Distance: 20.3 miles. Elevation: 3840 ft.
For today’s ride to the Colle dell’Agnello, the weather forecast, once agan, was predicting all kinds of doom, including thunder, rain and high winds. I set off earlyish at just after 10 am. The air was cool and there was a northerly gusty headwind. I wore a base layer, arm warmers and snood, with my rain jacket available for later, stuffed into an old topless bidon.
In contrast to recent surprises, I knew that this climb was steep for most of the way, so I used my GT Grade for its lower gear ratios and disk brakes for the descent.
The first mile past the lake is virtually flat. That’s followed by an increasingly steep ramp out of Maddalena for about another mile, and then a fairly easy couple of miles to the last village on the route, Chianale.
Half a mile beyond Chianale comes the first switchback. And that’s where it starts. From that point to the top it’s six miles at well over 10% average gradient, with sections of up to 15%.
Barely a couple of minutes into the climb I had to stop for a photo op. A marmot, right near the edge of the road, seemed to freeze, on its hind legs, a bit like a meerkat , so I slowly got my camera out and managed to get a photo before he scampered away.
The road climbed steeply. The 11% turned into a section of 14% just after the photo above. A couple cycled past me as I stopped to get the photo. The first one quipped in Italian something about the fact that they had electric bikes.
The gusty headwind didn’t help, although I’m glad it wasn’t a hot day. In fact it was pretty chilly, but the constant effort ensured I wouldn’t get cold. All the way up the climb the marmots’ shrill calls could be heard echoing off the rocks. I saw more marmots on this ride than I’ve ever seen before.
Reading about this climb beforehand, I was under the impression that it would be a fairly constant 10%, like the forest section on Mont Ventoux. But it’s not. There are flatter sections and even a downhill stretch thrown in for good measure. While this is useful for recovery, it means that there are steep parts to make up the average. I was trying to take it as steady as possible. Even on the easy bits I was trying to keep to the same pace. I concentrated on my breathing on the long steep slogs, trying to make sure I breathed fully out and inhaled deeply to keep the oxygen levels up, especially when the altitude climbed above 2000m. I was using abdominal breathing as usual.
The steep gradients never really let up. There is a half-mile 11% ramp up to the final hairpin. There were a couple of strong, cold wind gusts on that last bit before the col. As I approached that final bend I thought ‘please let the gradient ease’, and it did. The remaining couple of hundred metres at 6% got me to the top.
I put my rain jacket and arm warmers on, to shield myself from the cold wind. I was going to go straight back down, but I saw a guy tucking into his baguette and I thought that’s a good idea. So I sat by the Scarponi sculpture and ate my CST sandwich. There were several groups of people up there milling around – mainly bikers, but also cyclists and walkers.
After a few more photos I started to wend my way back down.
Needless to say, I kept stopping for more photos. It was a lovely descent with a good road surface, but really too steep to completely let go of the brakes, except on a couple of the straighter sections.
Still the marmots were calling to each other.
Even though the road layout on the Colle del Nivolet was more special, this, the Colle dell’Agnello, has the more dramatic mountain scenery. It’s probably the best I’ve seen. I was running out of superlatives in my head as I tried to mentally evaluate the experience.
Once again, I’d been an early bird on this ride. Lots of riders were making the climb as I descended. And once again I was right to have ignored the weather forecast. As can be seen, it was a glorious day.
The Colle dell’Agnello is definitely one of my favourite climbs, scenery-wise..