Twenty of the world's most beautiful roads for cycling

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Twenty of the world’s most beautiful roads for cycling

Scenic climbs, jaw-dropping backdrops and stunning descents to add to your bucket list

The beauty of road cycling is the access two wheels can give you to some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes. Where other sports are confined to stadiums or fields, cycling takes you into the wilds.

From leg-numbing, hair-pinned climbs to snow-capped peaks, vast vistas to whirlwind descents, jaw-dropping backdrops to views that take your breath away, there’s no shortage of stunning roads to ride out there and every cyclist has a bucket list of their own.

Which roads feature on your must-ride list? (Pic: Steve Johnson, via Flickr Creative Commons)

And we’ve picked out 20 roads which should be on every must-ride list. Some may be well known as regular fixtures in some of cycling’s biggest races on the WorldTour circuit, others are more far-flung, taking you to all four corners of the globe.

So, without further ado, here they are…

Europe

Passo dello Stelvio, Italy

From iconic Alpine peaks to world famous climbs from the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, Europe is packed with must-ride roads.

The Passo dello Stelvio, with its 48 hairpins, tops many the bucket list of many cyclists (Pic: Steve Harris, via Flickr Creative Commons)

And one of the most iconic of those has to be Italy’s Passo dello Stelvio, which sits close to the Swiss border in the Alps.

A Giro d’Italia legend, the ascent is the highest in the Eastern Alps and second highest paved mountain pass in the entire Alps at 2,757m, just shy of the Col de l’Iseran at 2,770m.

Snaking up the mountainside, the 24.3km climb up the eastern side of the Stelvio has an incredible 48 hairpins, one stacked on top of the other as the road nears the summit – and it’s not one of the faint-hearted thanks to its 7.4 per cent average gradient.

Once voted among the world’s best roads for driving by Top Gear, it is also top of many cyclists’ bucket list and with good reason.

Lacets de Montvernier, France

The Lacets de Montvernier made its Tour de France debut in 2015

The Tour de France’s maiden passage of the Lacets de Montvernier in 2015 sprung the spiralling ascent into the limelight, and it is certainly a climb of beauty.

The climb’s name, Lacets de Montvernier,  translates to the Shoelaces of Montvernier, reflecting the fact the road snakes up the mountainside like a piece of string dropped from the cycling Gods above.

It’s a road seemingly made for cycling and while not long, at 3.4km with an average gradient of 8.2 per cent, it’s a beautiful ascent which sees riders slingshot between hairpins at an average rate of almost one every 120m as the summit approaches.

Rising up from the valley floor, the climb may be dwarfed by its iconic Alpine neighbours but the Lacets de Montvernier is as picturesque as they come.

Cormet de Roselend, France

The western ascent of the Cormet de Roselend runs past the stunning Roselend Lake (Pic: Mike George, via Creative Commons)

The Cormet de Roselend connects Beaufortain to Haute-Tarentaise on the Route des Grandes Alpes.

It packs plenty of punch – a 20km climb with an average gradient of six per cent, which sits consistently around that marker for much of the way up – but its beauty marks it out from its near neighbours.

The western ascent overlooks the stunning, ice blue Roseland Lake, meaning while it is the toughest route to ride, it’s also the most popular.

You’ll find plenty of fellow cyclists and tourists for company if you tackle it in the height of summer, but that shouldn’t put you off.

A flatter 2km section of road runs alongside the lake to offer some respite midway up the road, before the rugged, wild decor provides the backdrop up to the summit.

Col de la Croix de Fer, France

Mike Cotty calls the Col de la Croix de Fer one of his ‘all-time favourites’ (Pic: Will_Cyclist, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Known in English as the Pass of the Iron Cross, sportive veteran and Alpine adventurer Mike Cotty calls the Col de la Croix de Fer one of his all-time favourites in this video – and he knows the Alps better than some of us know our local roads.

At the heart of the Rhone-Alpes region, the climb is one of many iconic ascents in the area but stands apart thanks to its tumbling waterfalls and breathtaking views as you approach the summit.

