Roads to ride #16
Cycling has bestowed certain roads with iconic status. Be they the hors catégorie climbs of the Tour de France or the Tour of Flanders’ cobbled bergs, the sport has turned a few special stretches of pavement into places of pilgrimage for cycling aficionados. There are great roads beyond the realm of professional bike racing though — climbs that are as hard as anything the Tour de France races up with scenery that is as spectacular as anything TV helicopters have ever broadcast to your living room. From a tropical island off the coast of Africa to the Rocky Mountains on the west coast of America, engineers all over the world have created a playground for cyclists. Here are a few roads to get you started. Now, go and ride them.
Home to one of the most famous auto races in the world, Colorado’s Pikes Peak is one of the most difficult climbs in the United States. The ascent begins in the town of Cascade and lasts for nearly 30 kilometres, weaving up through aspen forests into the rugged terrain of the high Rocky Mountains at an average gradient of 7%. You’ll pass the start line of the iconic motor race 20 kilometres from the top. 156 turns later, you’ll arrive at the finish, 4,295 metres above sea level.
One of the most stupendous feats of road engineering that anyone has ever dreamed up, Norway’s Lysebotn rises out of the Lysefjord in a series of hairpin turns that will set your stomach churning. The road climbs for 8.7 kilometres at an average gradient of 10% and features incredible views, with sheer, greenclad cliffs that drop nearly 1,000 metres into the silver ocean.
The third highest volcano in the world and the highest mountain in Spain, Tenerife’s El Teide soars an imposing 3,718 metres over the Atlantic. Every year, its black lava slopes serve as a training ground for Tour de France contenders, who take advantage of the opportunity it offers them to ‘sleep high and train low’ — that is to stay overnight on the volcano’s moonlike upper slopes, before descending down to the tropical seashore to climb back up again and again. You can ascend El Teide from several sides, but the longest route begins in the town of El Médano, on the southern tip of the island, and rises for 34.6 kilometres to a maximum elevation just short of 2,200 metres, where the road ends at the rim of the volcano’s crater.
The Irohazaka roads are located in the mountains of Japan’s Tochigi prefecture. Together, the two roads — one is used for upwards traffic and the other for vehicles headed downwards — feature 48 hairpin turns, each marked with a letter of the ancient Japanese alphabet. The road played a significant role in Japanese history — the route was once popular with Buddhist pilgrims on their way to Lake Chuzenji, which is at the top of the forested hill that this
road climbs. The climb is seven kilometres long, has an average gradient of 6%, and rises to a height of 1,258 metres. If you manage to get there when it’s not clogged with cars, the descent is simply incredible.
PASSO DEL SAN GOTTARDO (TREMOLA)
Every spring, cycling fans wait eagerly for the cobbled classics. The Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont, and Muur van Geraardsbergen play host to some of the best battles in bike racing. Imagine if those iconic kasseienstrewn bergs lasted not just one or two kilometres but more than 11. And imagine if they were set in the high Alps instead of the dreary farmers’ fields of Flanders. The picture in your mind will look a lot like the climb to the top of Switzerland’s Gotthard Pass via the Tremola. A serpentine cobbled track that ascends for 11.8 kilometres, up to a maximum elevation of 2,081 metres, the Tremola combines the best of all that cycling has to offer.