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Is that what we all ride for? Those moments when it’s just you and the mountains, a thin ribbon of tarmac ahead of you that disappears into the unknown. When the higher you climb, the further away you feel from the everyday. By that point in the ride, when the distance you’ve ridden doesn’t matter; everything’s about going up, using your own power, an assault on all of your senses. Those moments when the grandeur of the mountains put life into perspective.

As cyclists, we’re all guilty of romanticising climbs. As something central to the sport we love, either in terms of racing where history is written on the steepest and longest slope or as the motivation to keep us training on our local roads, year in, year out, we immortalise riding uphill. Even if the most devout sprinters amongst us would be loathe to admit it, and others might argue they’re only in it for the descent. Either way, cycling into the high mountains has its perks and a raison d’etre for everyone.

And fortunately for us, you’d be hard-pressed to picture a better location for our HQ. ASSOS is tucked into a pocket of Southern Switzerland, flanked by mountains (some of which are rideable all year round). To the east, there’s a short ride to Lake Como, the Sormano, the Ghisallo, and beyond. But heading north, within an hour or two of setting off, we can be riding some of Europe’s most mythical passes.

But there’s a twist, a drawback. These experiences can only ever take place in summer, in that hallowed period between May to October, before they’re reclaimed by winter and carpeted in snow. That time is now here. For these months when our radius is widened, there’s nothing we love more than heading in the mountains for long rides and discovering new roads. We have asked some of our closest friends to share their favourites.

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0.1 Simon Warren, Colle del Nivolet, Italy

British author and cyclist with extensive knowledge when it comes to climbs: www.100climbs.co.uk

“Up until September 2018 I always thought the Col de la Bonette in the Southern French Alps was the most amazing road ever built; that was before I’d laid eyes on the Colle del Nivolet. Pushing the Bonette down a notch is a road that borders the realms of reality and fantasy. Starting its ascent some 40 kilometres down the valley in Cuorgnè, it’s not until Noasca that it really comes alive. Over the next 21 kilometres you are treated not only to some of the toughest climbing in Italy but over the final stretch, it is without doubt the most beautiful. Its attack on the senses could in part be attributed to the combined effect of battling so many kilometres of 10% gradients mixed with the thin air, but the sight of the pristine tarmac, sweeping through the rocky landscape between the azurro lakes that nestle beneath the towering mountain peaks, is mind-blowing. From the dam wall at Lago Serrù and into the heart of the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, this road to nowhere defies belief; in fact, you’ll spend longer taking photos towards the top than riding. No image though can ever really do the Colle del Nivolet justice; it’s a place that has to be seen to be believed.”
Simon Warren of 100 Climbs riding his favourite pass — a road, that in his eyes, even outdoes the Col de la Bonette.

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0.2 Michael Valgren, Passo dello Stelvio, Italy

A recent convert to Northern Italy’s Alpine landscape

“Last month—June 2020—was the first time I had been to Livigno and I’ll definitely be going back — I think it’s my new top destination for altitude training. It blew my mind. The climbs were amazing. The fierce headwind up the Bernina made it pretty tough, even the ascent I did from St. Moritz is the easiest side. The Gavia, in comparison, was much harder. I used the climb for lactate testing and the thin air made this even tougher than usual. The surface was rougher than I’d imagined; it made the descent pretty tricky and you really had to focus. The best part was passing the motorbikes, but I totally understand why so many like to take this road. It’s truly stunning. The climb that really stood out to me was the Stelvio. The highest point I reached by bike, ridden in awesome weather, on the smoothest, nicest road surface around. The experience of doing such a mythical climb isn’t one I’ll forget in a hurry; it was magic. I usually race the Tour de France but after having done these climbs I’d love to test myself and race the Giro d’Italia.”

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0.3 Noemi Ruegg, Albula Pass, Switzerland

Swiss Cycling’s up-and-coming talent on roads she’s known since childhood

“Right now, the Albula is my current favourite road. I’ve just finished a training camp in the Engadin with Swiss Cycling and I spent so many hours on it. I genuinely enjoyed every minute. It’s quite a long way up — you basically climb all the way from Thusis or Tiefencastel — and the landscape is so incredibly varied. You hardly meet any cars; this is a major bonus in my eyes so you can enjoy the ride rather than think about the risks. You begin by going through pretty villages and it’s a bit undulating. The gradient ramps up as you go past some lakes and tiny bridges, then you’re up and out through the trees. The higher you get, the more beautiful it becomes. By the end of it, you’re completely encircled by mountains and the views are awe-inspiring. The Umbrail will always be a special road because it was the first “proper” pass that I rode with my dad. It was one of those unforgettable rides where you’re on your bike for the whole day. Really inspiring.”
Noemi Ruegg is, in her words, a huge fan of climbing so she’s found the right sport.

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0.4 ASSOS of Switzerland, Lago del Narèt

The long-standing favourite at the office

“We’ve always argued that Ticino is the best place in the world to ride and the climb from Ascona to Lago del Narèt confirms that. Climbing 2,280 metres in 60km, it’s a dead-end road that takes you from the glistening shores of Lago Maggiore to another world. Riding up the steep-sided Val Maggia, you are drawn into another realm. One where time has stood still and only at a few points do you see the touch of modern life. The magic really comes toward the back-end of this climb, when you climb toward Lago Del Sambuco and on to the black lakes higher up. Here is where the gradient starts to bite, and that end-of-the-world feeling becomes ever more present. The climb isn’t easy, but it’s worth every drop of sweat when you summit at the road’s end. Touching on the edge of the wild, it’s a moment that we know you won’t forget.”

Alpine essentials