The stretches some 31km in all, taking you through everything from dense forest and wide-open meadows to the snow-capped mountain tops above.

The ever-changing gradient will take its toll, but the scenery is reason enough to push on to the summit and then enjoy it all again on the way down.

Col du Galibier, France

The Col du Galibier is a climb of beauty – but it packs plenty of punch (Pic: Robbie Shade, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The Col du Galibier needs little introduction. As a favourite of Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange, it’s a punishing ascent which combines its natural beauty with a demanding gradient.

The climb from the north twists and turns its way up from Valloire, coming with an average gradient of seven per cent over 17.6km, and the Col du Telegraphe serving as an aperitif for many cyclists en-route to the Galibier.

Your thighs will be burning as the gradient kicks up to its steepest levels in the final kilometre, and your lungs will be gasping for breath as the air thins at 2,645m.

But just a quick look at the winding road below you and vertigo-inducing Alpine backdrop is enough to remind you why it’s all worth it.

Col du Galibier (pic: Marcel Musil, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Port de Bales, France

The snow-capped Spanish frontier in the distance and the lush green landscape of the Port de Bales make it a popular ascent in the Pyrenees (Pic: Simon James, via Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s not just the Alps where the most picturesque French climbs can be found – with a trip to the French side of the Pyrenees an equally rewarding venture.

Take the Port de Bales, for example, where the narrow road guides you through just shy of 20km of lush mountain landscape.

The snow-capped peaks of the Spanish frontier can be seen in the distance as the well-surfaced road dissects the mountain pastures.

Like most mountain passes, the 1,755m road can only be tackled in the summer, but it’s not a climb to miss out on, appearing four times in the Tour de France since it first featured in 2007.

Route des Lacs, France

The Route des Lacs is one of the Pyrenees’ finest, most scenic roads (Pic: Will_Cyclist, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The road up to the Pyrenean dam at Lac Cap de Long is one of the highest paved roads in the French Pyrenees and it’s a thing of beauty.

A gentle rise warms the legs for the climbing to come, which passes through a gorge and follows the river, with four lakes on the route.

Lac Cap de Long is the highlight, with its dam marking the summit, and the hairpin-laden road showcases the best the Pyrenees have to offer.

Jagged mountain peaks, lush greenery and plenty of stunning lakes make the Route des Lacs as beautiful as they come in this part of the world.

Bealach na Ba, Scotland

Bealach na Ba is the closest thing to an Alpine Pass you’ll find in Britain (Pic: English Pointers, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The Alps and Pyrenees aren’t the only places to find stunning, twisting, turning climbs and rugged backdrops.

Bealach na Ba, in Applecross, Scotland, is as close to an Alpine pass as you will find on these shores with the winding ascent rising up from sea level to 631m through ten kilometres of climbing.

It may not boast the length of the Alps’ finest but it is not one to be taken lightly – its hairpins reach a gradient of one-in-five in the closing kilometres.

The rugged scenery of the gorse-covered Scottish wilderness add to its difficulty but also its beauty, and it’s certainly one for the bucket list.

Sa Calobra, Mallorca

Sa Calobra snakes it ways up from sea level to 682m

Like the Lacets de Montvernier, Sa Calobra in Mallorca is a feat of engineering excellence which up the mountainside.

The road looks as though a plate of spaghetti has simply been dropped from the sky, snaking its way up the mountainside through a series of tightly-packed hairpins which also makes for a rollercoaster descent.

Blog: riding Sa Calobra

As an ‘out-and-back’ climb, first you climb to the summit from the opposite side of the pass and take on the white-knuckle descent to a tiny fishing village, before turning at the bottom of the dead-end and heading straight back up again. Once you’re down there, the only way is up.

It is not the longest of climbs at 9.5km, but its seven per cent average gradient provides a stern early-season test for pros and amateurs alike, who flock to Mallorca for training camps.

