Arch over the start of the MIGHTY and merciless Zoncolan! Ovaro, Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region
Summit - PJAMM reaching the pass from Ovaro
OUCH!!! After Scanuppia, the Monte Zoncolan bicycle climb (from Ovaro and Priola) may be the most difficult (at least the most painful) of climbs in all of Italy. No wonder it has “only” been included in the Giro 5 times!
Giro d’Italia appearances for this brute:
Gilberto Simoni (ITA)
Gilberto Simoni (ITA)
Ivan Basso (ITA)
Igor Antón (ESP)
Michael Rogers (AUS)
Chris Froome (GBR)
There are 3 routes up Zoncolan - 2 (Ovaro and Priola) are beasts - murderous, punishing ascents. The third, Sutrio, is quite manageable and a “pleasant” climb up the mountain, until its fatal intersection with “The Old Road” from Priola, and thence we spend 2.1 miles / 3.3 km at a punishing 12.7% average grade.
How to climb Monte Zoncolan from Ovaro (from the west)
Bring your climbing legs for this extraordinary road bike climb - Monte Zoncolan from Ovaro is the 13th most difficult climb in Italy (home to the most World Top 100 of any country with an unbelievable 26 in the Top 100!) and #52 World. This is also the tornanti (hairpin) route up to the pass with roughly 24 in the brief 9.9 km we are on the mountain.
24 tornanti (hairpin)
The roadway is in excellent condition and there is not much traffic on it generally. There are 3 fairly short but dark tunnels near the top so bring lights.
Tunnel - Bring flashing taillights and a high lumen headlight
There are 3 tunnels at the top of Zoncolan from Ovaro, and,
while they are fairly short you should bring lights to be safe.
Wikipedia provides an excellent summary of the three Zoncolan ascents:
“The mountain can be climbed on three roads: one from Ovaro, another from Sutrio, and a third from Priola.
West from Ovaro: This is a very demanding climb, and one of the most difficult in Europe, usually compared to the Alto de El Angliru. It was featured for the first time in the 2007 Giro d'Italia. The climb starts in Ovaro in the Gorto valley, and is 10.1 kilometres (6.3 mi) long at an average of 11.9% with an elevation gain of 1,210 metres (3,970 ft) and a maximum gradient of 22%. The real climb however starts at Liariis, 8.5 kilometres (5.3 mi) from the summit. Shortly after the village, the road disappears into forest and gains 900 metres (3,000 ft) in the next 6 kilometres (3.7 mi), averaging thus 15%. After this section, the road passes through three short tunnels, before a series of steep switchbacks immediately beneath the summit. The former rough asphalt between Liariis and the tunnels was replaced in 2007; that between the last tunnel and the summit had already been resurfaced by autumn 2005. The tunnels are now lit.”
There are Km markers at least ever kilometer - not all are flattering -
e.g. Fiorenzo Magni expressing himself on Zoncolan
Plenty evidence of the Giro on the climb.
Tunnel lower middle of photo and hairpins leading to the pass top right-center of photo.
Final approach to the summit.
PJAMM 2018 European Cycling Adventure (23 countries - 4 ½ months)
How to climb Monte Zoncolan East from Priola:
Cycling Monte Zoncolan from Priola is the least cycled and hardest route to the top. This is the “Old Road” and it is all of that. Very narrow and secluded, this is an exceptional cycling experience. If you are riding from Ovaro up and over the top and then down to Priola, be very careful not to miss the right turn precisely 3.3 km from the top (just after Rifugio Al Cocul). If you make it to the main ski area and SP 123 you missed the turn! (as we did in 2016).
Looking east as PJAMM crests the pass from Priola.
“This is the original old road which was replaced by the newer road from Sutrio described above. The two roads combine around 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) below the summit. The road from Priola was first asphalted in autumn 2005. From bottom to top, the 8.9 kilometres (5.5 mi) long road gains an astonishing 1,140 metres (3,740 ft), meaning an average gradient of 12.8%. The lower part has sharp hairpin bends and is at times very steep. The climb is briefly flat after merging with the newer road, with the remaining 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) containing several ramps of up to 23% steepness.”
View back towards Priola with Dolomites in the background - Priola climb
How to climb Monte Zoncolan East from Sutrio
Well, there’s not much to talk about here - this is the easiest (most unhardest??)and least exceptional route to Monte Zoncolan. While the Priola and Ovaro routes are 12.7 and 11.7% respectively (yowza!) Sutrio is much longer and a mere 8.9% . . .
“East from Sutrio: This route is less demanding than the road from Ovaro but it is also one of Italy's most challenging climbs. It was featured for the first time in the 1997 Giro Donne and later in the 2003 Giro d'Italia. The actual climb to the summit starts at Sutrio and is 13.5 kilometres (8.4 mi) long at an average of 9% with an elevation gain of 1,210 metres (3,970 ft) and a maximum gradient being 23%. The first 8.7 kilometres (5.4 mi) have an average gradient of 8.7%, followed by a false flat after this section. The most demanding section is the final 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) with an average gradient of 13% and the initial part of the final kilometre at 22% grade.”
Route from Sutrio - the mildest of the climbs - by a good stretch!
PJAMM 2016 cycling adventure
The Sutrio/Priola Overlap: