10 toughest cycling climbs worldwide: Most challenging rides for cyclists

Jun 25, 2019 BY Mark Pawlak

Looking for the most challenging rides for cyclists? Then check out the 10 toughest cycling climbs worldwide.

10 toughest cycling climbs worldwide: Most challenging rides for cyclists Flickr CC image by fat1024

There aren’t many better feelings on a bike than getting to the top a gruelling climb. That’s despite it feeling like searing hot pokers are being jammed into your thighs and a cruel giant is squeezing the air out of your lungs on the way up.

But when you get to the top, it’s almost always completely worth the effort. Plus, you get to ride back down again.

Most challenging rides for cyclists

Getting the miles under your belt on the flat with a nice tail wind is all well and good. But the best cycling holidays are all about achievement. Being the king or queen of the mountains is about as good as it gets.

Climbs are what make the mountain stages of le Tour so compelling. They are what keeps us getting back on the bike and heading out in the wind and rain for the nearest spot of nasty elevation.

Cycling in Italy and the call of the Gran Fondo Flickr CC image by Jussaria

You might think you’ve taken on a few climbs in your time. But this list of the top 10 toughest cycling climbs are in a different league. If you’ve managed any of these, then give yourself a pat on the back because you, my friend, are one tough cookie.

10 toughest cycling climbs worldwide

So in no particular order, here are the 10 most challenging rides for cyclists:

Mont Ventoux, France

Described by the legendary/disgraced (delete according to personal preference – I’m not getting involved) Lance Armstrong as the ‘toughest climb on the Tour bar none’, you know this is going to be hard.

The climb is 1,600 metres over the 22 kilometre section. There is not one single flat stretch to give your aching muscles a break. Cripes.

toughest cycling climbs worldwide Mont Ventoux in France Wikimedia CC image by Christopher Voitus

Pang La Pass, Tibet

At 20 kilometres long, climbing 1,000 metres with 64 switchbacks. It may be shorter and less steep than Mont Ventoux but this mother reaches a dizzying 5200m.

That’s right, this soul-destroying ride is carried out at over 4,000 meters above sea level. So altitude sickness is a real possibility. Not for the faint hearted or anyone who has not acclimatized first.

Lagos de Covadonga, Spain

Not the longest climb but mighty steep. This little swine is one of the most challenging rides for cyclists due to two particularly tough spots; the nasty ramps at La Huesera and the Mirador de la Reina.

Fortunately, the climb is made a little easier by the stunning scenery of the lakes below. Not that you’ll care about them when your eyes are popping out of your skull due to exhaustion.

Lago Enol one of the most challenging rides for cyclists Lagos de Covadonga in Spain Flickr CC image by Tadhik

Mur de Huy, Belgium

How bad can a 1.3 kilometre climb in Belgium be? Afterall it’s one of Europe’s flattest countries? That’s what many people ask themselves but regret it immediately afterwards.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s preceded by so much flat terrain that makes these two minutes some of the worst in your life. So it stands out as one of the toughest cycling climbs worldwide.

Great Dun Fell, Cumbria, UK

Known to some as the UK’s Mont Ventoux, this is widely regarded as the toughest climb in England. It might be a private road but there are no objections to cyclists riding along it.

The radar station’s ‘golf ball’ sits atop this 40-minute climb. As the highest paved road in England the summit taunts you by never seeming to get any bigger.

Alpe d’Huez, France

Another legendary French climb that is well known from the Tour de France. But, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt.

toughest cycling climbs worldwide tour-de-france alpe d huez Pixabay royalty free image

This may be a spectacular alpine ascent, but the instant the 13% climb hits you, you’ll wish you were somewhere else. This is 13 kilometres of hairpins and long, nasty straight climbs.

Stelvio Pass, Italy

The highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and second highest in Europe. This is easily one of the toughest cycling climbs worldwide.

It connects the Italian province of Lombardy with Austria. About halfway into this one you will really be wishing they hadn’t bothered!

Gyatso La Pass, Tibet

As part of the Friendship Highway this is on a par with the Pang La pass mentioned earlier. Another monster of a climb reaching over 5,000m.

The thin air and potential for altitude sickness makes this one of the most challenging rides for cyclists. No one can enjoy this climb, can they?

Himalaya overlanding Friendship highway road trip Tibet to Nepal Flickr cc image by Matteo Melchior

Onion Valley, California, USA

This climb may be set against the backdrop of some of the best mountain scenery anywhere in the world. But you know what? It’s still doesn’t make it any easier.

This near 700 m vertical climb is grim and gruelling. The fact that it is possible average well over 50 kilometres per hour on the way back down should tell you everything you need to know.

Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, USA

The myth, the legend – this is described by many as the toughest cycling climb worldwide. At nearly 12 kilometres long and with an average gradient of 11.8% (that’s average, people) this is frankly a terrifying prospect. But that’s not all – only about two thirds is paved.

You can also expect vicious winds and near freezing temperatures, making this climb something only a committed cyclist or a fool would attempt. Apparently it all used to be paved but some bits of it simply washed away because it was too steep.

Most challenging cycling climbs

If you can take on any of these then, as Rudyard Kipling said, you will be a man, my son. A battered, whimpering broken man.

10 toughest cycling climbs worldwide Most challenging rides for cyclists Pixabay royalty free image

But you can’t have everything can you? Climbing on a bike is not just about numbers though. The steepest hills are not always the worst. Sometimes it is the length, the false sense of hope or the face-slapping head wind that makes a climb really bad.

Getting to the top of any hill, no matter how small, is always an achievement. It’s conquering the biggest obstacle of all – your own mind and body’s desire to stop.

If you can beat yourself climbing a hill, then it feels like there is nothing you can’t do. And as feelings go, that’s a pretty good one.

Inspired to try some of these climbs? Check out our cycling holiday discounts as you could save a fortune on your next trip.


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