The approach into May means only one thing to cycling fans: the start of the Giro D’Italia, and the return of The Grand Tours leading into the Tour de France in July, before culminating with the Vuelta a España through August and September. Here’s hoping for another belting season then, with headline-moments galore and some thoroughly inspiring contests between the world’s best.
To help keep the inspiration going into your own future two-wheeled exploits have a scour of our list of the most iconic, picturesque, and challenging climbs in the world. From Tour de France classics to snaking Scandi passes, there’s something to inspire even the most casual of cyclists.
10 Of The Best Cycling Routes In The World
This zig-zagging ascent up 2,164 metres of jagged Swiss mountain-face isn’t one for the faint-hearted (oh, and there’s a couple of reservoirs at the bottom too).
Crossing over the beautiful Bernese Alps, the climb has regularly featured in the Tour de Suisse and connects the small towns of Meiringen and Innertkirchen. You’ll have to make a number of switchbacks on the way leading to an even steeper gradient as you come out of the turn, making it tough for even the most skilled of riders to find their rhythm.
A true Scandi serpentine, this mountain pass set among the breathtaking mountains of west Norway, is an absolute monster. Its not the steepest incline on this list, but the infamous 11 hairpin bends that snake over a smorgasbord of fjords and waterfalls, crevices and crags, make this a real test of cycling fortitude and courage.
Don’t ask us to pronounce it, but riding through this stretch of Romanian highway is one glorious way to spend a day. Named by Top Gear as “the best road in the world,” the pass crosses over the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains and is an equally exciting prospect for cyclists as you climb through the land of Vlad past mighty woodland and awe-inspiring limestone gorges.
Mont Ventoux, France
Fans of the Tour De France will almost certainly recognise this absolute icon of road racing. Situated in the Provence region of Southern France, it has been included 15 times in the race and is one of its most gruelling climbs.
Cycling legend Eddy Mercx nearly collapsed while winning a stage there in 1970, while British rider Tommy Simpson tragically lost his life on the mountain three years before. You might also remember it from 2016 when a motorcycle crashed into Chris Froome breaking his bike and culminating in the four-time winner having to run 100 metres up the hill to pick up another. Put simply, whenever Ventoux is involved, there’s bound to be drama.
Austria’s highest mountain and largest glacier are the challenges ahead of you, should you decide to take on the Grossglockner test. If the altitude doesn’t prove too much, then the pesky cobbles and 12 percent gradient just might, although this regular feature on the Tour of Austria, does reward those brave enough with an absolutely peachy view of the Alpine peaks below.
Mt Washington Auto Road, USA
A private stretch of road atop the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, Mt Washington Auto Road plays host to the annual Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, one of the toughest races in world cycling. The road is one big 7.6-mile climb to the top essentially, with a gradient of 12 percent for most of the road including a staggering 22 percent near the finish. And as if a steep climb into the clouds wasn’t tough enough, there’s also pelting rain, furious snow, and hurricane-force winds most days of the year to deal with.
Cheddar Gorge, UK
Miss a turn on this bit of road, and you’re going to be greeted by a great, big slab of rock-face. Set between a limestone gorge in Somerset’s Mendip Hills, the landscape is a real natural wonder of the world, with Paleolithic caves below and a wondrous ecosystem calling the gorge home, including wild goats, slippery adders, and extremely rare blue butterflies.
Mount Teide, Spain
The highest point in Spain and the fourth-highest volcano in the world (it’s active, but the last eruption was in 1909), Mount Teide is the pride of Tenerife and arguably the best spot for cycling in the country. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have all used the roads that snake around the mountain for training, which is made a tad more attractive than other climbs on this list thanks to Tenerife’s balmy weather.
Hardknott Pass, UK
“We call this land of ours Great Britain…and I would venture that the landscape of our country alone would justify the use of this lofty adjective.” Perhaps Kazuo Ishiguro had been cycling through Hardknott Pass when he wrote these words in his 1989 novel Remains of The Day.
For this Roman-made hill pass in the Lake District National Park is the epitome of the word, and British countryside in general, with rolling mounds all around usually covered in a slither of mystical fog. The climb is a savage mind you. Seriously steep and crammed with switchbacks, it’s a lung-buster for even the most experienced of riders (so maybe Ishiguro wasn’t idly passing through).
Passo Sella, Italy
The third mountain pass in the annual single-day Maratona dles Dolomites race (described as “one of the biggest, most passionate, and most chaotic bike races on Earth” by National Geographic), the Paso Sella has also twice been the highest point in the Giro d’Italia. With the Dolomites rising up all around you, the climb isn’t the steepest or toughest on this list, but the majestic surroundings might just be the most glorious.