Another fun year on the road bike. This list is dominated by a few high Austrian climbs after my first multi-day trip there – but there are also climbs from France, Italy, and Switzerland. Here are my 10 favourite rides. Each includes a link to a detailed blog post including a map.
See here for “The Ten Best High Alps Unpaved Rides of the Year.”
At 2750 metres, Kaunertal is the 5th highest paved road in the Alps.
In Tyrol Austria, just west of the Ötztaler Gletscherstraße, the Kaunertaler Gletscherpanoramastraße was built in 1980 as a ski station road. Amazingly, it’s kept open 12 months a year. It’s a fantastic climb.
It’s 38 kilometres from Prutz, and all good riding. 26 kilometres from the summit it becomes a toll road for cars (bikes are free). Beyond the toll, there are no more villages – remote and beautiful throughout. The long flat stretch on the profile below is beside a large dam/lake. But this is not a goat track ride. It’s a wide, purpose-built ski station road in excellent condition with 29 signed hairpins. Map and full details here.
#2 Cime da la Bonette
It is becoming an annual tradition for my friend Tim and I to cycle up a big climb to see the sunrise (eg. Grand Colombier last year). This year we chose Cime de la Bonette, at 2802 metres it’s the second highest paved road in the Alps.
Richard and Alfie also joined us on this chilly October adventure. So … much … fun. Perhaps the highlight for me was as we shiveered at the summit and put extra clothes on for the descent, I told Richard I’d be at least 15 minutes taking photos. He looked at me like I was completely insane. And headed down. 🙂
Ride details here.
#3 Edelweissspitze/Grossglockner 2,571 metres
This magnificent road (despite its hefty toll fees) is the biggest tourist attraction in Austria. The climb is dominated by the Grossglockcner, the highest mountain in Austria (3798m). The main road has two high points, Hochtor Pass (2504m) from the south, and Fuscher Törl (2404m) from the north. There are a few high, up/down kilometres between these two passes.
But the highlight? Near Fuscher Törl is a beautiful cobbled road, the Edelweissspitze, that rises to 2571 metres and towering 360 degree views. Cycling paradise. I rode the north side with several thousand other cyclists on bike-only day. A smart idea as this road can be busyish. Map and more details here.
#4 Le Puy de Dôme
In recent years, this legendary road in the Massif Central to the peak of a dormant volcano has been closed to cyclists. Except once a year, 300 lucky people are given access. Wooohooo.
Ride details here.
At 2474 metres, Timmelsjoch (Passo del Rombo in Italian) is the 13th highest paved road in the Alps.
In the Ötzal Alps on the Austrian / Italian border. Much of the Austrian side is a big modern ski station road, but above the toll booth becomes more interesting. The Italian side is old-fashioned fun with lots of hairpins and cliff stretches. Details of both sides – see here.
#6 Col du Sabot
I like to make fun of Alpe d’Huez. Or at least try and explain to people that there are many, many other climbs that are more interesting: See my labour of love: 100 Cycling Climbs Better Than Alpe d’Huez.
And a perfect example: Col du Sabot: it’s higher, more difficult, and infinitely quieter than its neighbour Alpe d’Huez. Perhaps its only drawback for some people: it’s a dead-end (at least for now, although there are rumours that a road will be built down the far side). Note, I would also visit a superb little side climb to Le Collet, above Vaujany. Ride details here.
#7 Kitzbüheler Horn
This is easily the steepest 10 kilometre stretch of paved road I have ever cycled. Ouch.
This is a road bike climb. But I brought my mountain bike so I could descend a lesser known gravel option (which is great).
Note, when pros climb this crazy road they stop well below the 360 degree horn summit. But there is a tiny, hyper-steep littled paved road that allows one to reach the absolute peak. Ride details here.
#8 Plan du Lac
Once, when brainstorming the best “unknown” big Alps climb, cycling author Daniel Friebe suggested Plan du Lac. Yep.
At 2385 metres, it’s the 7th highest paved climb in France. In the Haute-Maurienne, it’s not far from Col du Mont Cenis and the south side of Col de l’Iseran.
It’s a dead-end soon after the summit. But at the top is a plain with a lake — which makes perfect sense. Ride details here.
#9 Sustenpass and Lac d’Engstlen
Sustenpass is one of several brilliant high roads in central Switzerland. In late May I attended a special bike-only day.
At the top two very nice young guys recognized me. One of them said he liked my blog because I recommended fun but less famous roads. I, in fact, had a brilliant less-known climb planned for the afternoon. So I invited them to join me on the climb to Lac d’Engstlen. A very fun day with two likeable and interesting guys. Ride details here.
#10 Passo San Marco
Whenever I have very long drive, I have developed a good habit of stopping mid trip to ride something en route. On the way to Bormio to meet a friend and ride Gavia, Stelvio, etc. I stopped to climb Passo San Marco. A climb I knew nothing about.
What a revelation. 26.5 kms and 1740 metres vertical ascent. Gigantic. It starts far lower than most big climbs so its summit altitude can mislead one into thinking it’s not huge. See this table for example:
|Passo San Marco||26.5 kms||1740 metres||1992 metres|
|Passo di Gavia (Bormio)||25.6 kms||1404 metres||2621 metres|
|Passo dello Stelvio (Bormio)||21.5 kms||1533 metres||2758 metres|
Ride details here.
Grosse Scheidegg – details.
Passo di Gavia – details.
Combe Laval – details.
Mont Vial – details.