5 Famous Cycling Climbs (and how to photograph them)

cycling photographer whose photos connect cyclists with the majestic landscapes around them.

His are the sort of images that you can lose yourself in for hours.

Top 11 Toughest Climbs Used in Professional Cycling
  • Muro di Sormano, Italy.
  • Mont Ventoux, France. …
  • Alpe d’Huez, France. …
  • Passo dello Stelvio, Italy. …
  • Col du Galibier, France. …
  • Mont du Chat, France. …
  • Muro di Guardiagrele, Italy. …
  • The Koppenberg, Belgium. ..

Here’s five of the best climbers in cycling history.

  • Lucien Van Impe (1968-1987) To many, Van Impe is the greatest climber of all time. …
  • Alberto Contador (2003-Present) The controversial selection. …
  • Gino Bartali (1935-1954) Gino Bartali is thought of as one of the first brilliant climbers. …
  • Luis Herrera (1981-1992)

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1. Mont Ventoux, Southern Alps, France

Mont Ventoux is one of the most famous cycling climbs there is. I’ve been lucky enough to photograph it four or five times and every time it’s a little bit different.

Practicalities

As I was photographing Ventoux during the Tour, my first priority was to get orientated quickly due to how many people come to the event.

Originally, I camped down in Bedoin, which I thought was a great place. Then I suddenly realised that there would be no way to get up the climb on Tour de France day, the next day. So, quickly, I put the tent back away and went up and got to Chalet Reynard.

Vantage points

The next day, from Chalet Reynard, I hiked to the top of Ventoux and found a great spot, two or three kilometres from the top. There’s a natural bowl in the landscape which gives you that elevation and has a natural viewpoint looking down into the road.

It was a scorching hot day and the day that Chris Froome won the stage. He dropped Quintana and soloed to victory.

The vantage point I had meant I could capture all the motor homes, the crowd and Chris Froome coming around the corner. I also love the limestone scree and the pops of colour everywhere in this photograph.

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2. Col du Tourmalet, Pyrenees, France

The Tourmalet is one of the best Tour de France mountain climbs and it also does everything from a photographic point of view. It ticks all the boxes. You have a fantastic view into the summit, you have that great rock face and then the mountains disappearing off on the horizon behind it.

Why I love the Tourmalet

The Col du Tourmalet epitomises everything I want to show about the mountains and cycling – the crowds, the colours and the beautiful landscapes. It’s one of the most iconic climbs in cycling as well, so there’s a lot of history attached to the Tourmalet.

The summit of the Tourmalet is very narrow, but that’s what’s great about it. You get to the top and then you’re going back down, there’s no plateau. That means that you can enjoy perfect views both to the east and the west.

For this shot the summit let me sit back and take a passive observer’s view.

Leave the bike behind

The Tourmalet is a perfect example of why you really should leave the bike behind and go for a walk sometimes.

There’s a ski village called La Mongie, which is about three or four kilometres down the climb. From here you can get the cable car up to the Pic du Midi, which is a science observatory. Then, you can walk from the top of that, down to the top of the Tourmalet.

It’s the most spectacular walk and you can see all the way down the valley towards the west. I recommend for anyone to just forget about the bike and go for a walk while they’re here.

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3. Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees, France

A hard climb to photograph

The Pyrenees are so close to the Atlantic that they get a lot more weather than the Alpine cycling climbs. As a result, the Col d’Aubisque is often tricky to photograph because it’s foggy or raining.

The first time I photographed the Col d’Aubisque was during an Haute Route event. It was absolutely bucketing it down and I had to hide in a tunnel to take shots. I got to the top and you couldn’t see for more than 25 feet in front of you.

The next day I went up there and it was still foggy but I stayed up there in the evening. It is a pretty stunning mountain when you do get it right.

Another thing that makes it a hard climb to photograph is that the best bit of the road is the Cirque du Litor, which faces north, so it rarely gets any sun on it. Shadow can be okay, but you really want a little bit of light, even if it’s just clipping some of those rock faces, to get a decent shot. That means you’re forever trying to work out the best time to photograph it.

4. Passo Giau, Dolomites, Italy

High mountain drama

The Dolomites are made up of sharp limestone and you see a lot of rock. Mountains in the Pyrenees tend to be lush and green, whereas the Dolomites are quite grey and severe.

The Italians build lots of tunnels and things into their mountains, so on top of the natural beauty they have these human characteristics as well.

They’re always fabulous to photograph.

Getting the best shots isn’t always easy

I’ve photographed Passo Giau a few times. Once was during the Giro. I didn’t have a press pass then, and I really wanted to get to the top so I tried to blag it.

I had this big camera and I had a press pass, but it wasn’t for the Giro. It didn’t work and they wouldn’t let me drive up so I had to go and park the car.

It’s 15 kilometres to walk up to the top of the Giau, and I had all this equipment that’s probably 10kg or so. I started walking and then I heard a car coming so I put out my thumb and she stopped! I thought, ‘this is fantastic, I’ve got a lift to the top, I don’t have to walk.’ So, I jumped in and the lady started driving and then she pulled up about a kilometre later and said, ‘this is the turn from my house’.

So, I had to walk it up and that was a pretty hard slog up to the top. I spent a day up there and then when the Giro came up I got some great shots. Luckily I managed to get a lift back down!

It shows some of the lengths you have to go to sometimes if you want to get good shots.

5. Passo Stelvio, Alps, Italy

The Stelvio Pass is one of the most iconic cycling climbs in the world and it’s got an awful lot of history, especially attached to the Giro d’Italia. It’s a great place to photograph, but I’ve also been back there on various trips to ride it as well.

The Stelvio Pass isn’t always accessible

As you’ll know, the Stelvio Pass is really high, so it gets the worst of the weather and it has a really short season when it’s open.

Head off the beaten path for unique shots

I’ve been up there when you can’t see ten feet in front of you, but likewise, I’ve had fabulous stays up there, when the views just open up in front of you and there are so many different viewpoints to take.

My favourite is that classic view looking down into Prato, but the downside is that everyone has the same shot.

I want to take a different version of that shot, looking back in the opposite direction. Hopefully I’ll get it, but it needs a proper hike.

CONCLUSION

When it’s possible, a good climber is spinning at around 80 rpm—whatever you normally do on the flats. It might feel weird to shift down so drastically, especially if you’re on a steep hill that starts pretty abruptly, but if you can keep your pedaling cadence constant, you’ll be a more efficient climber.

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