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The Greatest European Climbs – Part 2

Written by Robyn Oppenheimer on 4th October, 2019

If Part 1 of the Greatest European Climbs has already inspired you to head for the mountains, check out our top 10 climbs and conquer some of best cycling routes in Europe

10.  Madonna del Ghissalo

Set in the most beautiful part of Northern Italy, this is the signature climb around the great Italian lakes and part of Il Lombardia, one of cycling’s Monuments.  This great cycling route starts from Bellagio, next to the beautiful Lake Como, and is 10.6km long with an average gradient of 9%.  The climb would not ordinarily be anything out of the ordinary if it was not for the myths and legends that surround it. Pope Pius XII declared the ‘Madonna del Ghisallo’ as the patroness of cycling during the Giro d’Italia in the 1940s and the rest is history.
The chapel at the top of the climb provides panoramic views over the lake and is a place of pilgrimage for cyclists.  Inside the chapel, an eternal flame serves as a reminder of those who died cycling on Italian roads and the walls are adorned with champions’ donated jerseys and bikes.  This includes Fabio Casartelli’s bike, which is still distorted from the crash in the 1995 Tour de France that took his life.  Next door to the chapel is a cycling museum (5 euros for those who conquered the climb – 6 euros for those who haven’t!). Ride the climb, visit the chapel and immerse yourself in cycling folklore. Ride this on our Lake Garda to Lake Como Cycling Holiday.
Madonna del Ghisallo

9.  The Gavia

Immerse yourself in cycling history when you ride the Passo Gavia, one of the best cycling routes in Europe and in the Giro d’Italia.  The route was first used in 1960 and there are two ways to reach the top.  You can start from either Bormio or Ponte de Lego, the latter being the more challenging climb with a steeper gradient which reaches as high as 16% in some parts.  We prefer the climb from Bornio which nearly 25km long  and a good option if you are also climbing Stelvio and Mortirolo.  The unpredictability of the weather means you should be prepared for all cycling conditions. Ride this on our Stelvio and Mortirolo weekender.

The Gavia Pass

8.  Col du Galibier

The Galibier has been the scene of countless battlegrounds on the Tour de France, including in 2019.  It forms part of the Marmotte and the ride offers incredible ascending and absolutely breathtaking descending. Our favourite side of the climb is from St-Michelle-de-Maurienne, which is 35km to the summit of Galibier.  Cyclists start in the ski resort of Valloire and will then climb the winding road up the Col du Télégraphe so you can tick this climb off on your way up the Galibier. From here the road is straight and unrelenting before you start winding your way to the summit.  The breathtaking 30km descent into Bourg is exhilarating but beware of the tunnels! Ride this on our Alpe d’Huez Cycling Holiday.

Col du Galibier

7.  Sa Calobra

This iconic and well travelled climb stretches out for 9.5km with an average gradient of 7%.  One the best cycling routes in Europe, Sa Calobra’s beautiful views and proximity to other incredible climbs and Port Pollensa, makes this one Mallorca’s best cycling routes. It’s been the training grounds of the pros for years and offers an incredible 26 bends from the bottom. It’s a dead end so you have to descend first so it means you have to be very careful on the descent knowing whatever went down is coming back up! Get to the bottom nice and early to truly appreciate the climb and most importantly, avoid the coaches. Many choose to combine the routes on Sa Calobra with Cap Formentor and the monastery at Lluc but it is worth noting that you will need to descend first. Ride this on our Sa Calobra and Soller Cycling Holiday.

Hairpins of Sa Colobra in Mallorca

6.  Mortirolo

If you are feeling up to the challenge, the Mortirolo offers double digit gradients and along with the Stelvio and Gavia are the bucket list climbs of the Italian Alps. If you are cycling in Italy and in particular the Alps, this climb is not to be missed.

You’ll ride out of Bormio and head for the toughest climb in the region, the Mortirolo from Mazzo. The climb never dips below 8% average gradient and averages 11%. The climb is pretty relentless but you will pass cycling royalty as you come up to the Marco Pantani memorial, before the road picks up the road from Grosio. From here, the climb settles down and you will summit with views over Alpine pastures. 
The descent takes you towards beautiful meadows before a gentle climb to Pezzo. From here you have 17km averaging 7.5% to the top of the Gavia climb, before a long descent all the way back into Bormio. Ride this on our Stelvio & Mortirolo Cycling Holiday.

The best cycling routes in Europe, The Greatest European Climbs – Part 2

5. Col du Tourmalet

This is a behemoth and one of the most famous and best cycling routes in Europe. It’s one of the 3 great French climbs, alongside Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’huez.  We rate this as our 5th best climb in Europe. The climb is stepped in history and featured in 1910, the first time the Pyrenees were introduced to the Tour de France riders. As Octave Lapize rode over the summit, he bellowed “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!’ (“You are murderers! Yes, murderers!”) at the organisers and the mountain has maintained legendary status ever since.

The Col du Tourmalet is called ‘l’incontournable’ in France, meaning the ‘unavoidable’ – it is the only way to get through this part of the High Pyrenees and has been responsible for shaping much of cycling history over the years.  The West side is through Luz Saint Sauveur and the East side is from Campan. Starting from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan you will climb 17.2 km at an average of 7.4%. Ramps get up to 12% and with 5km to go, La Mongie appears. La Mongie is a scar on the face of the Pyrenees but it does have a couple of cafes so as the weather closes in, it can provide respite.  Look up and you will see the final hairpins to the top of the climb. It looks as if it’s touching distance to the top but more switchbacks loom before you’re finally summitting alongside the silver statue of Octave Lapize.

