The Mortirolo in the Italian Alps and the Angliru in Asturias Spain are said to be 2 of the toughest climbs in the Pro Cycling Calendar. In 2017 & 2018 I rode both these two climbs, in 2019 I plan to complete the hat-rick by conquering the Zoncolan….hopefully. Here are the statistics for the two climbs
As you can see from the stats they appear to be very similar but the reality was some what different!
I rode the Mortirolo from the village of Mazzo in August 2017, this side of the climb is infamous with the Pantini monument about 8km from the top. As you leave the village of Mazzo the first switchback is numbered, No.33! Not sure what this meant I soon realised that this was the countdown of switchbacks to the top of the climb. Instantly you are into a steep relentless climb. My bike gearing of 52/36 semi compact and 29/11 rear cassette was, for me, woefully inadequate. I can not remember how many time I double and triple checked that I was in the lowest gear. How I wished for one more easier cog. I completed 2/3rds of the climb out of the saddle and only sat down to rest when the gradient came down below 10%. I cursed the numbered switchbacks as I did not know if it was 200m or 2km to the next. I recall that riding between numbers 8 & 7 took forever. At that point in August 2017 I could not recall sweating so much on a climb or how hard I had to battle both physically and mentally to keep the wheels turning but I did make it to the top in 1hr 26minutes. This included a brief stop at the Pantini monument for photos. All in all a tough climb and a reasonably enjoyable descent.
I rode the Angliru from the village of Santa Cristina in June 2018. This was definitely a ride of two halves, split time 27/54minutes, total time taken 1hr 21 minutes. As you leave the village the first 6km are enjoyable with an average gradient of 6% I began to wonder what the fuss was about but also began to contemplate how much I was going to suffer on the second half of the climb! On the Angliru there are no numbered switchbacks, hurray!! However, the kilometre markers displayed the average and maximum gradients for the following kilometre…….boooo!!! After a small dip in the road around the half way mark the second half began with a real kick to the legs and lungs. The average gradient on the 2nd half is 13.1% with many ramps kicking up to 20%, 22% and maxing out with a brutal 23.5% around 9.5km into the climb. At this point I confess I had to stop, probably one of the only times I have ever stopped on a climb. I physically could not turn the pedals anymore and thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest! Perhaps after riding the Mortirolo in 2017 I should have learnt my lesson about gearing but no….in the fairness of seeing which climb was the toughest I stuck with the same gearing 52/36 & 29/11!! The top half of the climb was in the clouds, misty and the roads were wet and even though it was June there was still snow on the sides of the road. After stopping I had to walk 200m to where the road was only 18% gradient so I could start riding again!! Fair to say the last 6km of the climb was horrendously difficult, however, I did eventually make it to the top! The Angliru is, to date, the toughest most brutal climb I have ever done & the scariest descent too!! If I could have pulled the brake levers back past the handle bars on the way down I think I would have!!
For me the real test is on reflection. Would I ride either of these climbs again? Mortirolo, definitely yes! Angliru…… ask me again in another 6 months!!
There are climbs that hurt and there are climbs that take you to a new world of suffering and then there is the Angliru!!
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