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Legendary cols of Europe: part 3

Which col is the toughest, most famous, most iconic? Opinions vary on that. With the Iconic Cols of Europe scratch map, we are trying to put an end to that discussion. In our humble opinion, these are the 20 most iconic cols, which we have collected on our scratch map.


After part 1 and part 2 we continue with part 3: the numbers 11 to 15 on the map, cols that are mainly situated in Italy:



11. Passo del Mortirolo


In 1990, the infamous Passo Mortirolo was first unleashed on the world during that year's Giro d'Italia.


The scenery on this 12.4km climb in the Italian Alps is not particularly attractive, but its jagged gradient and stretches of up to as much as 20% make it one of the most difficult climbs in the world.


"The Mortirolo is rough, long, steep, murderous. It's the toughest climb I've ever done," pro cyclist Mark Cavendish testified after overcoming this monster during the 2008 Giro.


Passo del Mortirolo (from Mazzo)


Top: 1,852 m

Length: 12.4 km at 10.5 % average

Maximum gradient: 18


12. Passo di Gavia


"The Day the Big Men Cried," was the headline in the well-known Italian sports newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport on 6 June 1988.


This happened the day after the 14th stage of that year's Giro. It was the stage that crossed the mighty Gavia pass in a snowstorm before finishing in Bormio. Many riders in the peloton testified afterwards about their toughest day ever on the bike. Some did not even make it to the finish. But even without a snowstorm, this 16-kilometre epic climb is more than challenging ...


The Gavia is one of the highest mountain roads in Italy and one of the toughest climbs to conquer due to the combination of length, average gradients and altitude difference to overcome.


Passo di Gavia (from Ponte di Legno)


Summit: 2,612 m

Length: 17.3 km at 7.9% average

Maximum gradient: 16

13. Monte Zoncolan


The direct response to the introduction of the brutal Angliru in the Vuelta was the entry of Monte Zoncolan in the Giro d'Italia in 2003. This extremely demanding col simply could not be missing from our scratch map.


By many professional cyclists, the Zoncolan is considered the toughest climb in Europe. Former Giro winner Gilberto Simoni described the climb as follows: "the Zoncolan is like a slow death. The easiest part of the climb is tougher than the toughest cols in the Tour".


Monte Zoncolan (from Ovaro)


Summit: 1,735 m

Length: 10.5 km at 11.5% average

Maximum gradient: 20.3%


14. Passo Giau



The sharp, tooth-like peaks are typical for the Dolomites and Passo Giau is full of them. Also known as 'Monster Giau' and'Mighty Giau', Passo Giau earns its place in the list of toughest climbs in Europe.


Built only in 1986, this infamous Italian mountain pass starts with a kilometre of straight uphill climbing, with no hairpin turns. The toughest part is at the bottom, along the Codalonga River. From there, 29 hairpin bends wind their way to the summit, well above 2,000 metres altitude.


Passo Giau (from Selva di Cadore)


Summit: 2,236 m

Length: 10.1 km at 9.1% average

Maximum gradient: 10.4%

15. Alto de El Angliru


Steep, rock hard and almost impossible to climb in wet conditions. El Angliru is a monster of a climb located in northwest Spain, in the province of Asturias. This is one of the most feared climbs in La Vuelta because of its brutal and extreme gradients.


After about 6 kilometres of climbing, the following sentence is written on the tarmac: "Hell begins here". A sentence that leaves little to the imagination. The entire climb has an average gradient of more than 10% and that for 12.5 kilometres. Figures that need no more explanation....


Alto de El Agliru (from La Vega)


Summit: 1,570 m

Length: 12.6 km at 9.9% average

Maximum gradient: 23.5%



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