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Cyclists are like mountain climbers. They like to ascend through the thin air of mythic climbs to reach the summit. It’s nothing short of a primordial desire it seems, but one that’s within every cyclist’s capabilities, little matter what their personal climbing skills may be. And on the Italian island of Sicily, cyclists love to venture to the historic hilltop village of Taormina.

Taormina has always managed to keep itself at the center of attention. Its magnificent outdoor theatre was first built by the Ancient Greeks when their civilization dominated the Mediterranean Sea, and was later updated by the Romans. A favored spot by the German writer Goethe, the town has always held a cherished spot on the island, witnessed again in May this year when the leaders of the G7 countries came here for their annual summit.

And when a pair of the new Zipp 454 NSW carbon clinchers arrived in Sicily this past spring, it was only natural to give them a run up to Taormina. “I had to ride the climb,” says Thomas, our local test rider. “The fortress city of Taormina is to Sicily what Monaco is to France, except there is no monarch and the atmosphere is more laid back. That said, the climb to Taormina is not steep so it is a power climb and if you are a strong climber, you can even handle it in your big chainring.”

Thomas is one of those strong climbers and he immediately stomps off in what cyclists like to call “the big meat.” Bolting up the narrow road, sandwiching one switchback after another, he is clearly in race mode.

“The combination of high speed and tight corners means that your bike gets thrown through the corners,” Thomas says. “You really need to control the bike here or you could easily crash. In addition, when the climb is slippery, the risk of crashing in the corners is even bigger. But the Zipp wheels with their Zipp Tangente Course R28 tires proved to be the perfect combination, as they maintained a firm grip in the speedy corners, even in the wet.”

As with the Mistral in southern France or the Levante in Spain, Sicily’s famed Sirocco winds often blow in this part of the Mediterranean. But climbing straight up from the coast on a calm day, the air chills quickly as the low-lying clouds descend upon us. Unfortunately there’ll be no breathtaking views of the Mediterranean at the top. Thomas, however, seems unfazed. He’s focused on pushing his wheels up the climb.

And after arriving in Taormina he shows little desire of stopping, saying: “Let’s go all the way up to Castelmola!” Here the air thins along with the traffic. Wrapped in cloud cover, Thomas is in his element as he jumps on his pedals and continues to drive toward the summit. Soon the edges of another village nestled on these Sicilian slopes takes shape. “I actually prefer Castelmola to Taormina,” Thomas says. “It’s less touristic. It’s more just a typical Italian village, and a very beautiful one at that. After Taormina, we ascend into the sky, quite literally….”

On an average day, Thomas likes to climb to Castelmola for views so vast that you can see the mythic Mount Etna all the way over by the Straits of Messina. Today however there’s no view. “We are completely covered in fog and clouds. The temperature has dropped 7 or 8 degrees just since we left Taormina,” Thomas says. “It’s only 200 meters down but you can’t even see it.  Oh well, what is one to do? Let’s grab a pizza!”

Images and Words: James Startt

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