Climbs to dream about, and visit in 2021
Off-grid climbs to dream about and discover once lock-down is lifted.
When we emerge from this torpor, we'll all be craving a different view and some proper quality bike time. Where will you choose to go — a world famous section of hairpins or an unknown European valley? If it is the latter, we've picked a selection of European ascents to get you plotting and planning to get away to once the lock-down is lifted.
Valley of Tears - Gran Canaria
Tenerife may have been made famous by Team GB and Team Sky's athletes' regular training rides up Mount Teide, but its sister island, Gran Canaria, is often overlooked. Pack away your preconceptions, Gran Canaria is not desolate or baron, but has dramatic gorges, verdant climbs, and the Valley of the Tears, a 12km ascent through the centre of the island.
Easy to fly to and low cost, Gran Canaria may not be for gastronomes, but avoiding egg and chips isn't difficult either. Local dishes tend to offer a pepped-up, Afro-Spanish take on Mediterranean classics, but there are interesting local specialities — notably papas arrugadas, baby jacket potatoes sprinkled with lots of salt and served with spicy mojo sauce. Also worth trying is gofio, toasted cornflour that crops up in all sorts of dishes but is best in desserts. After a day of riding, head to Puerto de las Nieves for freshly grilled seafood at one of the waterfront restaurants.
Starts: Junction of the GC-606 and GC-60, near the village of Ayacata
Time to ride: February to November
Top tip: Cafes and villages are sparse in the valley. Fuel up before starting. Siestas are observed in this area so don't get caught out by closed shops.
Nearest airport: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Garrotxa & Cerdanya valley, France/Spain
The Cerdanya valley sits along the border of northern Spain and France, and neighbours Garrotxa, a volcanic national park with around 40 dormant cones, which offer plenty of climbing on narrow quiet Tarmac and light gravel roads. Ride a route from the medieval village of Rupit to the lake of Santa Pau, where you can ride across a huge damn and spot the spire of an old church. Or ride into the crater of Volcà de Santa Margarida.
If you prefer more traditional Tarmac, you'll find an epic descent to Ripoll from the ski resort of La Molina, and a great place to stay out of season. There are a number of rides to do from La Molina across the border or heading south into Spain.
There is plenty of food to fuel on. Expect a flavoursome fusion of Catalonian and traditional French cooking. Remember the closer you get to the French border, expect traditional closing times and early restaurant orders.
Option 1: Olot via Volcà de Santa Margarida to Santa Pau Reservoir.
Option 2: Alp to La Molina and down to Ripoll
Time to ride: April to October
Nearest airport: Barcelona or Girona
Transfagarason Highway, Romania
Built by dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu, the 100km road to Curtea de Arges was originally constructed as an escape route in case of Soviet invasion. Ride it in summer (it's closed in winter) and start from the northern side. You'll leave the baking plains of Transylvania and, an hour and dozens of razor sharp hairpins later, be riding across a rocky lunar landscape before emerging onto the snow-covered plateau. Plunge through an unlit tunnel at the pass and come out at the top of the lush, verdant Arges Valley, where monasteries and gothic castles line the route, snaking its way in sweeping, fast bends for 30km. The highway eventually flattens and you'll ride a final 40km through green forest valleys to Curtea de Arges where there are plenty of hotels, B&B's to relax in.
Ends: Curtea de Arges
Time to ride: May to August
Top tip: You can either ride from Cârțișoara at the base of the pass or large town of Sibiu to the summit and back down, and base yourself in the town. Or cover the 100km stretch with the aim of riding A to B and staying in the large town of Curtea de Arges at the finish. From here you return to Brasov airport via Bran's Castle.
Nearest airport: Brasov
Serra Do Monchique, Algarve, Portugal
There is more to Portrugal's Algarve than golf courses and resorts. Go exploring by bike and you'll find empty roads, flamingos, traditional farmhouses, and great cake and pastries. Portugal is one of the cheapest European destinations to visit, and the Algarve is a popular airline route, making getting your bike and getting on a flight easy to do for a week spent exploring.
The summit of the little mountain, called Monchique, is the highest point in the region, and a great spot to ride to via an 11km loop to the village of Foia. The climb begins gently in the foothills of Monchique, as it winds up to the summit of Foia at 902m. The descent to Monchique features fast winding roads, cutting through forests. There is a cafe at Foia and several coffee stops to be found in the main square of Monchique.
Death Valley is a leafy gorge that leads to the Serra do Caldeirão mountain range that peaks at 500m. The road into the valley forms a 35km loop that leads you back to Monchique for a fast descent back to the coast. It is a roller-coaster of a road that dips up and down, providing respite from climbing as well as a chance to take in the views of the summit Foia across the valley.
If you're done with climbing one of the many roads in Death Valley and to Monchique, there are ascents to Alferce or Aljezur to consider as well.
Starts: Porto de Lagos
Time to ride: February to November
Top tip: Stay in the mountain region Monchique, or at sea level in the walled town of Silves, fishing town of Portimão, or Lagos. All are within a 25km ride of the climbs. Remember to stop for pastries in the towns and try piri-piri chicken.
Nearest airport: Lagos
Combe Laval, France
The balcony road of Combe Laval took over thirty years to construct. Work began on carving the pass from limestone in 1861 and didn't finish until 1898. The aim was to provide a road to transport timber to the town of Saint Jean en Royan. The road is made up of a series of passes and ride-able as part of a 64km loop. This daring route is carved into the impressive limestone rock face, overhanging the Cholet valley, 600m/1,968ft below. The ride passes over the Col de la Machine and Col de la Bataille within the undiscovered Vercors Massif.
Starts: Saint Jean en Royan
Ends: Saint Jean en Royan
Time to ride: March to November
Top tip: There are lots of climbs to explore in the Vercors Massif (try Col de Tourniol or Col des Limouches). Vercors Massif is on the edge of the Alpes but doesn't go too high, making it great for cycling in cooler months and covering cols, without spending all your time grinding up just one.
Nearest airport: Grenoble
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