“I just need a sunny day.”
Mr. Alighiero Omicioli’s words are in my mind while I drive to Frontone, at the base of the Catria. Omicioli, who was responsible for bringing the Giro stage finish to his hometown of Saltara, shared his hopes with me earlier this spring, and I shared them with Pez readers in my first report on the Stage 7 route, last month.
I’ve come back to finish my reconnaissance of Stage 7 by attempting the Catria climb. Today is a wonderful day. My legs are not ready for such climb, I know, but I will rest sometimes, using the handy excuse to take pictures. With one dose of courage and one of luck I will be on the top before lunchtime.
First Journalistic Ascent Attempted
I’ve heard many rumours concerning this mountain, lost in the middle of the Apennines. Some tell me they are sure that there are no dirt roads on this climb, someone else talked about a few hundred meters of dirt, while Mr. Omicioli (who should know!) spoke about 5 km of dirt …
One kilometer into the climb and the view opens to a yellow field with a view to the top of the Catria. The road is narrow and almost flat … where is this terrible Catria?
During the winter, the climb is closed to traffic because of snow. An Italian cycling magazine was here in March, and Ivan Basso came, too, but in both cases they were stopped by the ice and snow. So I expect to be one of the first to try the route this year, and, as far as we know Pezcycling.com will be the first to report about the first important climb of this year’s Giro.
After few kilometers of warm-up, I arrive in the village of Buonconsiglio, which is just two or three houses on the road. A small bar calls me in for the usual coffee and I notice a new sign: “You are on the Giro d’Italia route”.
A hundred meters farther there’s another sign: “Buonconsiglio Catria closed”. It will be closed just for the cars … I hope.
• After 3 km, the slope is still low, about 5 %, as the road makes its way through a small canyon.
Company Joins Misery
In a while I reach the “Fonte Mandrale.” This is where the ugly side of the Catria shows its face. I come to the gate blocking the road to auto traffic. It’s my moment, a new adventure to live.
I meet a guy there at the gate, with a mountain bike, having a drink at the edge of the road. “Hey man, let’s go together,” he says. I take a picture and we start the climb.
From the fourth until the seventh kilometer, we meet many terrible passages.
• This part of the climb starts with two consecutive sharp turns that lead to a first section with passages over 15%. Another turn and another very difficult section. Another one and the monster is in front of us…
Counting Down the Turns and the Kilos …
I start to lose concentration, the front wheel jumps like crazy, 39×29 is not enough for me but I resist and I arrive with my new friend at the 6th turn…
The slope slackens to less than 10% and we come back to life, but just for a while because the 6th kilometer is not better than the last two but, finally at the 7th turn the worst part of the climb is really completed…
Alessio, who’s the guy suffering with me, lives nearby in Frontone so he knows the Catria very well, so when he shows me where we have to go..
…I have a moment of real panic. One kilometer more and we find a sort of valley. The fields around are covered by flowers and the air starts to be cold.
• This is Valpiana here the dirt road begins and we start another kind of climb.
Alessio now leads me while I look at the left side of the mountain. There is still some snow at the top, but not much. I think it should not be a problem, remembering the mud of the Colle delle Finestre last year.
• The road is very well paved but I proceed carefully. After one kilometer, we enter the forest and the climb starts again to be difficult.
• Two kilometres, and we find another barrier and a big machine parked on the left side of the road – they are working hard for the Giro. Again we enter the forest for other two kilometres. The slope is always less than 10%. It’s unbelievable the silence of the gray forest. All around, there are just trees and the mountain.
The pros here will use the 19 or 21 cogs. At the end of the dirt road, we finally find the snow…
… that increases after another kilometre. But the top is near and we start to joke about the two hours we’ve spent together.
I would like to come back up the hill over Saltara once again before the stage day. Just me and my bike. Not for a test, not for any evaluation. I would like to see the top of the Catria in the late afternoon, and to find the blue of the Adriatic on the opposite side. This is the cycling I love: the countryside in the evening, the smell of smoke, the last light from the western skyline, the lonely road between the fields passing through small villages with something new to visit. A church hidden between the trees or an old tree at the side of the road.
Cycling arrived in the remote countries of Europe one hundred years ago. Then, the people in the tiny villages dreamed of discovering the world outside their village. It was only possible to visit that world in books or by listening to the stories of the riders after the race.
Today we are the children of that life. We connect different cultures and different dreams. But for us the dream is just one: A bike, a road, a climb. For us, that is the road back. That’s why the dirt road of the Catria gives us the shivers.
– Stay tuned to Pez for tomorrow’s final look at Stage 7 and the Cesane climb…