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The 8 most stunning cycling climbs in Europe

Still incredible spots to discover? You might change your mind when you see these spectacular climbs in Europe …

It must be recognized that a mountain has an attraction that is difficult to explain. It makes us feel small, it inspires us, it takes us to a place where nature has remained almost untouched under the influence of human footprints. This idea of exploring uncharted territory, even in the case of iconic bike climbs, as in this post, has already been cycled a lot and conquered thousands of times. Those who pass by the top of Passo Stelvio will understand that they are overwhelmed by the cloud of memories that can be found on arrival. Whichever way you turn it, we’ve all felt that call to conquer the unnecessary at some point, as Lionel Terray would say.

And the 8 most spectacular climbs in Europe are …

  1. Passo Stelvio (Italia)
  2. Col du Galibier (Francia)
  3. Teide (España)
  4. Grossglokner (Austria)
  5. Grimselpass (Suiza)
  6. Passo del Maloja (Suiza)
  7. Alta Via del Sale (Italia)
  8. Passo Giau (Italia)

1. Passo Stelvio (Italy)

Passo Stelvio (Italia)

Image: Adobe Stock Photo

Magic and tenacity joined in one spot. A climb that can only be defined as a road masterpiece. Its construction dates from 1825, when the Austrian Empire wanted to unite the province of Lombardy with Austria. And they did. No matter what slope, be it from Bormio or from Prato, both deserve the honor of being climbs to be remembered.

If we focus on the ascent from Bormio, around 20 km with a drop of 1,500 m and an average gradient of 7.46%. A major challenge which, despite its frightening profile, makes it the little brother of the slopes. 

Yes, its toughest slope and at the same time the best known is the one that starts from Pratto, the one we have seen so many times on the Giro d’Italia, with epic battles that have taken place since Fausto Coppi conquered this climb for the first time in 1953. In total, from Prato we will face 25 km, 1850 m of vertical drop and an average slope of 7.35%. And 48 hairpin bends, one after another, endless, dizzying, noticing how we ascend and find it difficult to catch more and more air, with someone constantly hammering. That’s how hard it is, and that’s how fascinating its conquest is.

At its summit, at 2,758 m above sea level, and if we approach the Stelvio curves viewpoint, we will see the serpent of curves that moments before we have ascended.

2. Col du Galibier (France)

Col du Galibier (Francia)

Image: Adobe Stock Photo

Col du Galibier is one of the highest climbs in the Tour de France, although paradoxically it is not common to see it as the end of a stage, a fact that causes cyclists to tend to be conservative during the ascent. One of the last times, it was the end of a stage, in 2011, Luxembourger Andy Schleck, one of the big favorites of the Tour that year, managed to win the stage. However, this year’s winner would be Cadel Evans, thanks to the time trial on the penultimate stage of the tour.

18.1 km from the slope of Valloire with 1,245 m of vertical drop and an average slope of 6.9%, reaching a height of 2,642 m. Although the scenery might not be as magical as the ascent of Passo Stelvio in Italy, this conquest should not be underestimated, both for its harshness and for the dynamic nature of its course. You have to be prepared mainly for the last 8 kilometers, and especially the last kilometer at 10%, which can make you suffer a bonk almost reaching the summit.

It is also common to combine this climb with that of the Col du Télégraph, 38.98 km and an average gradient of 4.91%.

3. Teide (Spain)

Teide (España)

Image: Adobe Stock Photo

No matter where you come from, climbing wherever, the ascent to Teide is a hell of a climb. This colossus of Tenerife, whose summit is at 3,718 m, is probably one of the hardest climbs and at the same time the most frequented by cyclists who want to make their great conquest on the Canary Island.

Whether you are coming from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Santiago de la Cruz, Puerto de la Cruz, El Médano, Guía de Isora or wherever you are on holiday, a long and demanding climb entering the mystique of the Teide National Park.

If you want to know more details on how to climb Mount Teide cycling, you can read our article on climbs to Mount Teide.

4. Grossglockner (Austria)

Grossglockner (Austria)

Image: Adobe Stock Photo

A high altitude climb that bears the word beauty stamped on its mountains from the first minute. Of course, it is tough for a while: the feeling of lack of air, especially if you are not used to conquering summits at these altitudes, is something that you’ll notice as you climb.

And is that Mount Grossglockner, located within the Hohe Tauern National Park (in the western Tauern Alps mountain range), is the highest mountain in Austria, with its peak at 3,798 m. In our case, we will not reach that altitude, but we will reach a powerful 2,400 m with stunning views.

About 17 km from Heiligenblut with an average tough slope of 8.74% to which we will add more than 1,500 m of vertical drop. A very demanding climb in which you have to prepare for very changeable weather conditions. The road condition, as in much of the Austrian Alps, is exceptional, so you’ll find the hardness of the climb less in the pavement than in the conditions of the ascent.

5. Grimselpass (Switzerland)

Grimselpass (Suiza)

Image: Adobe Stock Photo

The Grimselpass is a mountain pass that connects the Haslital (Bernese Oberland) and Goms (Valais) valleys. It is characterized by the conformation of an arid and rugged mountain landscape that combines with its majestic granite walls and the presence of dams that beautifully invade everything that surrounds its ascent.

Of all the climbs mentioned here, this is perhaps the easiest one. If we leave from the well-known town of Meiringen, we’ll find a long ascent, of 33 km, and an average slope of 4.55%. At its summit at 2,155 m, we’ll have accumulated a drop of 1,518 m.

6. Passo del Maloja (Switzerland)

Mountain pass located in the Swiss Alps, another fascinating road infrastructure with its sinuous curves. It is not surprising that it is one of the most photographed, at the height of Passo di Stelvio. You can make your ascent from Chiavenna, with an ascent of 32 km at an average of 4.6% and a gradient of 1,487 m. Although it is not one of the toughest climbs, it should come as no surprise to feel some vertigo during its ascent.

 7. Alta Via del Sale (Italy)

The Alta Via del Sale is a savage route over the Alpi del Mare, winding at an altitude of between 1,800 and 2,100 m above sea level. It is located in the main alpine basin near the border between Italy and France. It is reached from Limone, at 1400 m, by a twisty tarmac road. It’s common to see cycling lovers do it on MTB, although this is only recommended if you’re an expert cyclist.

8. Passo Giau (Italy)

Passo Giau, ItaliaFotografía de Oliver Kerner.

The Passo Giau is one of those great climbs that are very popular in the transalpine country. Many still remember Egan Bernal’s spectacular breakaway during the Giro d’Italia 2021, setting an all-time record in his ascent of the Selva di Cadore: he climbed the 9.8 km with an average gradient of 9.3% in 32 minutes and 45. An ordinary cyclist is satisfied to reach the top, but Bernal literally flew over the difficult slopes. The maximum peak of said slope is around 16%.

The Passo Giau nestles surrounded by natural parks, and the road and mountainous landscape is literally overwhelming. From the heights, the Dolomites face you, fearless, seeing how your breath quickens with a smile when you are about to reach the last meters of this mountain pass.

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