Italy’s Top 5 Most Epic Bike Climbs, Photo clockwise from top left:
Colle delle Finestre #5; Colle del Nivolet #4; Passo di Gavia #3;
Monte Zoncolan #2; Passo dello Stelvio #1 (center).
What makes a bike climb “epic”? Well, since this is a subjective issue, we’ll just give you our thoughts, but by no means do we consider this an end-all list. And, while we can surely debate what truly are the most epic Italian bike climbs, we feel there is no reasonable debate that our Top 10 list clearly includes real-deal epic climbs. Whether they are THE Top 10 most epic is of course always open to debate. We also welcome your thoughts on this category via our Contact Page.
Factors that we have taken into account in selecting our Top 10 Most Epic French Bike Climbs:
- How difficult is the climb?;
- How famous is it?;
- What is the scenery along the route?;
- Is the road and its surroundings of interest (i.e., terrifying . . . 😨)?; and
- What is the climb’s Tour history?
Epic, used in our context, means: extraordinary, exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list, and “must do.” All of the climbs below pass our cleats-on-the-ground working definition of “epic bike climb”: At the finish of the climb you say to your riding partner with great enthusiasm “WOW, that was an EPIC climb!!!!”
#10 Passo della Forcella
The second most difficult road bike climb in Italy
9.2 kilometers at an average grade of 15%
This climb is included in Italy’s Top 10 Most Epic Bike Climbs because:
- It is steeeeeeep -- the second steepest five mile section of paved road in the world;
- It is the second most difficult bike climb in Italy, behind Scanuppia;
- It is scenic; and
- The climb is remote, private, and is essentially unknown -- a hidden jewel of bicycle climbs.
The sign seemed to be a bit of an understatement in our estimation . . . .
#9 Passo Giau from Codalonga (South)
Passo Giau -- Nuvolau Massif at the pass.
There are two primary reasons we have selected Passo Giau for Italy’s Top 10 Most Epic Bike Climbs:
- The scenery is simply stunning and nearly unparalleled.
- We ride towards and ultimately past the famed Monte Averau the majority of the climb, similar to the great Mont Venoux’s radio tower, it is not often that you climb within sight of an iconic formation for the majority of a bicycle climb.
- The pass itself lies at the base of Nuvolau Massif, one of the most renowned formations in the Dolomites.
- At 9.6 kilometers and 9.4% average grade, Passo Giau does add a fair amount of challenge to the scenic splendor of the climb. Passo Giau from the south is also the most difficult climb in the Dolomites with a respectable Fiets Index of 9.6.
Just a very small sample of the beauty of the climb to Passo Giau
The highest mountain of the Dolomites Nuvolau Group at 2649 meters.
This mountain lies between Passo Falzarego and Passo Giau.
Passo Giau is located at the foot of the Nuvolau Massif, one of the most renowned peaks in the Dolomites.
Scanuppia - Trentino-Alto Adige
This is the fourth hardest road bike climb in the world. We include Scanuppia in Italy’s Top 10 Most Epic Road Bike list solely because it is unbelievably steep and difficult. It averages 18% for a full 4½ miles (7.24 km). Some segments of the climb exceed 30% for 100 meters or more (note that the 45% sign at the start is misleading, as that is likely the steepest gradient measured on the inside of one of the sharp hairpins on the climb).
Note that the sign at beginning says no bikes.
It is hard to capture gradient on a photograph, but these do some justice to Scannupia’s extreme grade.
#7 Mortirolo from Mazzo di Valtellina
Mortirollo is our #7 Epic Italian Climb because:
- It is well known, if not famous, in Italy and worldwide as it is included frequently in the Giro d’Italia (fourteen times between 1990 and 2020)
- This is one of the hardest bike climbs in Italy (#9) and the World (#47);
- It is mercilessly steep -- 11% average grade for its 11.6 kilometers (15% for an entire kilometer); and
- The road is narrow and with scenic surroundings.
The climb has ancient structures and scenic views along its 11.6 kilometers.
Three pass signs at the top.
#6 Monte Grappa from Fietta
Monte Grappa is one of the most epic road bike climbs in Italy, yet it is not nearly as acclaimed or well known as some of the other great Italian climbs such as Stelvios, Gavia, Mortirollo or Zoncolan.
