The Most Challenging Climbs at the 2021 Giro d'Italia

The Giro d’Italia is known for many things: stunning scenery, the colour pink and perhaps most of all, absurdly steep climbs. As ever, the 2021 edition features some of the most challenging climbs in Italy.

The Giro d’Italia is known for many things: stunning scenery, the colour pink and perhaps most of all, absurdly steep climbs. As ever, the 2021 edition features some of the most challenging climbs in Italy.

Monte Zoncolan - Stage 14

The famous steep tunnel on the Monte Zoncolan (Image credit: Offside - IPP)

First ridden in 2003, the Monte Zoncolan has quickly become one of the most revered and popular climbs at the Giro — it will be ascended for the seventh time since its induction this year on stage 14.

Giro d'Italia 2021 Guide

The climb is around 14km in length, so it's not the longest climb in the world. However, the first 10km are a leg-sapping 8% gradient. After a short ‘break’, at just under 5%, the final few kilometres reach ludicrous percentages which make even the purest of climbers shudder. At it's steepest, the Zoncolan maxes out at 27%.

The previous winner at the top of the Zoncolan was Chris Froome in 2018. That was Froome’s first career win at the Giro d’Italia and catapulted him into the GC conversation, a race he eventually won in stunning fashion following one of the most spectacular solo breakaways in Giro history.

Other former winners on the revered Zoncolan include Michael Rogers, Gilberto Simoni — the only double winner on the Zoncolan — and Ivan Basso, who sits in the team car for Eolo-Kometa at the 2021 race 11 years after he celebrated riding to the top first.

Read – The Zoncolan: The Giro's most feared climb

Passo Pordoi - Stage 16

The Fausto Coppi Memorial atop the Passo Pordoi (Image credit: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The ‘Cima Coppi’ of the 2021 Giro d’Italia. This is awarded to the highest peak of the Giro d’Italia each year and is named after five-time winner Fausto Coppi. This is the fourteenth occasion the Passo Pordoi has been the Cima Coppi.

Located in the Dolomites, the Passo Pordoi is a Giro regular after it was first introduced in 1940. Since then it’s been crossed on more than 40 occasions. Despite its incredible altitude — the pass tops out at 2239 metres above sea level — it is often utilised early on in stages rather than the finishing climb.

The Pordoi is famous for the Fausto Coppi memorial which can be found at its summit. 

The previous winner of a stage featuring the pass was Tejay van Garderen, he outsprinted Mikel Landa on stage 18 of the 2017 Giro d’Italia. The victory is Van Garderen’s sole win on Italian soil and his only Grand Tour stage victory, though he could add to that at the Giro this year riding for EF Education-Nippo.

Sega di Ala - Stage 17

The Sega di Ala is one the more unknown climbs on the 2021 Giro d’Italia route — it has never been ascended at the Giro before. However, that doesn’t mean it should be underestimated in any sense.

The ascent is absurdly steep. The first 6km average over 10% and after a short section at 7.5%, the next few km average a punishing 12%. If any of the 2021 GC contenders are having an off-day here, the Giro d’Italia will without question slip from their grasp.

Although it's never been raced at the Giro before, we can look to the Tour of the Alps where the race concluded on the Sega di Ala in 2013. Vincenzo Nibali won that day when riding for Astana. Notably, the top 10 riders were separated by over two minutes with a further two minutes between 10th and 20th on the stage. Considering the absurd percentages, we can expect the Sega di Ala to deliver time gaps of a similar nature at the Giro this year.

Passo Fedaia - Stage 16

The lower slopes of the Fedaia rise through a narrow gorge (Image credit: Tim De Waele via Getty Images

The Passo Fedaia is ridden on stage 16 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia and is one of the iconic Giro climbs. When analysing its gradients it’s easy to see why.

The climb is 14km in length where the first half of the climb averages just under 6%. This changes very quickly, though. The final 5km average well over 10% with a max gradient of 18% which provides the perfect opportunity for the strongest to put their rivals into the red.

The Passo Fedaia featured on the 2011 edition of the Giro and it was Mikel Nieve who won solo on stage 15 which featured the ascent. Like the Passo Pordoi, the Passo Fedaia is rarely used as a final ascent. Instead, it’s a chance for an early attack which can blow up the race due to it's leg-draining gradients which increase to its peak.

Cover image: Offside - IPP

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