10 Roads to Ride

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

This blog’s road to rides section is enduringly popular and consequently there’s stream of email enquiries from readers wanting to know which ones are best, often people are planning a trip to the mountains or even a first visit to Europe and want to visit the roads featured. It’s always difficult to rank them but for the fun of it here is a suggested top-10, some famous and some that ought to be.

The Colle di Fauniera comes first and if this list had to be reduced to one pick it’d be this giant. It might not be on many other people’s lists but the Fauniera isn’t picked for some esoteric reason nor a desire to be contrarian. It’s just this giant climb hasn’t been used much in the Giro d’Italia so it doesn’t have the celebrity draw or even familiarity of other climbs. You may never have heard of it and that’s all right. Objectively it scores well when compared to any other climb in the Alps and if there was a pack of Alpine pass trump cards it would be a great one to hold. It’s a challenge being 22.5km at 7.5%, it climbs to 2,511m above sea level and it’s been decisive when the Giro has visited too. When the Giro visited in the late 1990s some riders went for a recon ride and came back shaken and saying it was harder than the Mortirolo or the Angliru. Is it? It’s not as vertical but it has long sections above 10% and the road surface is dilapidated in parts that some gravel roads may be smoother.What makes this road the first pick is scenery that just gets better and better. An initial climb alongside a whitewater river is nice, the section past Alpine pastures and a monastery is special takes on a wilder feel and then the upper part is a spectacular wilderness, there’s not a ski lift nor souvenir shop in sight, just high peaks and long views.

  • When: go late in the summer or even in September when it is warm and sunny, ideally you need blue skies to appreciate the enormity of the views around
  • Bonus: if you like to collect cols then there are several on the way up and on the way back down including four over 2,300m high

The Col du Soulor is special. It may not be the highest nor the hardest climb in the Pyrenees but it captures the essence of cycling in this region and this feeling starts before the climb proper as you approach up the Ouzom valley from Asson. On a gentle ride the approach is bucolic as the road criss-crosses the babbling river, in a race the way the road narrows and the river gets whiter signals the impending proximity of the climb.

  • Visit any time in the summer as even in July or August the valley and road won’t be too busy
  • Bonus: wild horses and cattle graze near the top of the pass

The Chartreuse Trilogy used to be a fixture of the Tour de France where it played host to many a legendary raid but has fallen by the wayside. It’s no bad thing because these three climbs used to be legendary but what chance the peloton devours them today leaving TV-onlookers thinking the trilogy is mediocre? Nevermind that racing these climbs may not produce the outcomes of old, this route simple make for a rewarding ride, you can tackle these three climbs and then pick your return route, possibly along the Isère valley to the east which is flat but you could equally take the balcony road above it passing near the Prapoutel ski resort; or head west before looping back north.

  • Visit in June when the pastures are lush and before the holiday crowds arrive
  • Bonus: Ag2r road captain Samuel Dumoulin has a bakery at the start of this route and you can try a lap of the 1989 Worlds Course, one of the hilliest ever courses alongside Duitama and possibly Innsbruck in 2018

The Arenberg Cobbles have to be seen to be believed. This is one of those destinations that you may prefer to visit alone or at least in the company of fellow cyclists rather than as part of a family holiday because the region is grim with the oppressive feeling of low skies and high unemployment and the sense that the area’s best days have long gone. But it’s not dangerous – some readers have asked! – and the locals have a saying that you’ll cry twice: once when you arrive and again when you leave.  The pavé are the same too, a brutal shock as you first hit a sector but the feeling of floating afterwards once you return to tarmac is glorious, as if riding on velvet.

  • It does feel like a visit in March or April is appropriate given the association with spring classics but it’s open all year and try in the summer to see the region’s softer side with leafy trees and fields ripe for harvest
  • Bonus: there’s an organised cyclosportif ride allowing you to try Paris-Roubaix for yourself with the signposted route and logistics to get you between the finish and start

The Ghisallo is the opposite, a climb that’s decorative, even decadent as you climb out of Bellagio with its villas and teak-decked speedboats circle in the azure waters of Lake Como. But anyone can ride, this is the original “poor man’s spaceship” as labelled by Gianni Brera, you can ascend into the heavens and if the top of the climb isn’t sufficient you can stop by the famous cycling chapel. It’s a good climb, or rather two given the long flat section midway and one where the “summit” is very much a destination with the museum and chapel, as well as great viewpoint across the lake to the Alps and you can do this all as part of a longer ride.

