When people start talking about famous cols, Austria is mentioned not too often. But this country hosts some of the most exceptional climbs in the world. The Edelweissspitze is perhaps the most iconic one. A brutal climb in the magical surroundings of the Grossglockner.
The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse was constructed in the 1930's as a tourist attraction. It's not a typical climb. The highest point is not on the main road, but at the end of one of the sideways. The main road connects the towns of Fusch in the state of Salzburg to Heiligenblut in Carinthia. Hochtor is the highest point (2504 m), which has a short tunnel.
There are two dead ends on the climb: on the south side there's a road to the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe (2370 m) - a real must do. From this place you'll face the Grossglockner and the Pasterze. The highest mountain and biggest glacier in Austria respectively. On the north side, there's another dead end, leading to the Edelweissspitze. This cobblestoned 1,5 km long road leads to a viewing point at 2571 meters, which makes it the highest point of the Hochalpenstrasse. It offers a stunning view on the snow-packed mountain peaks.
The north side
From Fusch, it is 22 kilometres of climbing and you continue without a break to the Edelweissspitze. It really is a beast of a climb, as the last 14 kilometres have an average of a whopping 9.7%. The last one and a half kilometres to the summit are truly murderous. Apart from the moderate cobbled road surface, you also get gradients of up to 14%. But once at the top, the reward awaits in the form of breathtaking views.
After descending again on the same road, you can continue the route. You will then pass the Fuscher Törl. The road here winds around a mountain peak like a snake and offers great views of the Grossglockner. A short descent is followed by another 4-kilometre climb to the Hochtor.
The south side
Reaching the Edelweissspitze is a three stage rocket. Stage 1: the brutal, long climb to Hochtor, with multiple kilometers well above 10%. It's highly recommended to interrupt this stage with a back-and-forth towards Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe. After reaching the Hochtor, there's a short decent, after which you'll have conquer a short but steep climb towards the Fuscher Törl. From here, you take a right for the final cobblestoned road to the Edelweisspitze.
Cycling on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse with the Edelweissspitze and the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe is an adventure of a lifetime. This should be on every cyclist's bucket list (it's actually the number 1 on mine). Take into account that this a popular tourist attraction. Traffic can be dense in high season.
Don't wait to book. Many hotels offer free cancellation.
The Giro d'Italia passed by twice. In 1971, the finish of stage 17 was at the Hochtor (2504 m). The riders climbed the mountain from the north. Swedisch rider Gösta Petterson took the pink jersey at day, and he never gave it away that Giro. It made him the first and only Skandinavian Giro winner to this day.
In 2011, stage 13 finished on the south side at the Glocknerhaus (2137 m). Rujano (Ven) won, Contador came in second. Look at the footage. Contador strengthened this position in the GC and would eventually win the Giro. This victory was however taken away from him following the clenbuterol gate.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that the (at the time) unknown 18 year old Charly Gaul won his first big mountain stage at the 'Grossglockner'. The victory marked his definitive breakthrough as a climber.
Riding the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse entirely (from Fusch to Heiligenblut and back) will yield 102 kilometers and 4000 meters of elevation. This includes a back-and-forth to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe and the Edelweissspitze. A classic, comparable to the Cinglé du Mont Ventoux (3x).
Click on the images to download the routes.
|03||Cime de la Bonette||France||2802|
|04||Col de l'Iseran||France||2770|
|05||Passo dello Stelvio||Italy||2758|
|07||Colle dell’Agnello /
|09||Col du Galibier||France||2642|
|10||Colle del Nivolet||Italy||2632|
|13||Pass Umbrail||Switzerland /
|14||Colle delle Fauniera /
Colle dei Morti
Passo della Novena
|16||Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard /
Colle del Gran San Bernardo
|18||Roque de los Muchachos||Spain||2426|
|20||Col du Granon||France||2413|