Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

For more information on the Cafes I have visited and the latest cafe cycle news go to http://www.cake-crusader.co.uk/

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Friday, 27 May 2016

My that's steep (Climbing Monte Zoncolan, European mountains cafe search Day 3)

European mountains cafe search
Day 3
For the last day in the mountains I had decided we needed to try something proper steep. Fortunately Monte Zoncolan was only an hours drive away and fitted the bill perfectly. It is considered to be one of, if not the, toughest climb on the professional cycling circuit. It was last used as the final mountain stage in the 2014 Giro Italia (which is like the Tour de France but in Italy).

Monte Zoncolan is about 10km of up at an average gradient of 11% and peaking at about 22% so pretty damn steep. I had obviously forgotten to mention this to cycling guest Andrew (who is notoriously hard to please) as I didn't want to put him off so just told him the bit about it being part of a Giro route as he loves all things Italian, espically cycling.

After yesterday's excursions we decided to just concentrate on doing the climb rather than a rerun of last 71 miles of the 2014 giro stage I had originally planned, as on map below. Once again we took the hire car and drove to the town Tolmezzo about 10 miles from the start of the climb. By now Andrew was aware we were going up something a lot tougher than anything we had tackled before and he was a little nervous about his chances.

As we approached the start we met an Italian cyclist coming the other way. He looked at us and just said "Zoncolan" in a knowing sort of way. We said yes and I took confidence in the fact that he thought we were the type of cyclists who would attempt such a thing.

But then everything changed. We had cycled up through the village covering the first couple of kilometres of the climb (the easy bit) when we reached the foot of the climb proper and there was a red sign saying that Zoncolan pass was closed. Disaster, to think that we had come all this way, trained hard (once) on the steepest hill that Norfolk has to offer and it would be all for nothing. A local saw my despair, and Andrews relief, and said she thought it was closed 6km further up by snow. We agreed, well I did, that we should go at least that far and I set off with Andrew following.

Every half kilometre there is a picture of a famous cyclist that lets you know how far you have gone (the sign not the famous cyclist).
Famous cyclist at 1500m
It was incredibly hard work as the opening section gets up to 20% and doesn't fall much below 16%. Even in my easiest cog it was like pedalling in your hardest gear very slowly. My speedo said that was about 3mph and kept switching off as it thought I had stopped. I could feel my heart pounding and I was sweating for Britain. It took nearly 20 minutes to reach the 1.5km (less that a mile) mark and there was no sign of Andrew behind me. I rounded the hairpin to see nothing but up in front of me at which point my legs went on strike and demanded a rest.
Another steep hairpin
I decided a rest every 1.5km would be in order as I set off crawling up the hill again only for my phone to ring. It was Andrew who told me he had 'dropped his sunglasses' from out of his cycle shirt and would be going back to look for them. He also said it was just too hard and he was making no progress, pedalling squares, so he would wait at the bottom. This was a a shame as I had been looking forward to him getting to the top so I could point out how much longer it had taken him to ride up than me. However I decided to press on in the same manor as before until I got to Eddy Marx at 3km.
Eddy Merckx at near halfway
According to the lady at the bottom I was half way to where the road was closed (although she had been wrong) and set off again. The gradient was relentless and never dropped below what we had considered the very steepest bits on the previous rides this week. However as I gained height, quickly, the views were spectacular.
One of many spectacular views
Occasionally I was passed by motor bikes going up, and occasionally cyclists, bikers or even small cars coming down. You knew if a car was coming as you could smell the burnt brake rubber before your heard or saw it.

I eventually got to the 6km mark with still no sign of snow so I kept going before reaching some tunnels where there was snow piled up on either side of the road but it was still clear.
I did find the snow but not enough to close the road
Once through the final tunnel I could see clear road all the way to the top and cycled up the last few iconic twists with renewed vigour.
The iconic last few bends
And then I had made it. A nice German biker kindly took a celebratory photo for me and I immediately sent it to Andrew to rub it in, I mean let him know I was at the top and ready to descend.
Rare smile as I made it to the top
As the path was in very good condition then, despite its steepness, the way down was less hairy than a lot of my descending efforts. Once off the main climb I once again met Andrew coming up from the village to met me. I wanted to be sensitive and therefore agreed with him that he had been right to turn back (he hadn't), it was an order of magnitude harder than anything we had done before (it was), that you learn more about yourself in failure than triumph (you don't) etc, etc, blah, blah, yawn, yawn. After half an hour of his justification nonsense I was in desperate need of a cafe stop and review so we went to the first one we came across.
Outside cafe in nearby village
Being on the side of a busy road it was never going to challenge for the title of best cafe anywhere in Europe which had changed hands only yesterday however they did do an excellent hot chocolate and the pasta with wild boar was just what I needed but sadly no cake was available. It was still a pretty good cafe offering.
Excellent hot chocolate
To make up for the lack of cycling I had delivered for Andrew today we worked out a scenic route back to the car which once again took in some excellent views so thanks to a final bit of getting lost the day had still been a 40 mile ride (for some of us).
Final dramatic view on the trip
Once home it was straight to the excellent local cake shop, which is less than 100 metres from the apartment, for celebration cake. 
my cake reward
I had finished mine when Andrew said he was full and I could have the other half of his, which I gratefully took. It was now becoming clear why he had failed to make the climb, he simply doesn't eat enough cake.

Route we planned to do including up Zoncolon

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