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Giro d'Italia

VeloNews Mailbag: What gear ratios did WorldTour riders use on Monte Zoncolan?

What gear ratios did WorldTour riders use on Monte Zoncolan? You have questions about the 2021 Giro d'Italia and we have answers.

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You have questions about the Giro d’Italia and we have answers! Well, we have educated opinions and access to people who have answers. Got a burning question on your mind? Email us at mailbag@velonews.com and we will pose your inquiry to pro riders, WorldTour mechanics, and other insiders. Today, we’re talking Monte Zoncolan, and what gear ratios riders used on the hyper-steep climb. Also, are there any climbs in North America that are as tough as Zoncolan?

Ah, Monte Zoncolan, the hyper-steep climb that makes even the world’s fastest bike riders shudder with fear.

Zoncolan — Italy’s answer to Spain’s Alto de l’Angliru — has grown in popularity in the last two decades, and the climb is now renowned as one of the handful of toughest ascents used in WorldTour racing. The final few kilometers have plenty of ramps above 20 percent, and the entire climb soars almost 4,000 feet in total elevation gain.

If you missed last Saturday’s stage 14, which finished atop the Zoncolan, I suggest seeking out the replay on GCN+. You will see some amazing faces of agony in the final pitches of the climb.

Now, we all know that WorldTour riders can turn big gears, but the days of watching pro riders grind uphill in a 42×19 gear are long gone. These days, even the peloton’s best climbers often opt for huge rear cogs and even compact front chain rings for super-steep climbs like Monte Zoncolan.

And that’s the focus of today’s mailbag. We got several questions about Monte Zoncolan this week, and you wanted to know what gear ratios the WorldTour riders use on climbs like that.

What gear ratios did pro riders use on Monte Zoncolan?

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The riders at Trek-Segafredo, who are all riding SRAM eTap, opted for larger-than-normal cogs in the back. The team hit stage 14 with 50/37 chainrings up front, and a rear cassette that went from 10-33, which is part of SRAM’s X-Range gearing line.

So, riders tackled the steep climb with a 37×33 as the lightest gear.

I also posed this question to Larry Warbasse over at AG2R-Citröen. The team is on Campagnolo, and much like Trek-Segafredo they used an extremely friendly ratio. And Campagnolo’s 12-speed allows for big cassettes as well.

Yeah, so we ride Campagnolo which is 12-speed and the standard cassette is 11-32, which is already quite big. The only thing we changed from that is I put on a 36-tooth [chainring], so I did a 36×32 and then I rode the tubular wheels because they are a bit lighter. I went with the Bora 50-mm deep wheels. And then the tubulars are a bit lighter. I’ve been riding tubeless for most of the race.”

Were you using the 36×32?

“Oh yeah. The last 3km were really steep. You were grinding in the 36×32. If I would have had a bigger cassette I would have used it.”

So there you have it, folks, Monte Zoncolan is a climb that will reduce the world’s strongest riders to using gear ratios that you might use to ride your local climb.

Hey, here’s a bonus Zoncolan question.

Are there any climbs in North America that are similar to Monte Zoncolan?

The short answer is ‘No’ of course, since the roads in the Italian Alps are truly unique in global cycling.

That said, the length and sustained steepness of the Zoncolan is rare, but not unheard of in North America. Here’s what Larry Warbasse had to say.

I’ve done some climbs in Hawaii. There’s one called Kaloko Drive [editor’s note: 6.3 miles at 8.8 percent) that is really hard. It’s probably not that far off in terms of steepness. It’s like 10km at 10 percent with sections at 20 percent. That one might be equivalently as hard. It’s on the Big Island, just outside of Kona.” 

The Italian Alps or Hawaii — where would you rather suffer on a bicycle? In my opinion, either one is a good choice.