I rode up the Monte Zoncolan (the final climb of the Giro’s 15th stage) yesterday, and the last 6.5km was as tough as advertised. Turns out, you have to pedal pretty hard to go up grades over 20 percent, particularly when there is no letup before or after; the ramps seem to all be consistently around 15-17 percent. And I even had the lowest gearing I’ve ever put on one of my own road bikes: 50-34 with an 11-26. I rarely got out of the 34 X 26 in the last 6.5km and would certainly have wanted more if that were not the only climb I had to do that day.
Riding up through the walls of people, occasionally being pushed by them, is quite an experience; the contrast with the dead quiet inside the three tunnels is rather stunning. From the exit of the tunnels to where the paneled barricades begin with about 500 meters to go, the narrow road is lined by police and camouflage-clad soldiers holding hands to keep the crowds back.
Speaking of gearing, you know it’s steep when you see some of the world’s best climbers riding huge rear cogs with a tiny front chainring. With few exceptions, the teams will use the same gears on Plan de Corones on Tuesday as they used on Monte Zoncolan. I saw Ivan Basso riding nimbly in a 36 X 29, while Vincenzo Nibali and the rest of the Liquigas team struggled a bit more with the gear. But BMC’s Cadel Evans was just barely behind Basso where he passed by with 3.5km to go, and he was doing fine with a 34 X 27. He has trained on the critical Giro mountain stages for weeks and knows what he wants on his Easton EC90SLX wheels adorning his BMC Team Machine SLR01. Julian Dean and other Garmin riders came by me with the same 34 X 27 gear.
Damiano Cunego, Gibo Simoni, and the other Lampre riders, as well as Pippo Pozzato and the other Katusha riders pushed their Campy setups all the way to 34 X 29. They will do the same on Plan de Corones. Alexander Vinokourov and his remaining Astana teammates may have had the widest gear range on Monte Zoncolan: 53-34 X 11-28, and their derailleurs seemed to handle it just fine. Carlos Sastre and other Cervelo riders were also using a 34 X 28, as was Rabobank and Ag2R. Stefano Garzelli and his Aqua & Sapone teammates rode 34 X 28 on the Zoncolan, but they will be on 34 X 29 on the Plan de Corones.
Bradley Wiggins and other riders on Sky using oval Osymetric chainrings rode a 38 X 28 up the Zoncolan, while round-ring-riding Sky riders like Michael Barry pushed a 36 X 28. Milram and Columbia-HTC also rode 36 X 28, while Bbox chose Evans’ gearing: 34 X 27.
Today they were printing Manuel Arroyo’s pink jersey and shorts, which he’ll still probably get to wear the day after the time trial.