– Special Travel Feature by Peter Thomson of Thomson Bike Tours –
Peter and his staff have compiled their vast experience to produce a comprehensive list of The Top 50 Cols That Every Cyclist Should Climb in their Lifetime.
The stunning St. Gotthardpass in Switzerland
The rich history of cycling’s Grand Tours is written in Europe’s majestic mountain passes. We have all taken in the iconic images of the sport’s greatest talents battling it out on the infamous cols, surrounded by mobs of exuberant fans against a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery.
At Thomson Bike Tours, we have traveled up and down these revered slopes countless times. I have spent years fine-tuning routes that offer riders the opportunity to experience Europe’s most spectacular climbs first-hand. At Thomson, we want every cyclist to embrace the challenge, to witness the grandeur and to savor the exhilaration of conquering these legendary and awe-inspiring cols. We’ve selected 5 of our favorites to start with…
A climber ascends the mythical Angrilu
Alto el Angliru
Spain – 11 miles (17.7km) averaging 7.9% with a max of 23.5%
The organizers of the Vuelta a Espana selected this fierce and demanding Spanish climb to rival the Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France and the Monte Zoncolan in the Giro d’Italia. The Angliru’s severe pitches have made it a decisive stage in the Vuelta. In 2011, the extremely steep sections proved too much for Bradley Wiggins, who lost his overall lead as Juan Jose Cobo attacked him on the ascent.
This remarkable col is truly one of the toughest Grand Tour climbs.
Take on the Angliru with Thomson Bike Tours on our Trans-Cantabria Challenge in September.
Col de la Madeleine
France – 17.6 miles (28.3km) averaging 5.4%
This majestic HC climb has been featured in the Tour de France over 20 times. While not as steep as many climbs in the Alps, the Col de la Madeleine is exceptionally long and can shake up the peloton significantly. Cadel Evans famously lost the Yellow jersey in 2010 when he had a bad day on this peak. The descent is invigorating. With over 50 hairpin turns, David Millar once said he “rarely felt so alive” as he descended the Madeleine at a feverish pace to pursue the race leaders.
Thomson Bike Tours will feature the Col de la Madeleine in our Trans-Alps Challenge in August.
An excerpt from Thomson Bike Tours Top 50 Cols
Switzerland – 7.9 miles (12.7km) averaging 7.3%
This impressive and unusual climb is a primary component of the Tour de Suisse. The pass connects the northern German-speaking region of Switzerland with the southern Italian-speaking region. One of the few cobbled climbs in Europe, St. Gotthardpass is a breathtaking Alpine ascent, with narrow hairpins, waterfalls and spectacular vistas.
A memorable moment occurred in the 2009 Tour de Suisse, when Fabian Cancellara lost his advantage and the leader’s jersey on the treacherous cobbles.
Tackle the cobbles with Thomson Bike Tours on our Trans-Swiss Challenge in August.
St Gotthardpass is one of the few cobbled climbs in Europe
Passo di Giau
Italy – 5.3 miles (8.5km) averaging 8.3%
The spectacular Passo di Giau will be featured on Stage 17 of the 2012 Giro d’Italia. The exotic landscape, with its magnificent rock spires that shoot toward the sky, is featured on the official poster for this year’s Giro – as photographed by PEZ’s own Jered Gruber. The climb is relentless, inciting Ivan Basso to describe it in 2008 as a ‘slap in the face.’ In 2011, Passo di Giau was designated as the ‘Cima Coppi’, the highest point of the Giro that recognizes the legendary Italian rider, Fausto Coppi.
Experience this thrilling col with Thomson Bike Tours’ Trans-Dolomites Challenge in June.
Climbing the Giau
Col de Peyresourde
France – 9.5 (15.3km) miles averaging 6.1%
This challenging and historical climb sits centrally in the Pyrenees, equidistantly between the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans. Peyresourde has been featured over 50 times in the Tour de France and will be a part of this year’s Etape du Tour: Act 2. The col has played an extraordinary role in various Tours, with one of the more memorable moments happening in 2001. Lance Armstrong observed one of cycling’s unwritten rules when he halted his descent and waited for Jan Ullrich on the slopes of the Peyresourde after Ullrich had crashed in a ravine.
Conquer the Col de Peyresourde with Thomson Bike Tours as we take on the Etape du Tour: Act 2 in July or our Trans-Pyrenees Challenge in September.
Climbing the Peyresourde
At Thomson Bike Tours, we believe it is a cycling rite of passage to challenge yourself on the sport’s most sacred ground. The cols of the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites and Cantabria offer a divine experience that every cyclist should aspire to experience first hand. We hope you enjoy this detailed compilation of the Europe’s essential climbs. Visit ThomsonBikeTours.com for our complete list of adventures.
Download our full list of Thomson Bike Tours Top 50 Cols in the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites and Cantabria.
What our riders have to say…..
“This trip totally exceeded my expectations. I wanted to ride hard, push myself physically and experience the major legendary climbs of the TDF which this trip delivered on all fronts. Thomson tours did a great job organizing the trip and supporting the riders throughout with all the logistical needs you can think of. The staff was superb, hotels and food excellent, and I got to meet and ride with a bunch of great folks.”
Ben Minicucci – WA, USA :: 2011 Trans-Alps Challenge
“Coming from the least experienced rider on the trip I would have to say that this was by far everything I had expected it to be. I was looking for a trip that would push me to my limits both physically and emotionally yet at the same time allow me to get stronger as the trip went on. This was also my first time to Europe and the country side was beautiful. I was looking for an adventure that would purge me of life’s stresses and allow me to singularly focus on getting up the mountain. The staff and accommodations made the trip completely seamless and allowed me to focus on my primary reasons for doing this trip. When I signed up I had no intentions of returning however I would certainly be one of the many that would return to do more trips. Bravo for a great experience”
Samuel Coor – WA, USA :: 2011 Tour de France Alps Trip
“Once again, Thomson Tours has provided excellent service, routes and accommodations. This was my third trip and will not be my last. The Pyrenees were spectacular and the ride was most certainly a “challenge”. If you are a serious cyclist looking to push yourself and improve your abilities, while at the same time experiencing the best cycling Europe has to offer, you can’t go wrong with Thomson Tours.”
David Pick – Alberta, Canada :: 2010 Trans-Pyrenees Challenge
“The experience of traveling through the Pyrenees from the Med to the Atlantic is physically and emotionally exhilarating. Doing it with Thomson not only are your eyes, mind and body stimulated but also your funny bone.”
Steven Southworth – NC :: 2009 Trans-Pyrenees Challenge
The Tour de France scene on the slopes of the Madeleine
For more information…
Read more testimonials and find out about all our challenging cycling trips at www.thomsonbiketours.com.