The climb to Piancavallo comes at the end of a four-star, very demanding, stage. Before reaching the finish line (elev. 1290 m) among the compounds of one of the first new generation ski resorts in Friuli, the riders will have to face the Sella Chianzutan (elev. 955), the Forcella di Monte Rest (elev. 1060), the Forcella di Priuso (elev. 664) and the Forcella di Pala Barzana (elev. 840). After 168 km, in Aviano, there begins the final ramp on the pre-Alpine balcony dominating the Friuli plain.
The ascent of Piancavallo was awarded the title of ‘Mountain Pantani’, in memory of the “Pirate” who in the 14th stage of the 1998 Giro, from Schio to Piancavallo, left behind all his opponents and, in particular Alex Zülle and Pavel Tonkov, his main competitors for the pink jersey. He won the stage, as he was used to, alone.
Measured from the junction with the SP 29, the climb has a length of 14.5 km, an elevation gain of 1,331 meters and an average gradient of 7.8%, which should not be underestimated. The most demanding sections begin already after the first kilometre with gradients very close to 10%. If you give it all right away, then you could pay up later. The wise cyclotourist, who will want to get to the top to enjoy his heroes passing by, will have to save his energy and give everything in the end, in the last 4 kilometers, when the gradient decreases (6.3% on average) and one can pull down several teeth on the rear pinion. To begin with, a trained cyclist can adopt a 34×26/28T but certainly the Giro riders, at least those who aspire to victory, will put higher gears.
But let’s proceed in order. The provincial road 29 ‘Pedemontana’ parades over the houses of Aviano. At the marker of km 14/VI, the consortium road for Piancavallo branches off towards the mountain. A sign indicates the absence of petrol stations going forward: it’s useful information, yet a superfluous recommendation for a cyclist that should have fuels in his legs already! The road, one lane in each direction, immediately shows its aggressive nature; there are long stretches that do not comfort the spirit. If anything, the souls sensitive to the beauty can find relief in the view of the Friuli plain, over the “magredi” of the Meduna and Tagliamento. In any case, for at least 6 km, the gradient will never drop below 8%, with a peak of 14%, at km 5.4! The hairpin bends of the middle section of the climb, the most demanding one, begin just before km 4. There is no shade. The cliffs show a whitish limestone crust, otherwise covered by a dry and coppice bush. The eighth hairpin bend at km 6 looks nice, suspended on the plain with very deep horizons, up to the Julian Prealps.
At an elevation of 780 meters, after the maximum gradient peak, one meets the Bornass Lodge, an ideal break for those with different intentions than winning the stage. Shortly after km 10, on a bare ridge, one reaches the crossroad with the “antennas”, as they are familiarly called by local cyclists. It is a decisive point since the road, for about 1.5 km, allows to catch one’s breath and recover. The last stretch, where we return to gradients of 6-7%, extends into the Stua Valley in an alpine landscape, in a beech forest. Two last bends announce the entry into Piancavallo (elev. 1290), the “snow citadel” that was created out of nothing in the last quarter of the last century.