1) Passo della Sambuca
Though the tour is not a long one (10.7 km), it is a difficult one. The challenging climb (624 metres in height), the noteworthy average gradient (5.8%), the want of breaks in which to “catch our breath” and the stretches of road that climb at a gradient of more than 10% make the Sambuca a mountain pass that must be taken very seriously and met only if in excellent physical condition. We suggest a 39/25 inch gear, or 39/23 for expert cyclists. Traffic along the route is scarce but the road surface is in terrible condition. The climb is rarely in the shade and often upwind. There are no water fountains to be found past the first kilometre. The average time it takes an amateur cyclist goes from 45 to 55 minutes, while an excursionist may take from 1 hour and 5 minutes to 1’15”.
The Sambuca Pass is possibly the “prince” of all the Mugello passes. Not to belittle the other passes, but an Apennine climber “must” conquer the Passo di Sambuca from the Palazzuolo side of the mountain at least once in his life. It is the highest mountain pass (1,061 m.a.s.l.) of the ten here suggested and the one with the highest average gradient (5.8%), but mostly it is the most breathtaking and evocative.
The tour leaves from Palazzuolo sul Senio. Once past the bridge by the same name, for a kilometre or so, the road is level and there are a couple of water fountains. At Quadalto the road starts to climb gently until the Madonna delle Nevi Sanctuary (1.6 km) where the real ascent begins. For 9 kilometres the road will climb a height of 600 metres without a single break.
At first the road moves straight on climbing regularly, but at 3.7 kilometres from the start we find a series of bends. These curves present some of the most challenging climbs of the tour with gradients of sometimes more than 10%. At about half way up the climb (Maestà dell Valli, 5.7 km, 749 m.a.s.l) the landscape opens before us onto the breathtaking Fosso dell’Aghezzone and Fosso delle Lozzole valleys below. The steepness of the slope, however, does not change and is made more challenging by the patchy road surface.
The road begins to wind again and we cycle by striking ridges of rock until we reach a mountain pass (9.8 km) and a rock spike with a cross from which we can look out onto this side of the Apennine and Romagna. We have, at this point, tackled the greatest part of the course, even though the last 900 metres of road are not level. At 10.7 kilometres we find a road sign for the Passo di Sambuca at 1,061 metres above sea level.