Incredible Road Cycling Climbs in Italy

Written by Bethany McAtee on 19th February, 2020

Before we dive into our favourite road cycling climbs in Italy, let us warn you that they’re all in the North. Namely, the Dolomites and the Italian Alps. Because those looking for an easy ride aren’t going to find one here! Certainly, the scenery is drop dead gorgeous (literally…), with thick forests and mountain peaks like spears. Yet the climbs are brutal and unforgiving. There’s a reason why the Giro d’Italia is considered the toughest Grand Tour. However, climbs don’t become iconic for being a walk in the park. A dose of suffering along with a pinch of inspiring beauty is the recipe for an incredible climb, to which Northern Italy has plentiful. Take a read of the following Italian climb highlights to find your next challenge.

Passo Stelvio 

Not only is the Passo Stelvio a meeting point for 3 languages, it’s also where cyclists congregate from far and wide. There’s rarely a day where the iconic switchbacks aren’t peppered with vibrant cycling jerseys. Those who push through the pain of 20km at 7% from Bormio are rewarded with epic views overlooking the 27 switchbacks. Likewise, the climb from Prato features the most famous picturesque switchbacks, with a whopping 48 bends! However, with great achievement comes great obstacles to overcome. In this case, you’ll need to climb Passo Stelvio from Bormio to get to the Prato climb.

Whilst Passo Stelvio seems to be built for cyclists, the road was constructed in 1825 by Austria to control Lombardy. There was even a battle at the summit during World War I. Since then, the Passo Stelvio has become one of cycling’s most loved climbs after Fausto Coppi first summited in 1953. Now a star of the Giro d’Italia, hoards of cyclists tackle the climb each year to retrace the pro’s pedal-print. Even during May, when unique snow walls still tower beside the road, cyclists take the saddle on this epic climb.

the passo stelvio climb in northern italy popular with cyclists because of switchbacks

Passo Giau

Possibly the most spectacular mountain pass, the Passo Giau’s lure can tempt any keen road cyclist. Even just viewing a photo of the dramatic switchbacks conjures a sense of dogged determination to reach the summit. From Selva di Cadore in the South you’ll discover 29 hairpin bends, a thicker treeline and a harder climb. Alternatively, from Pocol in the North there are less hairpins and more open pastures.

If the Passo Giau from the South sounds up your street, perhaps choose to tackle it as part of the Maratona Dles Dolomites. A popular sportive for amateur cyclists, the Maratona features Passo Giau as the 6th climb out of 7. Ensuring there’s enough fuel in the tank for pushing to the summit after climbing 5 peaks already is no easy feat! Especially seeing as Pass Giau kicks up an average 9.3% gradient for 9.9km. However, the beautiful landscape is as good a motivator as any. The jagged peaks and expansive views acts as a reminder of why us cyclists choose to rise to the challenge in the first place.

the passo giau cycling route in northern italy

Madonna del Ghissalo

Cycling isn’t normally seen as a spiritual sport. Yet travel to Lake Como and you’ll find perched atop a mountain a chapel called Madonna del Ghisallo. Inside is a vast array of cycling memorabilia, including bikes, jerseys and a flame in memory of cyclists who’ve passed. Notably, Fabio Casartelli’s bike, distorted due to a fatal crash in the 1995 Tour de France, hangs on the wall. Even those who aren’t religious feel a sense of awe at being amongst the memories of great cycling champions.

So, how do you get to the chapel that has been named after a patroness of cycling by Pope Pius XII? A 10.6km ascent takes you from the start line to the finish at a 5.5% average gradient. The start and finish are actually painted on the road, which is handy. In the beginning you’ll notice the gentle gradient and may think, ‘this is going to be easy’. However, don’t let that, or the 5.5% average gradient deceive you. Most of the climb is a gruelling 9%, and it is only the false summit in between that average’s it out. Sounds brutal? You bet.

madonna del ghissalo chapel near lake como in northern italy

Want to have a go at tackling one of the incredible road cycling climbs in Italy? Give us a call on 02071571519 or email for more information. We organise tailored cycling holidays that can include accommodation, bike hire, GPX routes/guiding, and airport transfers.