Trollstigen, Norway

Trollstigen snakes its way up the Norwegian mountainside (Pic: Caruba, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Trollstigen, or Trolls’ Ladder in English, is a jaw-dropping climb which snakes its way up the mountainside in the shadow of Trollveggen – the Trolls’ Wall, a popular mountain for climbers.

And the jagged, stone-faced backdrop isn’t the only part of the Norwegian climb which makes it stand out as one of the world’s most beautiful roads – with 11 hairpin bends, an average incline of ten per cent and the view from the summit overlooking the Stigfossen waterfall all marking it as a simple stunning ascent.

Winter weather conditions means the climb is usually only open from May to October, and sometimes even shorter than that, so you will find plenty of company if you do head out during the summer – despite the road signs warning of trolls in the vicinity!

One of several beautiful climbs in Norway, it’s easy to see why the country is becoming an alternative haven for cyclists looking to test their climbing legs away from the traditional destinations of mainland Europe.

Giant’s Causeway Coastal Road, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway Coastal Road proves beautiful roads aren’t just limited to mountain passes (Pic: Bill Anderson, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Beautiful roads aren’t limited to thigh-numbing ascents – in fact one of Britain’s best is anything but.

The Giant’s Causeway Coastal Road, with the sea to one side and the rugged Northern Irish countryside to the other, follows a breathtaking 120-mile route from Londonderry to Belfast in all.

The arrival of the Giro d’Italia in Northern Ireland in 2014 allowed the country to showcase the beauty of the road and – despite persistent rain throughout (what else would you expect?) – it didn’t disappoint.

If you want the best scenery, look for the stretch between Bushmills and Larne with its dramatic cliff faces and deserted beaches, or if climbing is your thing Torr Head rears up to 20 per cent and can be easily accessed as a detour from the Coastal Road.

Grossglockner, Austrian Alps

Grossglockner shows the Austrian Alps at their best (Pic: Mario Siebold, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The best Alpine climbs aren’t exclusive to France and Italy, even if the presence of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia mean they hog most of the media spotlight.

In fact, head over to Austria and the Grossglockner can rival anything France and Italy throws forward when it comes to jaw-dropping beauty.

The Grossglockner High Alpine Road covers 48km in all, with 36 bends and tarmac which twists along the mountainsides to offer stunning views into the valley.

The Grossglockner mountain itself stands 3,798m tall, with the road taking you up to more than 2,500m through blossoming Alpine meadows, mountain forests and past huge cliffs.

Oberalp Pass, Swiss Alps

Switzerland’s Oberalp Pass isn’t short on beauty (Pic: Will_Cyclist, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Switzerland is also home to its fair share of beautiful Alpine ascents and first among those is the Oberalp Pass.

A working lighthouse marks the Tomasee – the source of the River Rhine – while the lower slopes overlook the equally stunning Oberalpsee mountain lake.

From there, the constantly twisting and turning road rises with snow-capped mountain peaks surrounding you and Alpine scenery on all sides.

Closed due to the snow in winter, the road is generally open from spring and can stay open as late as the beginning of December if the weather permits.

America

Red Mountain Pass, Colorado

Fans of pro cycling will know plenty about Colorado’s rugged high-altitude roads, thanks to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Red Mountain Pass is one of Colorado’s beautiful, rugged, high-altitude passes (Pic: Ethan Lofton, via Creative Commons)

Colorado’s roads typically rise much higher than those in Europe and Red Mountain Pass certainly doesn’t lack in altitude – topping out at more than 3,350m in the San Juan Mountains.

And it doesn’t lack a punch either, with an eight per cent gradient and switchbacks aplenty on a route traversed by the ‘Million Dollar Highway’.

The beauty, meanwhile, comes from the iron oxide laden rock from which Red Mountain’s name is derived.

The roads are heavy, and you will need to plan ahead if you plan ahead as avalanches have caused road closures, but the views and the landscapes are unforgettable.

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado

Wolf Creek Pass offers a rugged vista (Pic: Christopher Rosenberger, via Creative Commons)

Wolf Creek Pass is a high mountain pass, also in the San Juan Mountains, on the Continental Divide – forming part of the US Highway 160 route.

