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04-08-2023 | Herman Nekkers

Arlberg Giro, a five-star gran fondo in a fairytale setting

On the last day of July, Eveline van der Hek and Herman Nekkers were up early at the start of the Arlberg Giro. It was a great race in tough conditions.

Photo: Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse (Marathon Photos)

At the invitation of the Tourismusverband, we are staying in Sankt Anton am Arlberg for four days. We will be accommodated in Hotel Alte Post, a luxurious four-star accommodation with everything you could wish for. Moreover, it is just ten meters from the start of the Arlberg Giro. Sankt Anton am Arlberg is a typical Austrian village where people live mainly from winter sports. At the end of July or beginning of August, the Arlberg Giro is one of the summer highlights.

Pillerhöhe and Kaunertal

On the Friday before the gran fondo, we explore the area: a ride over the Pillerhöhe and the Kaunertaler Gletscherstrasse. We choose to start in Landeck. The Pillerhöhe from the east side is a tough and beautiful climb. A quiet road through villages, forests, and open plains. At the summit is a great viewpoint over the Inn valley.

Photo: Eveline on the Kaunertaler Gletscherstrasse

Then comes the Kaunertaler Gletscherstrasse, one of the highest climbs in Europe. No fewer than 29 numbered turns must be conquered to reach the summit at 2,750 meters. The landscape is desolate and rugged. After hours of cycling, we reach the glacier, fortunately it is not really cold. We quickly descend again, as we have been invited by the tourism office to a dinner with journalists.

Arlberg Giro

The Arlberg Giro is our main goal on this trip. It is being organized for the thirteenth time this year. It is nice and clear, because the only distance is 150 kilometers and 2,500 meters of elevation with three climbs:

  • Arlbergpass.
  • Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse.
  • The fall flat climb to Sankt Anton.

On Saturday we pick up the start numbers. Everything breathes cycling: there is a large expo with well-known brands, the collection of start numbers goes smoothly, the information service is excellent, and there is a pasta party. The quality is extremely high.

Normally, the start is at 6 a.m., but this year it is an hour earlier because of the closure of the Arlberg Tunnel. Authorities want cyclists to be over the pass as early as possible so as not to interfere with other traffic. Thus, the start is in the dark, light on the bike is recommended.


Given the doubtful weather forecast, I ride with a vest and raincoat. When we arrive at the start at 4:55 am, it is still dry, but the chances of it staying that way are almost nil. World champion Stefan Kirchmair also just arrived and neatly closes in at the back of the first start box. We have a brief chat; he is not worried.

Photo: Starting in the dark (TVB St Anton am Arlberg/Patrick Saely)

After the starting gun, it goes straight up steeply toward the Arlberg Pass. Ten minutes later it starts splashing. This is not even annoying because it is very steep: continuously between 10 and 12%. Eveline catches up with me. We ride the same wattage, but she has to carry 6 kilos less. Not even my super light S-Works Aethos helps with that. I ride well into the red, fortunately, the climb is not too long. From the pass, it goes straight down. Normally you can release the brakes here. But the rain, dusk, and light fog mean that caution is called for.

Photo: Epic descent of the Arlberg Pass (TVB St Anton am Arlberg/Patrick Saely)

A wonderful series of turns follows. I think I am going through them very carefully. Nevertheless, I overtake a lot of people, including Eveline. Then follows a super-fast 35-kilometer descent through tunnels, villages, and an almost straight road. It rains incessantly, but nowhere do I feel that exciting situations arise. A good group helps me gain speed. After just over 1:20 the first 41 kilometers are over, and I am at the turning point in Bludenz.

Silvretta High Alpine Road

There appears blue in the sky and the rain stops. It goes up false flat, and I notice that my fellow cyclists in the peloton are going just a little too fast. I let it go and wait for a more suitable group. At the feed stations, I stop briefly, take off my rain jacket, and continue on. The toughest and most beautiful climb of the day is coming up: the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse. Just before the start, I am overtaken by a group and cheerfully greeted by teammate Eveline.

Photo: On the Silvretta Hochalpenstrasse (Marathon Photos)

Thirteen kilometers of climbing it is to the top, it is every man for himself. The Silvretta is a climb of unparalleled beauty. The highest point is the Bielerhöhe at 2032 meters. As many as 34 hairpin turns must be conquered to get here. The road surface is perfect, and the percentages are tricky: between 10 and 12%, punctuated by some flat sections. The view is phenomenal. In front of me, the road runs like a ribbon against the mountainside. When I get higher myself, I see an endless string of cyclists riding down the road with countless hairpin turns. Even though I am suffering, I thoroughly enjoy the fairy-tale entourage. The last six kilometers are somewhat easier, and I reach the Bielerhöhe. What a fabulous climb this is!

There's the rain again

I skip the feed stations and start the descent directly. It's not cold, my vest and arm warmers are sufficient. The road surface is almost dry, and therefore the first kilometers are super fast. In the blink of an eye, I am several hundred meters downhill. Then follows a descent of forty kilometers through the Paznauntal. Here I have to make sure I am in a group. I overtake some people, fortunately, three of them join me. We ride head to head, and in the meantime, it is raining heavily again. It should not spoil the fun. An even faster group overtakes us. We catch up, and with about fifteen riders, it is now going very fast in the rain through the valley. My legs are still in great shape.

Party in Sankt Anton

I also ignore the last feed stations. Just over twenty kilometers of false flat still await the finish. Of the earlier group, six are left. The first part is on a big road. I feel I still have strength and take the others in tow. The last ten kilometers are along a narrow bicycle path. Unfortunately, the best is gone with me by then. The finish in Sankt Anton is a feast. Encouraged by the many spectators, we ride to the finish. All the names are called out, and to my surprise, I also hear, "Eveline van der Hek!" She had a short delay with a sanitary stop so I passed her. Finished together at rank 436 and 437, what a cool end to this top gran fondo!"

Photo: Crossing the finish line together

The Arlberg Giro rivals the very best gran fondos in Europe in terms of organization and environment. The relatively short route makes it very accessible to both beginners and experienced riders. This gran fondo is highly recommended!

There were fourteen hundred entries this year, of which about twelve hundred started. The results.

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