  • When? Autumn of course. Just as Il Lombardia is or at least was “the race of the falling leaves”, the fall is a great time to visit as the woodland goes psychedilic
  • Bonus: the Muro di Sormano is nearby if you’ve got the low gears… or the cleat covers

The Colle del Nivolet is probably the greatest road in Italy never used by the Giro d’Italia. Like the Fauniera it scores high for length, gradient, altitude and the sheer sporting challenge. It’s a breathtaking ascent in both meanings. Subjectively the Fauniera is the better ride because it is wilder but this is the narcissism of small differences, both are majestic climbs but again the Nivolet didn’t win because you must turn around and descend again at the top although given this means you get to see the scenery you’ve just passed again it’s no bad thing.

  • When? Spring may come to most of Europe in March and April but not at 2,000m above sea level. Like many high altitude passes this is only open from late May onwards and always check the weather before visiting
  • Bonus: there’s nothing much extra, you are unlikely to ask for more after this

Mont Ventoux is a crowd-pleaser and genuinely worth riding for its challenge and beauty. The mountain attracts lore and hype and to ride this is to leave all the books, quotes and thoughts behind in Bédoin and just experience a steep road that climbs up to a peak almost two kilometres above sea level amid an unusual landscape.

  • When? Go in May or early October to avoid the crowds and the reek of burning brake pads and clutch plates from the motor traffic. Pick a day of clear blue skies and still weather, sometimes a hard combination to find
  • Bonus: the nearby Gorges de la Nesque and other roads in the region. You could quite easily spend a week in the region without scaling the Ventoux although it keeps appearing and taunting meaning a climb at least once is inevitable

The Cormet de Roseland via the Col du Pré is a joy, once past the early phase the climb takes on a chocolate-box image and you half expect Julie Andrews to burst out from a barn singing the Sound of Music as you ride up. The combination of these two passes allows for plenty, the early pastures and farms give way to forests and then there’s the large hydroelectric dam to ride across before the road hauls itself away from the lake and enters a vast open space on the the mountain side.

  • Go before the 18 July so you can say you knew it before the Tour de France “discovered” it
  • Bonus: take your pick from roads around Beaufort like the Signal to Bisanne or the cheerful-souding Col du Joly

The Col de Turini is a sly pick because to get there you may have to tackle the the Col de la Madone first or at least another route away from the Mediterranean coast and if you’re visiting the area then you can add the Poggio, Cipressa and more too. It’s a good ride thanks to the scenery and peaceful road, a world away from the busy Côte d’Azur. This is the kind of inland Alpine climb that the Tour de France won’t or can’t reach any more but is easily accessible to visitors.

  • Visit in March around Paris-Nice time. The snow at the top will be melting if not gone and the micro-climate can make this area the warmest place in Europe. Ride in the morning and you may spot many of the Monaco based pros
  • Bonus: turn right at the top for Authion if you want more climbing, turn left and take the descent to Lucéram which is hairpin heaven

The final pick is a difficult one because to make a choice now means to exclude all the others. The likes of the Stelvio and Alpe d’Huez are so famous you’d probably go and ride anyway so they don’t need any more introductions. It feels wrong to steer anyone away from the Muur van Geraardsbergen or the Basilica San Luca, try them if you can but they’re part of a longer ride rather than astonishing by themselves. The Zoncolan has to be ridden to be believed but evokes the Japanese saying about Mount Fuji that “a wise man climbs Fuji once. Only a fool climbs it twice” and if it is the reference by which other climbs it’s not the most scenic place for a long leg-press session. Wise or foolish it seems nobody can climb the Jebel Al Akhdar on a bike any more and the Puy-de-Dome is off-limits too.

So the Colle de Finestre wins the final spot. Even if it was tarmacked it would be a majestic climb with its hairpins and long views but the gravel section just brings more. Gravel may be fashionable today but this is picked out of tradition: your chance to discover what felt like to climb in times past even if the sterrato here is actually very good and for safety it’s only on the way up meaning a reliable descent

  • Go in the May when the Giro visits and you can ride up early on the day of the race itself but keep going at the top unless it’s a glorious day as waiting for hours at over 2,000m above sea level in your cycling kit can turn grim
  • Bonus: start at the finish, ie base yourself in or around Susa. You can loop around to tackle this climb one day but if you have more than a day then you’ll be in place for more routes such as Moncenisio

Roads written up: these are just selective picks among the celebrity roads featured so far and depend on taste, ambition, location and much more. There are more roads to be written up and plenty more that don’t have pro race links but make great rides. Suggestions to think about should include Monte Grappa, the quieter climbs of the Dolomites in mid-summer or the Cinque Terre coastline in Italy, the Allos-Champs-Cayolle trilogy in France, a sunny Sunday morning anywhere in the Basque Country in May, a host of unsung Alpine roads in Switzerland and Austria that offer fine roads and so on.

