The video above is the descent of Monte Crostis, planned for stage 14 of the Giro, the one that finishes on the infamous Zoncolan. I found the video via Italian journalist Alberto Celani.
The climb is hard enough, averaging over 10% for 14km, with an 18% section. Now that’s hard enough but then comes the descent, labelled as “discesa molto tecnica stretta intervallata da numerosi tornati” by the organisers. In plain English that’s a “very technical descent with with numerous bends”.
It’s hard to talk about the numbers, they can seem abstract. Remember riders will be racing full gas. By the time they get to the top most will be in a state of exhaustion and very prone to the cold temperatures. Tired and shivering, reaction times are slowed; sometimes your hands don’t work the brake levers so well.
Press play and you’ll soon notice the netting and even the giant padding in place on the way down. It reminds me of a ski course. These safety measures have been planned for some time but they’ve been reviewed again following Wouter Weylandt’s tragic accident and riders are rightly concerned.
It’s hard to tell from the onboard camera but the road isn’t sealed, it has a gravel surface. As such traction is random in places and a mistake or just bad luck means the netting is required to prevent the riders from serious injury or worse.
Having reviewed the descent, former pro Flavio Vanzella told the Messagero Veneto “A descent of this kind with the works done must be a model for how to organize a bike race. I’ve done 14 grand tours in my career and I’ve never seen such a high attention to safety.” (grateful thanks to Matthew Conn for pointing out this article)
Wet or dry?
Note the weather could be crucial. A dusty track could be looser and harder to ride on, some moisture in the gravel could fix things a bit but it’ll also hamper braking.
A lined crossed?
For me there’s something subtly different. I’m unsure about the use of this road, it seems extreme. It’s right that safety measures are included but it’s very different to see the peaceful Alpine roads suddenly lined with bright netting and padding. Don’t get me wrong, it’s essential. But it marks a subtle shift whereby the great outdoors is turned into a circus show, the race steps from Alpine road into televisual spectacle. This isn’t new but the bright blue nets – complete with sponsoring – and yellow pads are a very obvious contrast to the damp pastures and rocky slopes. It’s almost as if the race isn’t borrowing the landscape but creating it.
Race or ride?
It’s not even certain the race goes ahead. Riders have been talking about a “go slow”, perhaps neutralising the race until the Zoncolan. This remains to be seen and I suspect the weather will influence this.
Hopefully all goes well and that they’ve over-compensated with the netting and padding. Riders are very aware of the dangers and measures are in place to help prevent the worse. All the same just because there is netting, it doesn’t mean the race is safe. The nets don’t fix the loose road surface, the steep gradient or the sharp bends. Smash into the padding at 60km/h and you might not get back up that quickly. But if the Zoncolan is a climb like no other, this is a type of descent rarely seen.