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91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs - 1
By Staff
Date: 5/7/2008
91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs - 1

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 each major climb in the 2008 Giro and some of their American counterparts.

The Big Mountains of the 2008 Giro d’Italia & Comparable U.S. Ascents

By John Summerson

While the 2008 Giro may become known for its multiple time trials that does not mean the mountains will not determine the winner. Italy contains the greatest concentration of difficult road climbs in the world and they are often put to good use in the Giro. This year’s route contains many old favorites and a few new passes that will challenge any rider.

The big mountains make their first appearance in stage 14 with a mountain top stage finish, one of three in the 2008 edition. Stage 15 is likely the most difficult of the race with five tough climbs and a mountain time trial is scheduled for stage 16. Big mountains return for stage 19 and stage 20 contains the legendary ascents of the Gavia and Mortirolo, both beyond category climbs.

While many of the major European tour climbs are as famous as the races they are included within, the U.S. has only a handful that are well known to the cycling community. However, many are comparable to those used in the major tours. In case you want to test yourself on hills comparable to what the pros will be suffering on over the next few weeks let’s take a look at each major climb in the 2008 Giro and some of their American counterparts. Directions to the climbs are included just in case you want to take the challenge and climb one, click on the climb profiles for a larger image.

Giro d'Italia Stage 14 - Passo Manghen/Mount Baldy
The first big mountain test of the 2008 Giro will be stage 14’s Passo Manghen. Statistically similar to Mont Ventoux in France, Manghen is a brute, with unrelenting grade. For those looking for its American version, summit Mt Baldy near Los Angeles, California and you will have riding a comparable hill.

Mount Baldy
Total elevation - 4,775 ft Length - 12.9 miles
Average Grade - 7.0% (15%) Rating - 3.57 (hors)

Mt Baldy is perhaps the toughest climb in Southern California along a scenic two lane road with a variable grade. The first few miles are fairly shallow with one steeper ramp. The grade increases just after the two short tunnels which appear around the five mile mark. You soon reach the village of Mount Baldy where the grade eases a bit. Just beyond the village however the true nature of the hill reveals itself as the last 4 miles average almost 9% (turn left at mile 9.7 toward the ski area to finish). This final section contains ramps of 12-14% through tight switchbacks. The climb ends at the top section of a parking area.

Mount Baldy in Southern California and one of its many switchbacks.
Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Directions - From I-210 in Claremont, CA exit at Baseline Ave and head west a short distance to Mills Ave. Go right on Mills Ave for ~1.1 miles to its intersection with Mt. Baldy Rd where the climb begins (parking area for cars).
Facilities - Claremont, CA Airport - Los Angeles, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Stage 14 - Alpe Di Pampeago/Mount Umunhum
The finish for stage 14 is at the top of the climb to Alpe Di Pampeago. A short and steep ascent, Pampeago’s finishing stretch is along double digit grade. A US climb with similar statistics is Hicks Rd/Mt Umunhum near San Jose, California. Only difference on this climb is the bottom half is double digit grade instead of the top as with Pampeago.

Hicks Road/Mount Umunhum
Total elevation - 2,160 ft Length - 4.1 miles
Average Grade - 10.1% (18%) Rating - 2.18 (cat 1)

This hill contains challenging grades and is scenic. After very steep Hicks Rd crests (in one mile), descend a short distance and turn right on Mt. Umunhum. Continue through another extremely steep section and a gate appears. Go around the gate and ride 1.2 miles to the end of the legal road.

Directions - From the corner of Camden Ave and Hicks Rd in San Jose, CA head west on Hicks for ~5 miles of shallow climbing. The listed climb begins where the grade increases.
Facilities - San Jose, CA Airport - San Jose, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Giro d'Italia Stage 15
Nothing separates the contenders from the pretenders like a tough mountain stage and stage 15 will be the most difficult of the Giro. While no monsters are present, there are five major climbs on today’s route with two that stand out as particularly challenging.

The first climb of the day is the Passo Pordoi, a category 1 ascent that is similar to Mountain Lake Road near Blacksburg, Virginia, a climb used as a stage finish in the now defunct Tour DuPont.

Next up on stage 15 is the famous Passo Di San Pellegrino. Although the easier side of the pass is used this year it is still a stiff test. The west side of Colorado’s isolated Slumgullion Pass, located on Route 149 just south of Lake City, Colorado, is very similar although its 11,500 foot summit may have you thinking you misplaced a lung somewhere along the way. The east side of Daggett Pass in Nevada, a spectacular way to get to Lake Tahoe, is also very similar.

The next major climb of the stage is perhaps the day’s most difficult. Passo Di Giau is painfully steep with a consistent grade all the way to the top. This ascent is similar to the middle 6 miles of both New York’s Whiteface Mountain (Adirondacks) and the east side of California’s Shirley Meadows (southern Sierra), and the last 6 miles of Hawaii’s (Big Island) Koloko Drive which rises above Kona.

Right after Giau the riders will tackle Passo Falzarego, the easiest major hill of the stage but not easy, particularly on this day. California’s Tunitas Creek Rd, rising from the Pacific Coast Highway west of San Jose, is very similar in length and grade.

The last climb of stage 15 is the famous Marmolada which will likely be rated as beyond category as today’s stage finish. Similar in difficulty is Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, the road up to the Alta Ski Resort south of Salt Lake City. Although lacking the Marmolada’s steep finishing stretch, Little Cottonwood is consistently steep all the way up between soaring mountain walls. Speaking of that finishing stretch, the average grade over the last 3 miles of the Marmolada is only slightly less than the crushing grade of the entire length of Brasstown Bald in Georgia, although it lacks the large grade variability that the recent Tour of Georgia riders had to battle to reach the top of Brasstown.

Giro d'Italia Stage 16 - Kronplatz
Stage 16 is a mountain time trial up the mighty Kronplatz. Although lacking the unpaved 5km at its end, the west side of the Sierra’s Sonora Pass is quite similar in length and grade (a bit less steep but with a greater maximum grade and grade variability) and one of the most beautiful climbs on earth.

Sonora Pass (west)
Total elevation - 3,354 ft Length - 9.1 miles
Average Grade - 7.1% (21%) Rating - 2.86 (hors/cat 1)

Sonora Pass - California         Photo © 2008 John Summerson

This is a tough and scenic climb that heads east on route 108 through the rugged Sierras. The steepest section comes almost immediately and the first few miles are a long double digit grade. The rest of the climb is variable with steep sections interspersed with several small descents. The final few miles ease a bit as you approach the summit but the entire route is very scenic. This is one of the great American climbs (closed in winter - Stanislaus National Forest - 209 532-3671).

Directions - From Sonora, CA take 108 east for ~50 miles to Dardanelle. Several miles beyond, Kennedy Meadows Campground appears (on the right) where the climb begins.
Facilities - Sonora, CA Airport - Sacramento, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

The Big Mountains of the 2008 Giro d’Italia and Comparable U.S. Ascents
Continues in Part 2 - Stages 19 & 20.

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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