More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads


Kevin Smith December 27, 2017 at 7:40 pm

An awesome selection, thank you.

It’s clichéd but if there is a cycling bucket list it’s right here.

Happy New Year!

Will December 27, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for this. I once was at the bottom of Turini in freezing cold rain and couldn’t get the courage to ride up. One day.

Quick thoughts if you don’t mind:

As you mention, Fauniera has three paved sides. I’d just say that all three are massive, quiet, and very worthwhile. For gravel bikers, near the summit of Fauniera – at Colle di Valcavera (2416m) you can turn into the Altopiano della Gardetta and ride a great old military road that traverses 10+ cols all above 2000m then loop back via Colle del Preit. http://www.cycling-challenge.com/colle-fauniera-and-beyond/

Re: Nivolet. The best! You’re right, there’s not much else around. But on the same road to Nivolet, something like 30 kms below the summit, begins a great hidden climb to the high alpine dam/lake Lago di Teleccio. It reminded me of Lac Cap de Long – http://www.cycling-challenge.com/lago-di-teleccio/

Daniel Friebe January 4, 2018 at 4:39 pm

One word of caution on the Fauniera: some of the roads in the Piedmontese valleys are in dire condition. Fauniera was unrideable with road bike from Marmora side last sumer.

Dave December 27, 2017 at 8:22 pm

We’ve been using the holy trinity to plan summer riding holidays –

Inrng Roads to ride
Cycling Challenge website
Daniel Friebe’s Mountain High and Mountain Higher books.

Trouble is the list is getting longer and we’ve got failed rides we need to revisit (like Grimsel-Furka-Susten and Gross Scheidegg where we were beaten by the weather).

Jose December 27, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Nice selection, thanks. One climb that I really like is Monte Crostis/Panoramica delle Vette, the one boycotted by the peloton (or Contador?) in 2011. It is beautiful, hard, and the two roads are almost free of traffic.

Andrew December 27, 2017 at 11:07 pm

Ah, things to fantasize about during the winter here in Minnesota…

I was fortunate enough to get to do the Taiwan KOM route (Taroko Gorge) this past October, one week after the actual KOM race. It really should be on everyone’s bucket list. Astounding scenery, and a VERY long and hard climb. There looks to be a lot of other excellent riding in Taiwan too, even just outside of Taipei, if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Eb in AZ December 30, 2017 at 6:19 pm

great call, Taiwan is a beautiful island with great cycling infrastructure, friendly natives, and good food. If you only see Taipei hit one of the proper bike rental places on the river (as opposed to the shared commuter bike rentals) and ride the parkways.

MattF December 28, 2017 at 1:19 am

Inrng – you must try Col de Parpaillon (Alpes de Haute Provence) from La Condamine. I’ve done it (somewhat foolishly) on a road bike with 28mm tyres. Gravel bike would be perfect. Unspoilt glacial valley, sheep + shepherds and an unlit, single lane tunnel at the summit amongst the highlights.

Larry T December 28, 2017 at 1:26 am

Great piece! So far I’ve yet to ride Turini or Nivolet but can vouch for your reports on all of the others. Perhaps next time you’ll offer some simply great roads – parts of Italy’s Cilento coast come to mind as does the road from Alghero to Bosa in Sardegna as well as parts of the Cinque Terre. Sea views, low traffic, excellent pavement, etc. I’m sure your readers would enjoy learning about more roads like these.
Finally, if you head up Finestre, stop in Castelmagno, perhaps for the night at our friend’s hotel. The setting, food and wine are all spectacular! http://www.castelmagno.is.it/

Miles December 28, 2017 at 1:33 am

You should write a book.

The Inner Ring December 28, 2017 at 4:54 pm

There are some great ones already, I like Daniel Friebe’s Mountain High and Mountain Higher.

Will December 28, 2017 at 7:23 pm

We need to get him to write a third volume.

Mountain Further? Mountain Highest?

md January 2, 2018 at 11:35 pm

Ain’t no mountain high enough!

Aldo December 28, 2017 at 4:14 am

Just discovered //INRNG and love it. Will definitely be a daily visit for me. Planning on a trip to France/Italy next summer to challenge some of the famous climbs. Hopefully get some tips to make my trip a memorable one.