Our tip is to prepare for all weather conditions, mind the livestock, bring ID, money and a phone. Ride this on our Pyrenees Cycling Holiday.

Col du Tourmalet

4.  Mount Teide

Teide has made its way into people’s consciousness in the last few years, largely due to Team Sky using it as their winter training base. Put simply, this is a brutal and unrelenting 50km climb, undoubtedly one of the best cycling routes in Europe. It comes in near the top of the list of the best European climbs for many reasons.  With an average gradient of 5% but a maximum of 22.5% this is an incredible ride for pros and amateurs alike.  It is nothing but up, there is no respite, there is no real hairpins to distract you, this is you versus the volcano. The sun will be on your back most of the way up but what makes this climb for us is the views.

Alpine cols can blend into one but this is something unique. Jet black lava fields produce bright green foliage to create incredible contrasts. As you ride higher, you are rewarded with incredible panoramic views over La Gomera.  Clouds hang over La Gomera and so the backdrop to your ride is nothing short of sensational.

Our favourite ascent of Teide is from Vilaflor, the highest village in Tenerife at 1,500m. Enjoy typical Canarian food in this small outpost before ascending into the crater and then up to the cable car. Mount Teide is the third highest volcanic structure in the world so you’re guaranteed a view and the climate in Tenerife makes it an ideal winter destination for riding. The lack of hairpins make the descent rapid and the tarmac is immaculate. It’s just reward for one of the toughest climbs in Europe. Ride this on our Tenerife Cycling Holiday.

tarmac road leading up to mount teide in tenerife

3.  Alpe d’Huez

If you’re looking for one of the best cycling routes in Europe and, Alpe d’Huez should be on your list – it has featured in the Tour de France countless times and is a Mecca for cyclists all over the world.  As one of the Europe’s most famous cycling routes, this ride is over 13.8km with an average gradient of 8.1% over the famous 21 bends.  Each hairpin been has been named over past stage winners and riders will recognise famous land marks such as Dutch Corner.

The difficulty of this route begins from the 1st km and the slopes don’t ease off until the final 3km. The climb is tough and technical and is one that nearly every rider wants to tick off. The first ever stage winner on the Alpe was the legendary Fausto Coppi with the fastest ascent  by Marco Pantani in the 1997 Tour d’France.

Whilst the bucket list climb starts in Bourg d’Oissans, if you’ve ridden that before, make sure you summit via Allemond for a spectacular alternative. From Allemond, you can experience one of France’s balcony roads which takes you on to Huez, before continuing the climb to the summit.

If you’re out on a Wednesday during the summer, join the mass timed event from Bourg at 10am (registration at 9am). Ride this on our Alpe D’Huez Cycling Holiday.

The best cycling routes in Europe, The Greatest European Climbs – Part 2

2.  The Stelvio

The Stelvio is the most exalted climb in Italy and frequently part of the Giro D’Italia.  This epic mountain climb stretches 20km long to the summit, as you wind up 27-48 hairpins (depending on which route you take).  The average gradient is 8% and the summit is a stunningly high 2,758m – one of the highest mountain passes in Europe.

From Bormio, you can ride 2 sides of the climb on an amazing but tough circular route. Starting in Bormio, the climb is 22 km with an average gradient of 7%. You will skirt the Swiss border as you ascend to the summit with the final 3km of the climb ramping up to an average of 10% topping out at 2758m.  You will then turn on your heels and head on a thrilling descent into Switzerland before coming face to face with arguably the most famous side of the climb, from Prato. The ride has a whopping 48 hairpins averaging 7.5% over 25km.

The Stelvio is steeped in history. The first ascent in the Giro was in 1953 and was won by Fausto Coppi, leading to the first rider over the highest part of the Giro being awarded the Cima Coppi.  Ride this on our Stelvio Cycling Holiday.

Cyclist holds his bike in the air

1. Mont Ventoux

The most mythical and magical of all the climbs in the Tour de France, this undeniably deserves its place at number one of our greatest climbs and one of the best cycling routes in Europe.  The ‘Giant of Provence’ has a beautiful and unique windswept landscape, often described as a moonscape with its barren peak.  The memories of past races and lives that have been lost on this climb are not forgotten as you pass the Tom Simpson Memorial from the 1967 Tour De France.  The route from Bedoin is 21.5km at an average gradient of 7.5% and probably the most challenging of the three ways up. You will ride through thick forest on unrelenting roads until you come out at Chalet Reynard. From here, the famous yellow and black poles mark the way up to the weather station as the winds batter down.

The ascent from Sault is considered to be the ‘easiest’ at 26km with an average gradient of 4.6% whereas the Malaucene ascent offers more protection from the elements. That’s a 21.2km ride at an average gradient of 7.2%.  If you’re mad enough, join the Cingles Club (the ‘crazies’) and ride all three in a day. Ride this on our Mont Ventoux Cycling Holiday.

Female cyclist climbing Mont ventoux, france

Decided where you want to cycle? These are just some of the Europe’s greatest cycle routes and there are many more! Why not give our cycling specialists a call to see where your next cycling holiday will be?