There are four road bike climbs that stand alone as the most famous and storied in cycling - Alpe d'Huez, Col du Tourmalet, Passo dello Stelvio and Mont Ventoux. Below is a map of the location of these climbs - click on the "detail" button top right of the map to access a spreadsheet that shows all relevant detail for the climbs and permits you to sort the climbs by distrance, difficulty, elevation gained, etc.
Alpe d’Huez - top left and center
Passo dello Stelvio - top right
Col du Tourmalet - bottom right
Mont Ventoux - bottom left
The world’s 4 most famous bike climbs (in our opinion) are:
Our website is founded on objectivity - we use a formula to rank climbs. While one can argue that the formula could be different, there is no disputing that our formula is independent of subjectivity and personal bias. Thus, when we offer an opinion regarding The Most Famous Climbs in the World, we stray from our core value. However, there are four climbs in the world where we voluntarily ignore our dispassionate approach. So, in our opinion, the four most famous bike climbs in the world are:
#1 - By a good bit . . . Alpe d’Huez
The undeniable front runner -- 29 summit finishes in the TdF (1952-2013; returning 2018).
Known as the “Hollywood Climb” when included in the Tour de France (29 times since 1976) it is always the stage finish (except for the first of 2 in a day - 2013 - see below for more detail). Alpe d’Huez is to cycling as the Indy 500 is to motor racing, St. Andrews to golf, Fenway to baseball, Wembley Stadium to football, Wimbledon is to tennis and so on. This could be the most famous and well known of any sporting venue and certainly the most famous in cycling.
Photo clockwise from top left:
Start; Turn 21 (first turn); Turn 1 (last turn); finish; Turn 1 (center).
It’s the turns, not the finish, that makes this The Most Famous Climb in the World.
Hairpin 21 is the first hairpin on the climb and #1 is the last.
Dutch Corner is where cycling fans from the Netherlands congregate on the day the Tour de France comes to Alpe d’Huez for its inevitable exciting mountain top finish. On this day and at this hairpin, the air is filled with loud European music, the smell of barbeque, and sounds of some of the greatest cycling fans in the world. The tradition originates with Joop Zoetemeik who in 1976 became the first Dutchman to win the Alpe d’Huez stage. Thereafter, Dutch riders won the next seven of twelve Alpe d’Huez finishes, but have not done so since Gert-Jan Theunisse in 1989 (Joop Zoetemelk 1976, 1979; Hennie Kuiper 1977, 1978; Peter Winnen 1981, 1983; Steven Rooks 1988 and Gert-Jan Theunisse 1989).
Joop Zoetemelk wins Alpe d’Huez stage18, 1979 (Hinault chases)
Photo - Scanseb / Pinetrest - Raffaele Spiazzi
#2 - Col du Tourmalet
Featured in the Tour de France 83 times from 1910-2019.
3 TdF stage finishes: 1974, 2010, 2019.
No other climb has been featured more in the greatest of all bicycle races. Thus, there really should be little objection to Col du Tourmalet being included in our #2 spot of the world’s most famous climbs.
Summit of Tourmalet from above on south side.
Photos at the col.
Tourmalet has a rich TdF history that began with its very first appearance in The Tour. The legendary TdF organizer, Henri Desgrance had decided to include Tourmalet in the 1910 tour. The first rider over Col du Tourmalet on July 21, 1910 was eventual 1910 tour winner frenchman Octave Lapize. The fact that Lapize unleashed on tour organizers as he reached the pass is not disputed -- what he said, however, is variously reported as either some or all of the following: “murderers,” “assassins,” and/or “criminals.” Sadly, Lapize was to die seven years later from injuries sustained when his fighter plane was shot down during WWI.
Octave Lapize -- the first rider (hiker?) over Tourmalet, 1910.
#3 - Passo dello Stelvio
Highest finish of any Grand Tour -- Featured in Giro 12 times (1953-2019).
Stelvio may offer the Greatest Switchback Views Anywhere - And here it is - one of the most famous cycling views of all time - immediately recognizable as the incomparable STELVIO
Approach to the pass from Prato Allo (northern approach).
Hairpins 14 (bottom right) to Hairpin 1 (right top center).
This is one of the greatest climbs in the world - an unparalleled jewel. No more than has been written about it can be said - adjectives do not do justice to this extraordinary climb - it is truly in a class by itself.
The ride up Passo dello Stelvio from Prato.
Passo dello Stelvio is in the Ortler Alps of Europe’s Alps Mountain Range. The Ortler Alps were the scene of fierce battles during World War I as forces from both sides were dug into these mountains for much of the war.
However, it’s ALL ABOUT THE TORNANTI (hairpins, switchbacks, kehrs, lacets) . . .
THE MOST FAMOUS HAIRPINS IN THE WORLD
The last 24 tornanti (Italian for “bends”) - turn 24 at bottom, turn 1 top left center.
Berghotel Franzenshöhe is bottom center of photo.
This magnificent roadway consists of a series of numbered switchbacks (“Tornante” as they are referred to in Italy), 48 in all (see Tornante slideshow, below), leading us up to the bustling summit.
Upper photo: Looking down the mountain - Hairpins 8 (photo bottom) to 24 (photo top)
Photo bottom left: Hairpins 42-35
Photo bottom right: Hairpins 30-24
Ultimo tornante (last turn)
#4 - Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux from Bedoin
Ride 21.5 kilometers gaining 1,610 meters at 7.5% average grade.
One of the “Big Four,” in our estimation, Mont Ventoux is on the same world renowned footing as Alpe d’Huez (although no climbs can match the fame of Alpe d’Huez), Tourmalet and Stelvio. The traditional route up Mont Ventoux from Bédoin is extremely challenging (a Top 100 World Climb), scenic, and quite unique in the upper third of the climb with its barren limestone mountains looking more like desert than alps.
Well, they don’t call it the Bald Mountain for nothing . . .
ICONIC RADIO TOWER ATOP MONT VENTOUX
One of the features of cycling Mont Ventoux that separates it from many of the other exceptional climbs of Europe is that its unique radio tower at the top is visible throughout the climb. At times it seems this tower just refuses to grow any bigger no matter how fast we pedal! SportActive.net explains that this distinctive red and white building, resembling a lighthouse, was built in 1968 and is used as a meteorological station as well as to broadcast television signals.
Iconic radio tower atop Venoux is visible as we ascend the mountain.
TOUR DE FRANCE
The Tour de France included Mont Ventoux in 17 stages between 1951 and 2016, and it has been the finish on 11 of those, most recently in 2016 (as the writing of this page in 2019). “Mont Ventoux has become legendary as the scene of one of the most grueling climbs in the Tour de France bicycle race, which has ascended the mountain fifteen times since 1951. The followed trail mostly passes through Bédoin. Its fame as a scene of great Tour dramas has made it a magnet for cyclists around the world” (Wikipedia).
Charly Gaul Stage 18 1958
Photo: Cycling Passion - Charly Gaul on Mont Ventoux Tour de France 1958
 Note that officially the TdF has featured Ventoux 16, not 17 times. This discrepancy is the result of Lance Armstrong being stripped of all TdF conquests, the 2012 TdF is removed from the books, including Mont Ventoux’s Stage 13 which was won by David Millar of Great Britain.