In this article, we share the ten hardest cycling climbs in the world.
If you like to suffer on your bike, read on!
We’ve ordered the climbs by length, from the longest climb (a whopping 105 kilometres) to the shortest climb (just 0.6 kilometres). What’s true about every single one of these is that completing them will be punishing!
Which have you done? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by John Vicars
Summary of the hardest cycling climbs in the world
Max gradient: 27%
El Teide (El Medano)
Max gradient: 13%
Max gradient: 12%
Alto de l'Angliru
Max gradient: 23%
Passo di Mortirolo
Max gradient: 18%
Max gradient: 19%
Max gradient: 19%
Alto de Los Machucos
Max gradient: 28%
Max gradient: 30%
Max gradient: 19%
1. Mount Wuling (105 km)
There aren’t many cycling climbs where you can ride from sea level up to an altitude of 3,275 metres but you can in Taiwan.
Starting at Qixingtan beach by the Pacific Ocean the 105 kilometre route takes you along severe uphill gradients, by waterfalls and through the majestic Taroko gorge during this mammoth ascent.
This is undoubtedly one of the hardest cycling climbs in the world, with riders citing that the humidity is almost as difficult to deal with as the length and the gradient of the climb. Let’s also not forget the prevalence of thinner air and the dreaded altitude effect after 2,500 metres!
Staged every October, Mount Wuling hosts the KOM challenge which now attracts a number of professional riders. In 2017 the Italian Vincenzo Nibali broke the course record adding afterwards that it had been the longest and hardest climb of his life.
2. El Teide (El Medano) (54 km)
There are five main cycling routes to the summit of Mount Teide, all of which involve extremely long climbs. They are all worthy of being listed in this roundup of the world’s hardest cycle climbs, but for the purposes of this article we chose the ascent from El Medano.
Whilst the gradient does meander into double digits on occasions, it’s the sheer length of this 54 kilometre cycling climb that really does the damage. Also, Tenerife is sunny for the vast majority of the year, so heat is a serious addition to the equation.
The road surface is in good condition and you are soon well away from the Atlantic coast riding through lava fields as you make your way up to the crater that encompasses El Teide.
Look out for the scores of professional who train here in the winter months – they rate it as one of the best climbs in Europe for winter training - and use the Parador Hotel at the top of the hotel for a base. They wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t one of the best cycling climbs in the world.
A real endurance challenge.
3. Mont Ventoux (21 km)
It’s fair to say that Le Géant de Provence is the favourite climb of many cyclists and right at the top of most others ‘must do’ list of mountains.
There are three ways up to the summit by road bike, with the ascent from Bedoin being most people’s favourite as it has over the years been the route up the mountain chosen by the Tour de France.
It’s a tough cycling climb: 21 kilometres at an average gradient of 7.5%, especially when the mistral wind is against you.
The last six kilometres from Chalet Reynard, winding its way through the lunar type landscape to the iconic and well photographed telecommunications mast are relentless.
With around a kilometre to go you pass the memorial to the British rider Tom Simpson who collapsed and died on the climb in the 1967 edition of the Tour de France.
As you grind your way around the final right hand bend and make your way up to the summit don’t be surprised to see a hundred or so other cyclists at the top – there is only one Mont Ventoux!
Mont Ventoux is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest cycling climb
4. Alto de l’Angliru (12.5 km)
The Alto de l’Angliru climb in the Asturias region of northern Spain, just south of the city of Oviedo, is one of the most famous cycle climbs in the world. It has become a staple of the Vuelta a España and strikes fear into the leading professional riders.
Even Bradley Wiggins, in his prime and whilst wearing the Vuelta leader’s jersey, struggled and lost time on the infamous section (three kilometres from the summit) known as Cuena les Cabres which kicks up to around 24%.
The route was formerly an old goat path which was tarmacked by the organisers of La Vuelta in the late nineties as they looked to find new climbs to rival the mountains of the Tour de France.
What makes the Angliru so hard is that as it undulates, the gradient fluctuates wildly. This means that whilst the 9.9% average gradient over its 12.5 kilometres looks achievable, there are incredibly steep parts, with numerous sections in excess of 20%.
Certainly not one for the faint hearted, this is definitely one of the hardest cycling climbs in the world.
5. Passo di Mortirolo (12.4 km)
Lance Armstrong once described the Mortirolo as ‘the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden’. Years later Mark Cavendish echoed the same sentiment, but rather less politely!
If that’s not enough of a hint as to how brutal the ascent of the Passo di Mortirolo is, then you only need to turn to Alberto Contador who has previously used a 34/32 gearing set up on this fabled climb.
The Mortirolo is often overshadowed by the nearby and iconic Passo dello Stelvio, but there is no doubt that the pros sentiment is true: the Mortirolo is the harder climb.
Such is its degree of difficulty, that when the parcours for the Giro is announced each year, many riders will look straightaway to see if the organisers have included the Mortirolo.
The entire climb is hard but particularly so in a section of around six kilometres after the San Matteo Church. Whilst the final kilometres ‘ease’ to an average of 10%, the fatigue in the legs sets in and the last section can be agonisingly difficult.
This is one of the toughest cycling climbs in the world – ask the professionals!
