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Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 14: Cittadella – Monte Zoncolan. Mysterious creatures


Giro d'Italia 2021, Tappa 14: Cittadella – Monte Zoncolan. Creature misteriose

Stage 14: Cittadella – Monte Zoncolan. Mysterious creatures

Cyclists have long looked upon the monstrous Zoncolan – a stone giant with gut-wrenching gradients – in fear, and it took them years to feel brave enough to challenge this famed absolute brute. The mountains of Carnia are a hideout for mysterious living things. Lurking among the trees, the Sbilfs are legendary forest creatures – naughty and sometimes evil – who like to play pranks on people. The most famous one are the Bergul, who enjoys tripping people up, and the Mazzarot, a rogue who likes tricking the cattle into getting lost at pasture. The Sbilfs, however, are more mischievous than evil. Much more frightening are the witches that descend from the sky on stormy nights and congregate on the nearby Monte Tenchia, by the ‘Pian delle Streghe’.

Only one man felt brave enough to defy them. He built himself a lodge up there, where his fellow villagers wouldn’t even dare to step foot. That didn’t end well. One stormy night, when the parish priest of Sutrio was on visit, the Agàne – the charming water fairies – turned into spooky witches and set his lodge on fire. Legend has it that the two men sacrificed their lives to fend off the witches for good.


The unrelenting Zoncolan is a torturous slow-motion effort even for the best ones

No bicycle race dared to ride the fearful Zoncolan until 1997. The stinging slopes would sap a rider’s legs like the Bergul, and the brutal nature of the mountain would lead them astray like the Mazzarot. All of this was just too scary. Fabiana Luperini was the first to face off this monster in the women’s Giro, crushing her rivals’ expectations. «The greatest achievements in cycling are made along the hardest climbs. I am still so proud of my victory on the Zoncolan. You must listen to your heart and legs, rather than looking at your opponents. And most importantly, you must believe you can». Six years later, as the men’s Giro took its first-ever pass on the Zoncolan, Gilberto Simoni was the winner on these slopes. Once he reached the summit, he said «the easiest part of this climb is harder than the most difficult you ever get at the Tour de France. The only thing you can do is go in blind, without a thought, and never turn back». Hardly anybody has dared to go there after them.

Until 2021, only six more stages finished on top of the Zoncolan, using the road from Sutrio, but the mountain has become a legend already. That’s because of its sharp, clear name, Zon-co-lan (which apparently translates as ‘chopped trees’), and its equally sharp gradients. That’s for its grandiose nickname, Kaiser, or for its contemporary moniker, Zonc. Most of all, that’s because of the extraordinary natural grandstand at the summit. Simoni still remembers the «loud roar that leaves you with ringing ears, as if somebody scored a goal at the stadium». Along the final bends of Monte Zoncolan, people gather and drink as if they were having a picnic on an ordinary Sunday, waiting to see the riders pass by, one after another, either minutes or half an hour apart, weaving side to side. The unrelenting Zoncolan is a torturous slow-motion effort even for the best ones. Dreaded and feared until 1997 and 2003, the mighty Zoncolan is now celebrated as a real star.

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