Cycling the World’s 10 Most Famous Bike Climbs
Alpe d’Huez - top left and center
Passo dello Stelvio - top right
Col du Tourmalet - bottom right
Mont Ventoux - bottom left
This is the one page on this website where we stray from the objective FIETS Index to subjectively list the World’s Top 10 Most Famous Bike Climbs. We have used our own personal experiences, done significant research and also consulted with an expert in European Cyclo Climbing (Jerry Nilson, cycloclimbing.com). Now we present our list of the World’s 10 Most Famous Road Bike Climbs, in reverse order:
WORLD’S TENTH MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
CIME DE LA BONETTE
Cycling Cime Bonette from Jausiers, France
Ride 24 kilometers gaining 1580 meters at 6.4% average grade.
Often incorrectly considered the highest road in Europe (Pico de Veleta in Spain holds that honor, by a good stretch), this is the more challenging approach to Col de la and Cime Bonette at 23 km/1,632 m/6.9% from the north, versus 25.5 km/1,553 m/6.1% from Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée to the south. The pass itself is the third highest in Europe after Passo dello Stelvio (2760m) and Col de L’Iseran (2770m), but if we take the loop to Cime Bonette at the pass, we gain another 81m, which tops out above L’Iseran.
Featured 4 times in the Tour de France as of 2020.
Cime Bonette - 2862 meters.
#9 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
The Col d’Aubisque bike climb is one of the most famous of climbs in the French Pyrenees and France. Aubisque first appeared in the Tour de France in 1910, and as of 2020, has been included 92 times in all, and 48 times between 1947 and 2012. It has been ignored for the past seven years as of the publication of this page February 2019. The climb was included 12 years straight after its post-war inauguration in 1947, and has been a stage finish three times, which is fairly significant for a pass. For the 24 years between 1947 and 1970, the Aubisque was included in the Tour all but three years. The pass was also included once (2016) in the Vuelta a Espan֘a.
#8 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
MADONNA DEL GHISALLO
Ghisallo Cycling Museum (Museo del Ciclismo).
This is a bike climb to cycling heaven. Ride from Bellagio on Lake Como to the Santuario della Madonna del Ghisallo. At the top is an extraordinary cycling museum created by the efforts of legendary Italian cyclists and three-time Giro winner Fiorenzo Magni.
This historical bike climb has been featured many times in the Giro di Lombardia and also in the Giro d’Italia.
#7 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
Many times featured, and twice the Cima Coppi, of the Giro d’Italia
The Sella Ronda is one of the greatest cycling loops in the world. This loop circles the Sella Gruppo and can be ridden by bike during the cycling season and skied during the winter using the Sella Ronda ski lift carousel. Our route is in the counterclockwise direction, beginning in Arabba.
Sella Ronda Bike Day is in June each year and climbs in this order: Sella-Pordoi-Campolongo-Gardena.
#6 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
Featured 36 times in the TdF from 1922-2019.
As with so many of the most famous world climbs, this one is made famous by the Tour de France.
Left photo: Gino Bartali, stage 14 July 22, 1938 TdF; Bartali wins 1938 Tour (148:29:12 / 18:27 margin),
(Tour de France, Twitter).
Right photo: Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi fought it out up the I’zoard on Stage 16 1949 Giro,
(Pinterest - Raffaele Spiazi).
#5 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
COL DU GALIBIER
Haute Route quotes Henri Desgrange in his praise of this climb:
The Galibier became a legend at the very first time it was used by the Tour de France, in 1911. This is how Henri Desgrange, creator of the Tour de France, introduced it to his readers: “Oh! Sappey! Oh! Laffrey! Oh! Col Bayard! Oh! Tourmalet! I will not fail in my duty in proclaiming that next to the Galibier you are as weak as dishwater: before this giant there’s nothing one can do but doff one’s hat and bow down low” (translation by Marvin Faure) (Hauteroute.org - Col du Galibier).
When first crossed in 1911 by the Tour de France, no tour rider had ever ridden higher.
Climb begins in the ski resort of Valloire
Valloire is a commune in the Savoie Department, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region.
Population 1,132 (2014), elevation 735 m.
Emile Georget, Col du Galibier, 1911
Photo: Emile Georget.
Col du Galibier has been featured in the Tour de France 35 times between 1947-2019 (~60 times since 1911).
#4 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
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 #4 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 eventually the 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.
Photo: Cycling Passion, Octave Lapize walks over the Col du Tourmalet.
#3 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
PASSO DELLO STELVIO
Highest finish of any Grand Tour -- Featured in Giro 12 times (1953-2019).
World Top 10 Epic Bike Climb
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 TORNANTE (hairpins, switchbacks, kehrs, lacets) . . .
THE MOST FAMOUS HAIRPINS IN THE WORLD
The last 24 tornante (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).
#2 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
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
#1 MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB
(BY A GOOD BIT)
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 two in a day). 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 stage 18, 1979 (Hinault chases)
Photo: Scanseb / Pinetrest - Raffaele Spiazzi
 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.