by Albano Marcarini

How much cursing does it take to climb the Barbotto? How many swears to the Madonnas and all the Saints? Not even Strava can tell you. I have seen things … I have seen CEOs get off the bike and cry on the roadside. I have seen Veterans (or Veterinarians) of the road regret the Mortirolo. I have seen people leave sweat lines on the asphalt like a pierced radiator. I have seen a friend of mine and then I have never him again.

Yes, because this climb for tramps, miserable and ragged, comes unexpected to everybody. With the exception of those who, wisely, still look at the maps of the Touring Club Italiano (and not Google maps) before going out on the bike.

Out there, in that corner of Romagna, there is no flat land, nor are there mountains. There should be what the good guidebooks call «a gentle and wavy landscape», charming I would add. No peaks, but an easy pace with some heavier pedal strokes here and there. In fact, it’s not like that. Once arrived in Mercato Saraceno, a quiet little town that would not make one think, as expected, of bloody barbarian assaults with a sword, here comes the blade getting into the thighs, completely unannounced, instead. The first curves start already hard, above 10%, then, after passing the cemetery (perhaps it is a sign!), they get back to easier levels (6-7%). The road is wide (5-6 m), but not so much shaded like many others on the Apennines. It overpasses the E45 freeway, which tears up the mountains like all modern roads. Then there are straight stretches between the fields. It’s the classic roads that seem to be trimming the sky – rather than a net slope they face a convex ridge whose end cannot be seen.

It’s an all Apennine curse. When you are in front of the Stelvio, you see it well in front of you, it will be tough but at least you know where your goal is! No habited areas, only some farmhouses, like the Colonnata in a countryside that seems drowned in a liquefied racing afternoon. Under the slope of M. Spelano, 3.5 km from the start, a disturbing sign announces a stretch with a gradient of 14%, which is tamed with five hairpin bends. It is the most difficult bit, where, right before the 4 km sign, the gradient reaches a peak of 18% for about 200 meters. The rest never goes below 10% until the end, at 515 meters of elevation, watershed between the Savio and Usso valleys.

At the top one meets the SP 11: to the right it heads to Perticara (7.2 km); to the left it reaches Sogliano al Rubicone (12.8 km). The cozy Barbotto restaurant, with outdoor tables, is helpful to recover from the effort.

As it is universally known, the ascent of Barbotto is included in the veteran Gran Fondo Nove Colli. «A mix of scenic beauty, sweat and effort», as the headline of the dedicated website says, that every year brings thousands of participants together. The track, very demanding, rolls out along a series of short yet tough or very tough ascents. The Barbotto is the fourth of these, after the Ciola (elev. 565 m) and before the Monte Tiffi (elev. 394 m). Suggested gears: 34/24 or 34/26. A note that can please those who will conquer the Barbotto: included in the 1973 edition of the Giro, Eddy Merckx passed through the top in first position.

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