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Top 5 European road climbs

17 August 2021
Top 5 European road climbs

Take your road cycling to another level by tackling this quintet of legendary ascents.

Road cyclists love nothing more than testing their fitness and fortitude in the mountains. Thankfully, Europe’s blessed with many passes that’ll strike fear and exhilaration in equal measure, including these memorable climbs.

 

PASSO DELLO STELVIO, ITALY

 

 

This is arguably the most famous climb in Europe, measuring over 24km, averaging 7.4% and deciding numerous editions of the Giro d’Italia.

For professionals like Campagnolo-using Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen Team) and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), it takes around 75-85mins; for good recreational riders, we’re talking two to three hours. It’s peak is around 2,758m high with Prato allo Stelvio the starting point of the most famous Stelvio-side ascent.

The first few kilometers are relatively straight-forward before things change with the first of 48 bends – you read that right, 48 of them! Enjoy this next kilometer as the gradient of the final 17 kilometers never dips below 7%.

Thankfully, suffering’s balanced somewhat by the sublime views of numerous Alpine peaks. But only slightly as the infamous stone-walled hairpins signals a steep section that tests the best.

Hairpins come thick and fast now but, as long as there’s breath in your body, you should be in a rhythm to keep on going, keep on pushing. After gaining 1,817m in elevation, you finally reach the summit, ready for a breather and a rapid descent.

 

COL DU GALIBIER, FRANCE

 

 

The Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez, Ventoux – all famous Tour de France climbs, all memorable climbs that’ll push you to the limit.

But the one that has real A-grade star quality is the Col du Galibier. It reaches 2,642m in altitude and the key ways to ascend the Galibier are from the south side. That’s if you’re coming from Bourg d’Oisans or Briançon and is via the Col du Lautaret (2,057m). Or you’ll come from the more taxing north side, starting at St Michel de Maurienne and including the ascent of the 1,566m Col du Télégraphe.

This has featured in the Tour de France most often and is just under 35km in length. It also includes a debilitating 4km descent – debilitating because it’s part of the climb, meaning you have no other choice but to ascend 165 vertical meters all over again.

It’s suffering cycling-style but worth it as, reach the top, and it’s a place you’ll never forget. (You’ll also know why Tour founder Henri Desgrange once said the Col du Galibier made all other climbs look like “gnat’s piss”!)

 

SA CALOBRA, MALLORCA

 

 

Situated on the north east of the island, Sa Calobra is Mallorca’s most famous climb, though not its highest. That honour goes to Puig Major but, for pure brutality, it can’t match Sa Calobra. The challenge? Around 9.5km in length over an elevation gain of 668m, its average gradient 7.1% and peaking at 12%.

Don’t be deceived by the relaxed nature of the first kilometer as the climb soon sheers upwards to around 6-8%. Trees provide appreciated shelter from the summer sun before you pass the dramatic rock arch that resembles two collapsed book-ends, leaving a narrow strip of tarmac for you to ride upon.

At around the 5km mark, things change dramatically as a mix of hairpins and straight sections takes you to the top. You face an average gradient of 7-8% before the last few kilometers crank things up to 9-10%.

The most famous hairpin of them is 270° beneath an arch that flirts with gradients of 12%. The peak’s marked by the Coll dels Reis summit before the dramatic descent back to the sea.

 

GROSSGLOCKNER, AUSTRIA

 

 

This bucket-list climb is an annual peak at the Tour of Austria and is named after Austria’s highest mountain, which reaches out to 3,798m. Fortunately, the road runs out before then, though still ascends to 2,556m.

It’s over 19km in length at an average gradient of 9%. Another feather in the Grossglockner’s climbing cap is road quality – it’s immense and there’s not a pothole in sight.

That 9% gradient’s pretty consistent, too. It peaks at 12% but that’s only briefly; instead, this is simply one long grind albeit against one of the most stunning backdrops in the world. And just remember this during moments of pure pain – you’re saving money.

While the climb’s free to cyclists, this stretch of road costs over 35.5 Euros for vehicles.

 

MOUNT TEIDE, TENERIFE

 

 

This is the place that acts like a flame to a moth for GrandTour contenders, attracted by its smooth roads, remote location, good winter climate and height. That height nestles at a little over 2,300m (that’s rideable meters – Teide actually measures 3,718m) so is perfect for performance-boosting altitude training.

There are five primary routes up Mount Teide, comprising two each from the north and south, and one from the west. The most popular is from the south-west resort of Los Cristianos.

It’s a 51.3km effort that averages 5% with its peak at 22.5%. If you’re looking for an even longer day in the saddle, approach Teide from the north-east. It’s 63km in length, peaks at 15% but averages a slightly shallower 4.3%.

There’s more downhill in this section than the other four options, offering a degree of appreciated respite.

 

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