The Cippo di Carpegna, where the spirit of Marco Pantani still lives free

To tackle the Cippo, one must first reach Carpegna. A place that for many locals represents the first taste of the mountains close to home. People come here on Sundays for trekking or to search for the first snow of winter with their children. On the meadows of Carpegna, we have all had our first picnics and sought refuge from the scorching days when even the beach is not enough to fight the heat.

Only those who become cyclists, however, learn that near this charming town that makes the mountains “within reach,” there is a climb that is anything but reassuring and is not accessible to everyone. It takes strength and breath to ascend the 6 kilometers of hairpin bends on this grueling stretch, but above all, it takes heart.

The heart to throw oneself beyond the obstacle, as they say, not allowing oneself to be frightened by those first two kilometers at 16% gradient that seem strategically placed there to make a selection.

The heart beats strongly from exertion but also from the emotion when entering the shady woods that lead to the summit. Here, even in the height of summer, the air is cool, which barely reassures us as we wonder what awaits us further and what mess we have gotten ourselves into.

This brutal climb seems to take to the extreme the type of ascents that characterize our region. Short, intense, and steep. We are not people for long gradual slopes. We push hard on the flat until the start of the climb, maybe in a group, lending a hand to cover the kilometers, and then we bid farewell at the beginning of the ascent because here, everyone is on their own. Even if we climb together, even if we wait for each other for the customary photo at the top, on the Carpegna climb, as Marco Pantani used to say, “the only thing you can hear is your heartbeat”.

Yes, because this was THE climb par excellence for Il Panta. From its Cesenatico, Marco would ride into the hinterland, crossing all the hills of Romagna to reach here, on the border with the Marche region, where he would test himself and find his bearings, measuring himself against the hairpin turns of the Cippo. A climb that suited him, and he didn’t need to train too far from home to be ready to face the “monster” climbs of the Giro and the Tour. “Carpegna is enough for me,” he used to say. And his victories proved him right.

So, if we are alone in the effort of the ascent, Marco’s spirit is more present and alive than ever on this road where he left so much sweat. We climb 667 meters in altitude, with an average gradient of 10%. It’s a climb that makes us understand another of Marco’s memorable quotes: “I go fast uphill to shorten my agony.” And indeed, it is a bittersweet agony that we inflict upon ourselves as we ascend the Cippo di Carpegna: a sort of pilgrimage that a cyclist from Romagna undertakes at least once a year to pay homage to Marco and to cycling itself.

Here, we climb slowly, standing on the pedals, savouring each stroke, conquering one meter after another. And when we reach the top, waiting for us is Marco himself, portrayed in the pink jersey, under that sky finally wide open above us, which we have managed to conquer.

One cannot fully understand the spirit of cycling in Romagna without touching that sky, the “pirate’s sky”. And once we have conquered what today, in homage to Marco, is called the “Marco Pantani Pass,” the emotion will be huge and unforgettable. We like to think that what makes this climb so unique and memorable is Marco himself, who chose to return here, where he certainly felt at home. Where he certainly felt free and happy.

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