Edited by Albano Marcarini
It is the ascent of those who were used to struggling, not on the bike, but on foot or accompanied by a mule. Those who would come down from the Sila at the beginning of the cold season to return to the villages on the side of Crati, those who would chop wood and drag it down the slope, those who would go up in the summer and return with the sheeps in autumn.
The road, once state road 107 ‘Silana-Crotonese’, then downgraded to provincial, is the main access to the Sila Grande from Cosenza. But the climb that cyclists will face during the seventh stage rolls out on the track of the old state road only in the last part. As a matter of facts up to Spezzano, the route follows another provincial road that goes up the left side of the valley of Caricchio torrent, more densely inhabited. In fact, there are numerous settlements that lean on the western side of the Sila, in an intermediate position to exploit the agricultural resources of the fields and chestnut groves at the bottom, pastures and tall forests at the top.
Along 23.6 km one leaves from elev. 273 m at the Crati valley floor and reaches elev. 1,618 m at the Montescuro pass, gateway to the Sila Grande. It starts along the SP 217 at the exit from the municipal area of Cosenza (3 km from the historic center), where the bridge over the Caricchio torrent is. At the houses of Morelli the road continues as SP 225 with a gradient of 5-6%. A wide, slightly shaded road with accentuated slopes that will not affect the riders, who will certainly tackle the road at a high pace. Going around Magli you can see the Crati valley and the buttresses that support the Sila plateau, verdant in the countryside. Along a ridge that separates two valleys, one can find the inhabited areas of Scalzati, Trenta, Casole Bruzio. After the junction for Pedace, one continues on the SP 225 (direction Sila): with a level crossing one goes beyond the disused Cosenza-S.Giovanni in Fiore railway. You reach the hamlets of Spezzano della Sila (elev. 815 m) where the route, now SP 256, with a hairpin bend (towards Montescuro) stands parallel to the ‘new’ state road 107, which, however, is not affected by the race. The gradient increases: 7-8%. Excellent asphalt, just redone. The hamlets are left behind. One enters the valley of Fiumicello, covered with chestnut trees. At a double hairpin, the gradient peaks at 10%, but it’s only a little taste because one quickly returns to values typical of a plateau. The forest – loricate pines and beech trees – is now thick and continuous, the traffic non-existent. Short hairpin bends alternate with the stretches on the coast.
The Montescuro pass, elev. 1,618 m, is a clearing close to the radio center towards which the road to Monte Botte Donato heads (13 km away), another easy and rewarding destination for a 360-degree view of the Sila Grande. The finish, however, is at the bottom of the descent.
Montescuro has an illustrious past in the history of the Giro, despite its domestic appearances. 1972: Brezhnev and Nixon exchange friendly confidences in Moscow after the signing of the anti-nuclear treaty. The world is at peace, the Giro is not. The main theme of race is the duel between the Belgian and the strong climber Manuel Fuente. The Spaniard has already won on the first ascent, the Blockhaus, the same ascent that saw Merckx present himself to the Italian public for the first time in 1967 and the Belgian does not like this. The seventh stage – 151 km Cosenza-Catanzaro – offers three climbs including Montescuro. A new Iberian exploit is expected but usually around that area one waits until “a las cinco de la tarde”. The “cannibal” doesn’t think so and as soon as he raises the flag of the way he gets up on the pedals. Those who resist him are shot up on the way. In the last meters of the Montescuro the bullfighter Merckx pierces Fuente with a first banderilla, the second one is self-inflicted by the dazed Spaniard himself when he swerves twice downhill. Merckx remains with only Gösta Petterson, to whom Eddy will grant the luxury of victory but not the prestige of the pink jersey that the Belgian champion will keep on until Milan. To Fuente goes the consolation of the primacy in the ranking of the Mountain Grand Prix.