Sicily

Etna, challenges the volcano

Start

Zafferana Etnea (CT)

Finish

Sapienza Shelter

Difficulty

High

Distance

18 km

Maximum altitude

1921 m

Average gradient

7.2%

Maximum gradient

11%

Vertical climb

1305 m

With its 3,340 metres, Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe and in addition to its attractive landscape and suitability for hiking, it is also of great interest to cyclists, with a number of opportunities for uphill cycling.

We are at the end of April and the weather is ideal for tackling the challenging climb up to 1,900 metres at the Sapienza Shelter from Zafferana Etnea (CT). Later in the season, the heat often becomes unbearable.

There are actually four different sides you can take for the climb, as well as a dense network of trails that cut across the mountain slopes, but for today’s outing with the usual bunch, we have chosen the most challenging solution The climb is 18 km long, and we are going to take it on at the end of a ride around the volcano: an almost perfect ring of 120 km with a long series of ups-and-downs, finishing with the uphill climb to the shelter and back.

We may be fit, but it’s still going to be challenge.
Comfort “over 100”

Sleek, polished bike: derailleur and brakes just adjusted, brand new tyres and brand new saddle It’s never usually a good idea to change your saddle before a long ride, but here we are on the safe side, with the Novus Superflow Endurance by Selle Italia. The special padding and the particular design, with the central cut-out that runs the length of the saddle, makes it comfortable even after a number of kilometres.

For this occasion we have put our SLR Tekno on hold: a real hi-tech masterpiece also by Selle Italia, which is perhaps a bit too racy for such a rough and challenging route. There will be other occasions when its amazing lightness will again be useful. Here we are better off focusing on comfort.

 

The big uphill

Going back to our tour, we start off from Zafferana Etnea towards Nicolosi, riding around the mountain in a clockwise direction and passing through Belpasso, Adrano, Bronte, Randazzo, Linguaglossa and finally Milo, with a final descent back to Zafferana, where we attack the climb up to Sapienza.

The route winds through an unceasingly rugged and outstandingly beautiful landscape with really intense colours and scents, including the bright green of the orange groves to the deep black of the lava flows, but the ascent from Zafferana merits a brief description of its own.

From 600 m you reach 1,900 m with a vertical climb of at least 1,300 m. The average slope exceeds 7%, with peaks of 10%.

Apart from the uphill climb, though, it is the ruined road surface that causes most trouble. As regards the gears, I personally used only the last 2 pinions (23 and 26) with 34 in front, of course.

At the start, the road climbs up through the woods, then comes out into wide lava expanses. Striking. Particularly after the panoramic stopping point at 1,400 m, we continue on towards the shelter, tackling a spectacular series of hairpin bends carved into the lava flow.
The last few km are really challenging, and at this point, almost on our knees at death’s door, with no strength left to stand up on the pedals, the Novus Superflow gave us that extra spurt helping us to relaunch our efforts sitting down and pushing comfortably through the easier gears without moving from the saddle.

Once we reached the shelter, the view was beyond description, but wet with sweat as we were, it was better not to hang around in the crisp air at almost 2000 metres. Covering up is a must going downhill.

Ah, a nice note to end on: the whole route is served by a myriad of fresh water fountains.

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