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Outside is Free

Twenty-one of the most famous, not-so-famous, and infamous mountain climbs of the European cycling world. Favourites of the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and just about everyone able and willing to turn a pedal in anger.

Show me a mountain, and I’ll show you any number of riders willing to race up it just for the hell of it. It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

Outside is free.

1 - Alpe d'Huez

Fausto Coppi won the first Alpe d’Huez Tour de France stage in 1952. His name appears on the first bend of the climb.

Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond’s rivalry shaped the 1986 edition of the Tour and cemented Alpe d’Huez’s reputation for both out and out racing and decisive moments.
Marco Pantini became the first modern day legend of Alpe d’Huez after his audacious attack at the bottom of the climb and subsequent stage win during the 1997 Tour de France. The record still stands today at 36.50

Alpe d'Huez - More

2 - Col du Galibier

Modern life is busy, there could be a million things on your mind as you start climbing the Col du Galibier. 

You’re upcoming marriage, you’re recent or imminent divorce, the birth of your first child. The boss you hate or the job you love. These hugely essential considerations will eventually be reduced to just one concern. Getting to the top of this climb. If you can still remember your own name by the time you crest the summit, consider going pro.

Col du Galibier - More

3 - Col de la Croix de Fer

Far from the madding crowd. The Col de la Croix de Fer doesn't have much in the way of sexy hairpins, crumbling rockfaces or jaw-dropping canyons.

What it does have is sun on your back and wind in your hair.
A sense of liberation that comes with being out in an environment so immense you pale into total insignificance. Where your wants and dislikes are just not considered, where you are just a dot.

Such places can set you free.

Col de la Croix de Fer - More

4 - Col du Glandon

Don’t let anyone tell you not to do this, not to go. But don’t think this is something easy. You will need to be on top of your game. The final couple of kilometres are as tough as anywhere in the Alps and they can break you if you don’t know how to bend.

Some days the mountains like to be left alone. Some days you will find here nothing but rain, snow and cold, lightning storms, zero visibiliy, moody, heavy clouds. Getting up can be tough enough. Getting down can freeze you to the bone. 

You’re hands frozen to the bars, the rain blinding your eyes, shaking so badly while desperately trying to stay upright on the road long enough to reach shelter and warmth.

Col du Glandon - More

5 - Col de I’Iseran

Slowly emerging from the ravine, the road crosses a small bridge before opening out into a valley just below the summit.

Intrepid cyclists are just dots on the road below, and the summit refuge can be seen against the sky on the top ridge in the centre of the picture.This could easily be the most brutal couple of kilometres you ever do on a bike, depending on how your body reacts to the lack of oxygen.

Time is elastic. Time may have just stopped. It may take the rest of your life to reach the top of this mountain.

But reach it, you will.

Col de I’Iseran - More

6 - Col d’Izoard

The Casse Déserte, one of the most iconic roads in the world of cycling and home to the modern day sporting hero. It can be found on the south acsent towards the top of the Col d’Izoard. Following a series of steep uphill sections, interspersed with tight hairpins, you enter a prehistoric landscape of crumbling rock, unstable life-threatening terrain, and severe heat. 

The mountain looks like it has been split down the middle with a great axe. Its innards spilling out like an open wound for all to see. 

Col d’Izoard - More

7 - Col de la Bonette

On the previous afternoon the thunderstorm rumbling around broke across the summit of the Col de la Bonette. Throwing ice-cube-size hailstones down and washing tons of debris, people, and cars off the mountain top, blocking the road, making the pass impassable.

By dawn, the road crews had partially cleared the road and reopened the pass. The storm had vanquished the oppressive heat and washed the sky clean. Out of chaos, beauty is born.

Perfect time for a ride.

Col de la Bonette - More

8 - Mont Ventoux

Unlike other cycling climbs, the roads up the Ventoux don’t go anywhere other than down the other side. With no through traffic making it a haven for cyclists. 

The upper slopes are devoid of trees or vegetation, leaving a moonscape that is simultaneously desolate and breathtakingly beautiful.

Less than a kilometre from the top on the south side, the Tom Simpson memorial removes any remaining doubt that this mountain belongs to us.

Mont Ventoux - More

9 - Passo Stelvio

Hotshot racers and weekend warriors buzz like little angry wasps up and down the Stelvio, looking for satisfaction but finding none.

Meanwhile, boys and girls on bicycles quietly concentrate, stick to their task, hold their cadence, rhythm, and belief.
Climbing this mountain doesn’t mean anything unless you do it with your own efforts, under your own power.

