part of Austria until the First World War changed the boundaries. Italian is actually the third language here, and German is only second. Ladin is the first language in most families who have lived in these valleys around Val Gardena for generations. Unlike the 1500 Italian dialects, Ladin is actually a distinct language, and, as you may have guessed, it is Latin-based.