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“I saw a Santa Claus earlier,” Froome said after winning atop Monte Zoncolan. “I thought I was hallucinating at one point.”
Hyped as Europe’s hardest climb, the peloton suffered through a brutal push to the summit. The weather held, but the forecasted pain came as expected.
“Hardest climb I’ve ever done. It’s harder than the Angliru,” said Michael Woods (EF-Drapac), who attacked early on the climb. “The Angliru is longer and has steeper pitches, but it has breaks in it. The Zoncolan is just relentless.”
Even the top stars struggled on its unforgiving grades. Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates) continued with what’s been a very difficult Giro, sliding backward when the attacks began. Monte Zoncolan cracked the Italian star.
“This is not the real Fabio Aru,” he lamented at the line. “I had no power on the Zoncolan, and could not get into the race.”
The road was so narrow that team cars were not allowed to drive up the final climb. Instead, team mechanics carried spare bikes on their shoulders while riding on the back of motorcycles.
Riders tried to make it as easy as possible on themselves, with Froome winning with a gear ratio of 34×32.
“To be honest, I’ve never ridden up a mountain so hard,” said Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot. “It was incredibly difficult.”
LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett was forced to swap bikes right at the base of the climb. He was still able to finish 12th on the stage and stay within the top-10 overall.
BMC Racing’s Rohan Dennis, who held the pink jersey for four stages early in the Giro, knew it was going to be a brutal day in the saddle. The Zoncolan didn’t disappoint.
“I was expecting it to be bad, and it was,” Dennis said. “Anybody over 70kg is going to hate that climb. I am hoping it’s not a climb we do again very soon.”
An estimated 100,000 fans packed in tight on the brutal steepness of the Zoncolan summit. Fans climbed on bikes, camped overnight in vans, and cooked up local sausages and drank wine while they waited all day for the peloton to arrive.
The peloton’s best climbers didn’t disappoint. Others simply rode in to make the time cut, but even that was hard. Riders took whistles at the summit to blow while they descended to the team buses parked 1,200 feet below.
“It was brutal,” said Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). “It was the hardest climb I ever did. It was even harder than expected.”
And that dinosaur? Froome politely nudged it out of the way as Wout Poels was ramping up the speed to set up Froome’s winning attack.
“That dinosaur got a little bit close, so I just had to move him out of the way a little bit,” Froome said. “The atmosphere has been incredible. I have to say ‘grazie mille’ to all the tifosi. They make the race what it is.”