Roger December 28, 2017 at 9:02 am

An article for dreamers, made all the better for the fact that I’ll be up the Turini in April. Lovely stuff.

Davide December 28, 2017 at 11:34 am

INRNG thanks a lot for your report about Fauniera. So exciting ! I’m Granfondo La Fausto Coppi http://www.faustocoppi.net organizer with Colle Fauniera as unquestionable superstar !
I am also a fully licensed professional cycling guide recognized by the Piedmont Regional Council so don’t hesitate to contact me for any infos about the italian mentioned passes.

The Inner Ring December 28, 2017 at 4:56 pm

It was nice to see the road repair done because of the Fausto Coppi gran fondo, keep up the good work.

Larry T December 28, 2017 at 6:31 pm

Davide, Contact me – we might have some work for you at Piedmont Cycling Resort.

AnotherDavid December 28, 2017 at 11:45 am

3 months from now I’m heading north from my home to climb many of the “dois” in the Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai area. It’s not the Alps or Pyrenees, but it’ll still be epic.

Human Cyclist December 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Great piece, love the line about the Zoncolan. Interesting there’s nothing from Spain. Planning a trip this year so will be interesting to see how the Asturias stack up the the Alps. I found Italy a much better place for scenic rides compared to France. Of course there’s mountains further afield too, which I’m looking forward to discovering some day. It feels like we’re barely touching the surface so focussed are we on Grand Tours.

Kevin December 28, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Human Cyclist is right – try the Western Cape in South Africa. And Majorca, including Sa Calobra, is cycling heaven on earth.

Col Shivers December 28, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Awesome read! Got to tick off one of the roads to ride this year (Ventoux) and am lined up for three more in 2018 (Huez, Galibier and Glandon).

RQS December 28, 2017 at 4:28 pm

It’s also worth mentioning that in summer time where there are cows their are horse flies. I did the Raid a few years back, and anytime I stopped for my girlfriend I was harassed by these buggers. One bit right through my cycling jersey on the Soulor and left a welt you would not believe.

Kjetil Haaland December 31, 2017 at 8:35 am

The on the home stretch mentioned “Allos-Champs-Cayolle trilogy” is wonderful. This counter clockwise direction is preferrable for the wiews and the safety, and is also the opposite direction of both Cycling Challenge and Friebe (Mountain Higher). Going down the north side of the Allos at the end of the day is not for the faint hearted, but going up it in the morning you can hear Julie Andrews sing.

Kjetil Haaland December 31, 2017 at 8:46 am

When will I learn to proof read.
If you understand Scandinavian or manage to get some sense out of the text after Google Translate, this might wet your appetite for the loop. At least there are some nice pics:

Eskerrik Asko January 1, 2018 at 1:10 pm

After you’ve learned to proof read your comments, you should perhaps learn not to link to “Subscribers Only Content”

🙂 and 🙁

Kjetil Haaland January 1, 2018 at 7:01 pm

Sorry about that too.

will December 31, 2017 at 9:33 pm

Yes, I rode clockwise a few years ago and suggested counterclockwise as better mainly due to the lousy surface of one side of Champs (better to climb a lousy surface than descend, but may have been repaired now). But either direction is terrific. 120 kms, 3 high passes, and quiet/beautiful virtually the entire route.

Kjetil Haaland January 1, 2018 at 7:09 pm

As of June 2017, the west side of Champs was quite fine up until the last 4k to the top, where there’s still broken surface aplenty plus those nasty creek troughs.

Ged January 2, 2018 at 1:29 am

Superb list!
If anyone’s fancies a crack at Colle Delle Finestre on a smart trainer try it on FulGaz. I did it a few months ago – it’s tough! 14 day trail… enjoy!

jw January 3, 2018 at 10:33 am

Will be in Italy (and then Slovenia and Croatia) in mid/late-May, 2018. Hope to catch the Zoncolan and Tolmezzo-Sappada stages of the Giro while there. Was thinking of riding up the east side of Monte Z to get to the finish (or somewhere on the course downhill from that point). Similarly considering catching the start of the next day’s stage, then riding via shortcuts to get to the Sappada finish. Anyone have any better suggestions for seeing the best of these two stages?

I’m also looking for suggestions for great rides in Slovenia and Croatia…


Daniel Friebe January 4, 2018 at 4:43 pm

The Mangart-Vršič combination in Slovenia, near the Italian border, is a must.

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