6. Mount Washington (12 km)
The ascent of Mount Washington is described in the book The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) as ‘the most difficult hill climb race in the US and perhaps the world’. The book says ‘the annual hill climb race up its slopes is perhaps the most brutal on earth’.
Hill climbers have been flocking to New Hampshire in the north eastern corner of the United States for almost 50 years to test themselves on this savage climb.
There’s more than the super steep 11.9% average gradient to worry about, as hurricane force winds are recorded at the summit of the climb on about 100 days per year!
To add to the suffering, just after half way up the climb, competitors are faced with a one mile section of hard packed gravel.
The average slope on the flatter part of the climb is around 10% until you get within a mile of the top. There you are faced with several very sharp switchbacks that sees the gradient increase to well over 20%.
Whilst never used in a professional race, Mount Washington measures up against anything you will find in Europe. A worthy recipient of a spot on our list of the hardest hill climbs in the world.
7. Monte Zoncolan (10.5 km)
The Zoncolan is another of the Giro d’Italia’s classic climbs. Not long, but savagely steep and a challenge for even the best riders.
Over 10.5 kilometres, from the small commune of Ovaro, the gradient is a very testing 11.5%. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story.
In the middle of the climb, not long after leaving the village of Liariis, there is a four kilometre section in the forest that averages 15% with the odd stretch at 20%. The road then passes through three tunnels before encountering some severe switchbacks immediately before the summit.
The ascent is so steep and difficult that it is rare for even the professionals to attack on its slopes as the constant incline does not encourage rapid acceleration.
Undoubtedly one of the hardest cycling climbs in Europe.
If you enjoy cycling steep climbs then put the mighty Zoncolan on your list!
8. Alto de Los machucos (7.1 km)
Inhumane, brutally steep and not fit for a cycling race. They are all things that have been said about this climb.
This recent addition to the Vuelta a Espana tests the best climbers in the world with its leg breaking gradients.
Set deep in the Cantabrian mountains in the north of the country, this monster climb is now spoken about in the same terms as the Alto de l’Angliru. It’s a legitimate rival to the Angliru for the toughest climb in Spain.
It’s not a long climb at just over seven kilometres - and the average gradient of 9% doesn’t really stand out. Yet the ascent is staggered, almost like a giant staircase, with ramps of between 25 and 28%.
The climb is so steep that the road could not be totally asphalted, as the slopes were too steep for the machinery laying the road surface. Instead, pre-cast squares of concrete had to be lifted into place to complete the route to the top.
Los Machucos isn’t necessarily one of the world’s great cycling climbs, but it is certainly one of the most testing.
9. Hardknott Pass (2 km)
The Hardknott Pass has been made famous by the annual Fred Whitton sportive, and is probably the hardest cycling climb in the UK.
Set in the picturesque Lake District, it’s only 2.2 kilometres in length but it’s an absolute brute!
Whilst the average gradient is listed as 14%, there are stretches of between 25-33% to contend with. This takes even the most accomplished riders to their limits.
The ascent can be broken down into three phases. The first kilometre introduces some very testing 25% hairpins. The middle can’t really be described as easy as the average gradient settles into the teens - but the grand finale comes nearer the summit, with a 300 metre stretch of between 20-33%.
The locals will tell you that it is an achievement to get to the top of Hardknott without placing a shoe on the ground!
The Hardknott Pass is truly one of the most epic cycling climbs. Any amateur rider who can get to the top without needing to stop deserves proper kudos.
10. Koppenberg (0.6 km)
It might be only 682 metres in length, but the Koppenberg holds the distinction of being the most famous cobbled climb in the world.
It’s fair to say that it is one of the most iconic cycling climbs out there.
The ‘Bump of Melden’, as it’s locally known, is recognised as the one of the toughest and most feared climbs in Belgium. It’s actually listed as a national monument and is the highlight of the famous Ronde van Vlaanderen annual cycling race.
After the first 100 metres or so, the incline increases sharply as you quickly have to search for lower gears to deal with the double-digit gradient which, just after halfway, increases to around 19%.
The difficulty of the climb is clearly not the length - but what it lacks in distance it makes up for by its boneshaking and uneven cobblestones.
Add in some typical Flandrien wind and rain and you are likely to start to lose traction as you pile on the power to get to the top.
It is not unusual to see professionals walking up the climb as the slope is so severe that remounting after a crash or after being brought to a standstill by others is virtually impossible.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our round up of the world’s hardest cycling climbs. What would be on your list? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to check out our pick of the best cycling climbs in Europe (i.e. not necessarily the hardest ones!)? Click here.
Done Ventoux and/or the Mortirolo? Get the t-shirt in our shop!
Want some more inspiration on the best regions of the world to cycle? Check out our main cycling destinations hub.
Want to know how to fly to one of the destinations we mention from where you live? We like this map of airports in the world, which shows all the world's airports and their scheduled flights and connections. It's a useful starting point for your research.
Our pick of 9 of the best regions
(+ the best cycling routes to ride when you’re there)
12 things you should always check
About John Vicars
John divides his time between England and Spain and, together with his wife, clocks in around 10,000 miles each year searching out Europe's finest roads. John loves to share his experiences (good and bad) from the saddle and has a particular loathing for double digit gradients, sub-zero temperatures and red traffic lights!