Passo Stelvio - More

10 - Colle delle Finestre

Every few years, the Giro d’Italia visits the Colle delle Finestre and makes a big noise. Eight kilometres of the road leading to the summit from Susa are gravel. For many, that’s eight kilometres of career-defining road.

Once it’s over the Finestre goes back to being a quiet backwater of serenity. The views are jaw-dropping at the bottom and just keep getting better the higher you go, the peace is defening. There is a reason the Colle delle Finestre is so revered and it has nothing to do with the gradient or the numbers.

Colle delle Finestre

11 - Col d’Aspin

There are bigger climbs, shorter climbs, steeper climbs, longer climbs, higher climbs, you name it climbs. But there are no climbs anywhere more serenely beautiful than the Col d’Aspin.

Col d’Aspin - More

12 - Col d’Ausbisque

Heading out from Laruns onto the Col d’Ausbisque under a thick blanket of low cloud. You could be thinking it’s just going to be one of those days. Visibility drops to below 30 meters. Then 20 as you continue to climb up into the thickest cloud you will ever see.

Some days this could be all you’ll ever see, but not today. Slowly out of the enveloping blanket of thick cloud, rounding another hairpin and out into the brilliant sunshine.
What was an im-possibility day turned into one of the very best days ever.

Welcome to the Aubisque.

Col d’Ausbisque - More

13 - Col du Tourmalet

Stage 10 of the 1910 edition of the Tour de France took on the Tourmalet. The first high mountain pass to be included in the Tour.

It’s been going up it ever since, sometimes twice, it is the most visited of all the mountain passes the Tour visits.

This has much to do with its location in the middle of the Pyrenees. In fact, it’s pretty difficult not to go up the Tourmalet, as there isn’t any way around it.

Col du Tourmalet - More

14 - Port de Pailhères

The Port de Pailhères has all the characteristics a mountain climb should possess. Buried deep in the Pyrenees far from the tourist trail, you'll see more cows than people. A constantly changing landscape with clouding rolling in one minute, and rolling out the next leaving blue skies and sunshine.

Perfectly formed hairpins exactly the right distance apart, yet all different leading upwards above the clouds.

Port de Pailhères - More

15 - Col du Soulor

The Col du Soulor is a 22km. unsung climb of the Tour de France. Last climbed in the 2019 edition as the warmup act to the mountain top finish on the Tourmalet.

Mark Cavendish recently said he never got time to look at the scenery during the Tour de France. That has to be a typical Cavendish tongue in cheek comment because the views from the Col du Soulor, will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Col du Soulor - More

16 - Passo Gardena & the Sellaronda

The Sellaronda is known as the most beautiful cycling route in the world.
I wouldn't dispute that claim. The Sellaronda is nothing less than a cycling paradise. The name comes from the world-famous ski run of the same name.

Passo Gardena - More

17 - Passo Sella

Head out of Canazei via the Passo Pordoi. Take a left onto the Passo Sella, and you could be in the Rocky Mountains. The higher you go, the more dramatic everything becomes till you eventually find yourself standing on the shoulders of giants.

Passo Sella - More

18 - Passo Giau

Sometimes referred to as the beauty and the beast, the Passo Giau is situated a little away from the rest of the main climbs in the Dolomites. Like it needs its own space. At 2,236 metres and a 9% average gradient over 10 kilometres, it's a relentless challenge before you see the beauty beyond the beast.

Once above 2000m. the vast summer pastures open out with visas, which, together with the altitude, will take your breath away.

Passo Giau - More

19 - Passo Pordoi

The morning mist slowly disperses from the Passo Pordoi and the road to Arabba. Revealing thirty-three switchbacks in less than ten kilometres, that’s 3.5 turns per kilometre.
Do road engineers charge extra for hairpins?

I think they might.

Passo Pordoi - More

20 - Grimsel & Furka Pass

The Rhône river rises from the Rhône Glacier which can be seen towards the top left of the picture. The Rhône Glacier has shrunk dramatically due to climate change since around 1900 when the glacier reached the buildings at the valley bottom.

In the foreground are the six hairpins of the Grimsel Pass with a 405m. elevation gain to the top of the pass at 2,164m. In the background can be seen one of the most dramatic climbs in Europe, the Furka Pass.

Grimsel & Furka Pass - More

21 - Sa Calobra

The Sa Calobra winds its way from the sea onto the shoulder of the Puig Major, Mallorca's highest mountain. Situated in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, the Sa Calobra has over 96,000 Strava entries ranging from under 25 minutes to four hours.
Just enough time to take in the view.

Sa Calobra - More

Outside is Free

Today is a good day. Today is a day that counts.

21 Cycling Climbs - The Book