Why is Monte Grappa on our Top 10 Most Epic list?
- All 11 ascents are very challenging, and one is a World Top 100 Bike Climb;
- Its exceptional set of hairpins -- 22 over 5.6 kilometers averaging 10.6% (steepest 1 km at 16.3% and 2 km at 14.1%);
- Dramatic scenery;
- Sheer cliffs along one stretch;
- Fun set of tunnels to ride through -- if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter the wandering wild mule herd that resides in the area;
- One of the most spectacular finishes in the world -- at the Sacrario del Monte Grappa where the bodies of 22,190 Italian and Austrian soldiers who fought and died on Monte Grappa in WWI are interred;
- An historic WWI museum at the top;
- A very popular and good quality restaurant at the finish.
- The most WWI history along the climb and at the finish of any road bike climb in Europe.
- There are eleven routes to the top of Monte Grappa (many constructed for military purposes during WWI), this is more routes to the top of a bike climb than anywhere in the world.
On our eight trips up Monte Grappa, there were, as often as not, more cyclists than motorists at the top.
In 2016 we rode the eleven routes to the top of Monte Grappa in six days. We designed special Monte Grappa jerseys for the occasion, and at the top of each climb we colored in the spot on the jersey correlating to the climb we’d just completed.
Unique stretch of road on the routes from Fietta, Posagno, Cavaso del Tomba and Pederobba.
Military Road along sheer cliff to the left and through three short but cool tunnels.
The Sacrario del Monte Grappa and la Madonna del Grappa (chapel on top of the Sacrario).
#5 Colle delle Finestre
The top bike climb in Italy’s Piemonte region and #5 Italy/#20 world. The points in favor of including Colle delle Finestre in Italy Top 10 Most Epic are:
- It is a very difficult “road bike” climb (quotes necessary because this is a hybrid route);
- The road turns to gravel/dirt about halfway to the finish, which lends to a unique riding experience;
- This is a Top 25 World Bike Climb -- not all climbs can boast that (well, only 25, to be exact 😉);
- The climb has been included in the Giro d’Italia four times (2005, 2011, 2015 and 2018), which is a testament to its stature;
- The scenery is extraordinary, particularly towards the top;
- We ride to a WWI fort in fair condition, which overlooks the col;
- The roadway is unique and fun, narrow, bordered by thick forest for the first half, open views and grazing cattle along the second half, with very old kilometer signs leading the way up the mountain.
The collages below are some examples of things things we encounter on our 17 kilometer climb to Colle delle Finestre -- all at a whopping 9.9% average grade 😳
#4 Colle del Nivolet
Cycling Col de Nivolet, Our #1 Most Scenic and Beautiful Climb in the World
If you are the #1 most beautiful bike climb in the world (World’s 10 Most Scenic Bike Climbs) you need no other qualification in order to be included on your country’s Top 10 Most Epic Climbs list. So it is with Colle del Nivolet, which we have ranked as the Numero Uno most beautiful road bike climb in the entire world -- enough said . . .
#3 Monte Zoncolan from Ovaro
Zoncolan is selected as the fourth Most Epic Bike Climb in Italy for the following reasons:
- It is a murderous climb, five continuous kilometers average 15%;
- It is ranked #11 Italy and #58 World in difficulty;
- It has been featured in the Giro d’Italia six times between 2003 and 2020; and
- It has the greatest set of road markers anywhere in the world.
Below are all of the kilometer signs on the Monte Zoncolan climb -- if a year for a Grand Tour is listed, that means the rider won the event that year, unless specified otherwise (e.g., if he was KOM).
Ottavio Bottecchia (IT; Winner TdF 1924-1925); Alfredo Binda (IT; Giro d’Italia 1925, 1926, 1928-1929, 1933; World Road Race Champion 1927, 1930, 1932).
