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91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & USA Climbs - 2
By Staff
Date: 5/7/2008
91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & USA Climbs - 2

Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs Part 2
In case you want to test yourself on hills comparable to what the pros will be suffering on over the next few weeks in Italy let’s take a look at Stage 19 & 20 in the 2008 Giro and some of their American counterparts.

By John Summerson

Giro d'Italia Stage 19 - Passo Del Vivione/Palomar Mountain
Big mountains disappear over the next few stages but reappear in stage 19. The big climb of the day is up Passo Del Vivione. Longer than most of this year’s climbs, Vivione is also steep all the way up. Almost identical statistics are found on California’s Palomar Mountain near Escondido, a very tough ascent with a long series of steep switchbacks as its middle section.

Palomar Mountain
Total elevation - 4,735 ft Length - 13.2 miles
Average Grade - 6.8% (14%) Rating - 3.43 (hors)

Palomar Mountain is a very difficult climb, along with Mount Baldy the toughest in Southern California. From tiny Pauma Valley head up the hill on route 76. After ~ 6 miles turn left on S6 (toward Mt Palomar) and you soon begin to switchback up the hill on an increased grade. At the stop sign turn right on S7 then in 1/10 mile go left on Crestline Rd. In a half mile turn left up to Palomar Mountain County Park for a short, steep finish. This climb is longer and as steep as the standard route up the Galibier, a regular beyond category Tour de France climb.

Directions - Begin the climb in the small town of Pauma Valley, CA (north end) on route 76. You can also begin the climb on S6 one mile south of the small town of Rincon (just beyond Harrah’s Casino).
Facilities - Escondido, CA Airport - San Diego, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Giro d'Italia Stage 20 - Gavia/Nine Mile Grade
Stage 20 is the end of climbing in the 2008 Giro but contains the most difficult climb of the race. The first big ascent of the day is up the scenic Gavia. Although the easier side of the mountain, this is not an easy climb by any means. The climb out of the California desert up Nine Mile Grade is also a very consistently steep ascent and although a bit shorter, mirrors the Gavia’s fearsome stats.

Nine Mile Grade, California   Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Nine Mile Grade
Total elevation - 3,673 ft Length - 9.9 miles
Average Grade - 7.0% (11%) Rating - 2.75 (hors/cat 1)

Very similar in length and grade to the famed Tourmalet in France, Nine Mile Grade is a tough and little known climb up to Kennedy Meadows in the southern Sierras. From Highway 395 head west up Kennedy Meadows Rd. The first 1.5 miles are somewhat shallow but the grade soon gets and stays steep as the road enters the canyon. The route heads up the north side of the gorge with big drop-offs and great views. The hill crests at the Tulare County line. The road continues to Kennedy Meadows and can be used to reach Sherman Pass from the east, although it has descents with no sustained hill and is a long ride (closed in winter - Sequoia National Forest - 661 548-6503).

Directions - From Ridgecrest, CA take 395 north approximately sixteen miles to Kennedy Meadows Rd (on the left) where the climb begins.
Facilities - Ridgecrest, CA Airport - Bakersfield, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

The Mortirolo
The beast of the Giro appears near the end of stage 20. The Mortirolo is as famous as any climb in Italy (and cycling for that matter) and has been called its most difficult. Relentlessly steep through its middle sections, the Mortirolo is a trophy climb throughout Europe.

Mt. Washington, New Hampshire      Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Due to its nearly unique statistics there are only several US climbs that have similarly steep grade over such a distance. New Hampshire’s Mt Washington is its match and more, equaling the Mortirolo’s fearsome middle section over a greater distance. Vermont’s Mt Equinox and Mt Auscutney are similarly steep but several miles shorter. Either one however will allow you to experience a similar ride to that of the dreaded slopes of the Mortirolo. Thankfully, for the riders of the Giro the big mountains are over for this year as the race ends the next day in Milan.

Mount Washington
Total elevation - 4,695 ft Length - 7.5 miles
Average Grade - 11.9% (22%) Rating - 6.45 (hors)

Likely the most difficult road bike hill climb in the U.S. and one of the most difficult in the world, this road is only open to bikes during the annual hill climb race usually held in August and at times for several hours for a practice ride shortly before the race. No concession to gradient was made as it starts out steep and never lets up all the way to the top.

Begin at the tollbooth where there is a brief shallow section and then the fun begins. A ramp of 12% grade smacks you in the face to let you know what is in store the rest of the way up the mountain. The grade eases slightly after 6/10ths mile but then soon kicks up with rolling ramps of 12-15% with occasional very short shallow sections to let you catch your breath (sort of). The trees soon begin to thin with some great views although it is difficult to appreciate them as you grind higher.

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Approximately 4 miles into the climb you round a bend and for the first time you see what is ahead of you (and it is not a pretty sight). At mile 4.4 the road turns to gravel for one mile with sustained grades of 12-16% along a spectacular ridgeline. Several bends offer short relief before the torture resumes. The pavement returns but only for 1/10 mile at the 5000 ft elevation marker. Another moderately steep section of gravel follows and then a very short (10-12 ft) section of pavement appears. After another 3/10ths mile of gravel the pavement returns for good.

After a very steep turn to the left the grade then eases as you climb into a tundra-like setting. Rolling, slowly increasing grade leads you past the 6000 ft elevation mark and at mile 7.4 a parking lot appears on the left. Just beyond the lot the steepest part of the climb greets you but the end is in sight. The grade eases over the last few yards as you finish the climb at the brown souvenir hut.

Mt. Washington is about the same length but considerably steeper than the famous Mortirolo in Italy and Angliru in Spain, generally considered among the hardest hill climbs used in European cycling tours (they are used sporadically in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana which are the national tours of Italy and Spain respectively). Mt Washington also has generally tougher weather to deal with compared to many other top climbs. If you ever get the chance to ride this hill, congratulate yourself on completing one of the most difficult road bike climb on earth (closed in winter - Mt. Washington Auto Road - 603 466-3988 or

Directions - From Gorham, NH head south on route 16 for approximately 8 miles to Glen House. The Mt. Washington Auto Road is on your right. Head down the road 1/10 mile to begin the climb just beyond the toll booth.
Facilities - North Conway, NH Airport - Manchester, NH

John Summerson is a cyclist who collects climbs the way a connoisseur might collect fine art; with one difference John finds the climbs, measures and rides them savoring the suffering and challenge of each and then writes about them. John  is also the author of The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike) "A guide to cycling, climbing and the most difficult hill climbs in the Unites States"  Read our review of the book here. For more information on the book go to the book website where there are more climb profiles and a link to purchase the book.

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