Mountain waterfalls, a rugged backdrop and the Colorado wilderness surround the pass, which a an average gradient of 6.8 per cent.

Without the cliff-like drops of Red Mountain Pass, Wolf Creek is seen as the easiest means of accessing southwest Colorado from the rest of the state and it has been widened to accommodate more cars as a result.

But the views from the summit, and the contrast between the bare rocks, lush greenery and the San Juan River make it a beautiful ascent to tackle.

Beartooth Highway, Montana

Beartooth Highway in Montana has been dubbed one of America’s most beatiful roads (Pic: Alex1961, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Beartooth Highway in Montana is another stunning pass across the pond.

Located near to Yellowstone National Park, the CBS broadcaster once dubbed it the most beautiful drive in America – and the same can go for its cycling credentials.

A series of switchbacks lead up past the lakes of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area and on to the 3,337m high plateau at the summit.

Be prepared for snowstorms, even in the middle of summer, and beware also of winds and thunderstorms – it is not a climb for the faint-hearted, but as far as beauty goes it’s unsurpassed in the States.

Haleakala, Hawaii

Haleakala takes you high onto Hawaii’s moonscape (Pic: Xavier Lambrecht, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Haleakala is a massive shield volcano which forms more than 75 per cent of Hawaiian Island, Maui, with the name translating as House of the Sun.

The Haleakala Highway, completed some 80 years ago, is the road which leads to the summit and comes with no shortage of switchbacks and sheer drops through Hawaii’s moonscape.

And the road, which is popular with cyclists, rises above the clouds to offer some of the most stunning views you will encounter on two wheels, serving as ample reward for the climb.

 

Karakoram Highway (pic: Marc van der Chijs, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Asia/Oceania

Karokoram Highway, China-Pakistan

The Karakoram Highway is flanked by stunning mountain backdrops (Pic: Antoine SIPOS, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Moving well off the beaten track, the Karakoram Highway, linking China and Pakistan, was opened to the public in 1986 and covers some 800 miles in all, and boasts the title of the world’s highest paved road.

Its highest point is at the Khunjerab Pass at 4,693m, while deep gorges – in the shadows of the Karakoram Mountains – and the Hunza Valley are among the highlights on a route unlike anything you’ll find in Europe.

Tours are organised along the highway, and the Chinese side is more suitable for a road bike, though the conditions do vary wildly so you may want something more suited to all-round riding if you plan on covering the full route.

However, views that will live long in the memory and the challenge of taking on the world’s highest paved road make this a once-in-a-lifetime route.

Friendship Highway, Tibet-Nepal

The Friendship Highway links Tibet and Nepal (Pic: Will DeFreitas, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Like the Karakoram Highway, the Friendship Highway varies dramatically along its 500-mile route, but it’s one packed with natural beauty.

Himalayan scenery forms the backdrop, while the Yarlung Tsangpo river and Yamdrok Yutso lake add to the beauty. While 80 per cent of the route is tarmacked, some section will require something tougher than a road bike (guided tours generally suggest a mountain bike).

The former home of the Panchen Lama – the second-highest ranking behind the Dalai Lama – is also passed by the route, while Everest overlooks the road as you head for Nepal.

Great Ocean Road, Australia

The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic coastal roads (Pic: Creative Commons, Alex Healing)

The Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, is, along with the Giant’s Causeway Coastal Road we’ve already featured, one of the world’s most beautiful coastal roads. 

The National Heritage-listed stretch of road covers 243km of coast between Torquay and Allansford and was built by soldiers between 1919 and 1932 in memory of those who died during World War One, technically making it the world’s largest war memorial.

It’s also a stunning stretch of tarmac, running past the Twelve Apostles rock formation, lush rainforest, wide sandy beaches and jagged cliffs.

The road is now set to become a fixture of the Australian cycling calendar, with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race launching in 2015 as an elite race and mass participation ride.

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