My next blog was going to be about cheese, all the different types of ‘drunk’ cheese as the Italians like to put it. Amarone and other local wine flavours make for a pleasant cheese tasting experience, with a variety of ‘mostarde’ or pickled fruits to accompany them.
But writing about cheese seems to be a bit boring compared to what happened to me yesterday on a tour reconnaissance ride to the lake. Day 2 is from Verona to San Zeno di Montagne (and back), our scenic lunch stop at il Giardinetto, via Bardolino is a truly magnificent introduction to what the western province of Verona is all about, Valpolicella, Lago di Garda and Mountains.
The day before I had an idea to check out a different way up to San Zeno and Lumini, 25km further on from Torre del Benaco (and 60km into the ride) where the normal turning is for Albisano and the direction for lunch (700m above the lake). Having a GPS definitely opens up all sorts of cycling adventures, and even though I had checked out the roads on the map I hadn’t plotted a set route up through Assenza di Brenzone, which was the first ‘situation’ I found myself in, while roasting in 38degrees of lunch time heat. I quickly filled up on ice-cold liquids at a local resort shop.
Looking at my garmin, the first set of turns were almost complete, but I had no idea how long I had taken, half an hour maybe already? My head was fixed to the floor, as looking up the road was psychologically crushing…..until I spotted a fellow rider, walking his bike up in semi-naked fashion, possibly an unwitting German holiday maker decided to ruin his peaceful day sunning himself on the lakefront by beasting himself on this brutal climb. ‘Sick!’ was his only retort to my observation of this climb. I was starting to put two and two together, but I came up with 5! 5km written on the road, to what?
More big names passed under my wheel and then I caught a glimpse of the sign post on the side of the road. PUNTA VELENO, Arrivo 5km, 16.9%. Ok so now it all made sense, I had heard about the Punta Veleno, otherwise known as the ‘Poison Point’ in English. I knew it was in the Garda area somewhere. Basically I randomly found one of the toughest climbs in the whole of Italy on a scorching hot day. But, I didn’t want to give in so early like my fellow German holidaymaker, with this new information I wasn’t going to let this climb beat me, although it was doing a great job already.
After a certain point on any tough climb there is no turning back, its like its not classed as an attempt if you turn back in the first 1km or something. But this climb could get you into a lot of trouble if you aren’t ready for it. Dropping back down would mean an added couple of hours to my route and a morally crushing defeat. Seeing close to 17% gradient written on the signs didn’t help either, as clearly that was the average and it wasn’t relenting. I had done the Mortirolo last year, definitely hard, but not as extreme as this Punta Veleno. Another kilometre on and the sign was still saying 16%. With 19 numbered switchbacks, and distance to the apparent finish sprayed onto the road, you can calculate how much pain is left- and dealing with that is the hardest part. The switch backs temporarily stopped after 9/10 and my Garmin showed me a straight line, surely a respite? I remember doing the Autumn Epic in Wales years ago, having something similar to this section, approximately 800m straight and a uniform 16% steepness to contend with, but I couldn’t believe how even a motorcar could scale this rock. I don’t think as single vehicle came past me on the whole climb.
I only looked up a couple of times on the 1km stretch of straight road, to spot the next corner and take a breather and almost a third of my remaining liquid (which could turn into a real problem on a such a hot day). Its funny how the corner holds only a small flat section as the road changes direction. It was a huge relief, with an unknown 3km still to go I pushed on, slowly. On the last of the switchbacks the gradient started to diminish as I kept an eye out for the road markers, there was even one saying 13% but it didn’t feel like it. By now being closer to the top everything felt hard until there was an 11% section and the last of the turns were just behind me. Another 16%er made sure I knew who was in control that day. It was a huge relief to make it up, and the road flattened off nicely as it corniced around the spectacular view of the ravine looking high above the lake. One last push through the Malga Zovel and the cows at Prada Alta made sure I had reached 1156m and the end of the Punta Veleno.
Typically a once-in-a-lifetime type climb, not something you would go back again and again for. This climb is all about survival unless you weigh under 60kilos. Such as the likes of Pozzovivo, who claimed victory on the Punta Veleno in April during the 2012 Giro del Trentino, the rest of the field were blown apart (video here).
Officially the profile of this climb is ‘One of the toughest (at least as hard as Monte Zoncolan and the Passo Mortirolo) in Italy with breathtaking views. For 7 kilometres (between 2-9) the average gradient is 15% and reaches over 20% at many points’
I recommend any light-weight climbers to attempt this brute of a climb. Although be warned it really has a nasty sting in its tail, and was the hardest ascent I have every done in Italy, and will be excellent preparation for Monte Zoncolan in 2015! Please check-out our self-guided route which includes this as part of a full-day itinerary.
Stats: Punta Veleno 10km length, 1081 metres climbing
START – Assenza di Brenzone – 75 metres
FINISH – Prada Alta – 1156 metres
Average gradient 10,8% (clearly misleading)
Max gradient 20%