Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs
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.
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
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
Nine Mile Grade, California
Photo © 2008 John
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
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
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.
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
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 www.mt-washington.com).
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
For more information on the book go to the
where there are more climb profiles and a link to purchase the book.
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