Photos clockwise from top left: Louison Bobet (FR; TdF 1953-1955); Charly Gaul (LU; Giro 1956, 1959, KOM 1956, 1959;; TdF 1958, KOM 1955-1956); Federico Bahamontes (ES; TdF 1959); Jacques Anquetil (FR; TdF 1957, 1961-1964; Giro 1960, 1964); Felice Gimondi (IT; TdF 1965; Giro 1967, 1969, 1976; Vuelta 1968; world champion 1973); Eddy Merckx (BE; not enough room for all of his accomplishments 🏆🏆🏆🏆, etc. - but . . . some of them: TdF 1969-1972, 1974; Giro 1968, 1970, 1972-74; Vuelta 1973; hour record 1972); Francesco Moser IT; Giro 1984; World Champion 1977); The Badger (FR; TdF 1978-1979, 1981-1982, 1985; Giro 1980, 1982, 1985; Vuelta 1978, 1983; World Champion 1980);
Giuseppe Saronni (IT; Giro 1979, 1983); Gianni Bugno (IT; Giro 1990; World Champion 1991-1992); Miguel Indurain (ES; TdF 1991-1995; Giro 1992-1993; Olympic Gold 1996); Marco Pantani (IT; TdF 1998; Giro 1998); Fiorenzo Magni (IT; #1 Greatest cycling photo of all time 👍👍; Giro 1948, 1951, 1955); Gino Bartali (IT; TdF 1938, 1948; Giro 1936-1937, 1946); Fausto Coppi (IT; TdF 1949, 1952; Giro 1947, 1949, 1952-53); Gilberto Simoni (IT; Giro 2001, 2003).
Franco Ballerini (IT; Paris-Roubaix 1995, 1998; Coach Italian National Cycling Team from 2001 until his death in 2010); Gilberto Simoni (IT; Giro 2001, 2003).
With all due respect, we believe they have overlooked one very important cyclist . . .
#2 Gavia from Ponte di Legno
. . . Andy Hampsten surely has earned a place on a Zoncolan km marker. ❄❄❄❄🚴🏔🥶
1988 Giro d’Italia Stage 14 June 5 - #1 Erik Breukink 3:53:12
Hampsten second, seven seconds back (secured 1988 Giro victory on this courageous ride).
We don’t believe there can be much credible opposition to including Passo di Gavia on Italy’s Top 10 Most Epic Climbs list:
- The climb is very difficult at 16.5 kilometers at 8% average grade;
- The scenery on the climb is spectacular;
- The finish area is one of the best in Italy and the world, with multiple cycling and col signs, Rifugio Bonetta and Casa D’Alta Montagna across the road, making for no shortage of photo opportunities;
- The climb has been featured nine times times in the Giro d’Italia (on average once every four years in the past two decades), most recently in 2019 (although cancelled due to snow on May 28, 2019);
- The climb became one of the most well-known in Italy and among cycling fans worldwide with the great Andy Hampsten, on Stage 14 of the 1988 Giro. It is Hampsten’s glorious day over Gavia in 1988 that pushes this climb to #2 on our list. Additionally, this is the location of Octave Lapize’s famed “Assassins” remark in 1910 on Aubisque, and one of the most famous quotes in Grand Tour History was coined from this climb, “the day the Big Men Cried.”
The roadway is extremely narrow with sheer cliffs on one side for much of the second half of the climb.
The terrifying alternative to riding through the also dangerous 500 meter tunnel at kilometer 13.
One of the greatest cycling finishes in Italy, and the world.
#1 Passo dello Stelvio from Prato Allo
The most famous hairpins in the world.
Looking down from just below the pass area.
Stelvio is nothing if not epic! This is the most famous of our Top 10 World Most Epic climbs, and rightly so. We love Stelvio and have travelled to Bormio and Prato Allo Stelvio three times to climb this extraordinary road.
Why Passo dello Stelvio is the most epic cycling climb in Italy:
- It is one of the four most famous road bike climbs in the world;
- It is frequently featured in the Giro d’Italia (thirteen times from 1953-2020). It is always the cima coppi of the Giro (featured seven times between 1965 [first cima coppi] and 2020 [most recent]) because it is the highest pass and paved road in Italy;
- At 26 kilometers and 7.2% average grade, t is an extremely difficult climb by bike;
- It is ranked #8 Italy/#42 world in difficulty;
- The hairpins are the most famous in the world and are the primary reason we rank Stelvio as the most Epic Bike Climb in Italy.
Photos clockwise from top:
Looking down the mountain, Hairpins 8 (photo bottom) to 24 (photo top); Hairpins 42-35; Hairpins 30-24.
Ultimo tornante (“last turn”).
Stelvio is our favorite bike climb finish in the world.