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Great Rides: The 10 Best Road Biking Routes in Tirol, Fit for World Champions

Tirol is a land of superlatives for road bike riders: It takes the top prize for Austria’s highest mountain pass road, the highest point that can be reached by road bike and Austria’s steepest climb. The 2018 summer bicycle-racing season will culminate in the UCI Road World Championships in September 2018. The ten “Great Rides” have the potential for outsized adventure and give riders a chance to pedal in the footsteps of the World Champions.

©Tirol Werbung / Schwarz Jens

Tackling the steep climb atop Kitzbühel Horn Peak, pedalling around Innsbruck or along the Kaunertal Glacier Road: Tirol is a bucket-list destination for cyclists, with its incredibly diverse and jaw-droppingly gorgeous mountain landscapes. The physical challenge of our lofty altitude (ideal for bragging rights and for hosting the 2018 UCI Road World Championships) combines with amazing Alpine views for a road biker’s dream destination. With over 3,800 kilometers of roads to get lost in, Tirol boasts plenty of amazing riding for road enthusiasts. Just imagine: cycling this entire distance from Innsbruck northwards would take you to the North Cape. With all that choice on offer it can be hard to pick where to start road cycling, but never fear because our expert jury, made up of Thomas Pupp, Thomas Rohregger and Martin Weiss, has selected ten rides that best showcase the amazing roads and scenic beauty of Tirol. These “Great Rides” have everything: difficult climbs, sweeping views and fast descents.

  • Thomas Pupp is founder and team manager of the “Tirol Cycling Team,” author of a Tirol road cycling guide and driving force behind the 2018 UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck/Tirol.
  • Thomas Rohregger is an Austrian former professional road bicycle racer. He competed in Olympic Games and in all Grand Tours, the three major European professional cycling stage races (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España). His career highlights were winning the 2008 Tour of Austria and his course record atop Kitzbühel Horn Peak, which is still unbeaten.
  • Martin Weiss is an Austrian former professional road bicycle racer who competed national and international. The biggest success of the Innsbruck-native was winning a stage at the Giro del Friuli-Venezia Giulia in 2014.

The Arlberg Giro, the Ötztal Cycling Marathon and the Tour de Suisse Queen’s Stage atop Rettenbach Glacier have been at the heart of Tirol’s biking event calendar for many years. The 2018 summer racing season will culminate in the 2018 UCI Road World Championships, which will be held for the first time in Tirol from September 22 to 30, 2018. All twelve Championship events will finish in the Host City Innsbruck, with starts in Ötztal Valley, in Hall-Wattens, in Alpbachtal Valley (Rattenberg) and in Kufstein. The ten “Great Rides” listed below give riders a taste of the World Championships routes. Go where the pros ride:

Bannwaldsee Lake Circuit

“Road cycling in Tannheimertal Valley is road cycling through Europe’s most beautiful Alpine valley. And as you pass through a landscape of fairytale castles, it’s like being given an audience by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.” (Thomas Pupp)

Boundless road cycling through a rural landscape of lush meadows, past historic fairytale castles, along deep blue lakes and across chocolate box villages – this diverse route has it all. Embedded between the Allgäu and Ammergau Alps, this scenic loop sets off from the village of Tannheim, takes you to Weißenbach am Lech and crosses the border into Germany’s Bavaria to Füssen, where it circles Bannwaldsee Lake with the loop bringing you back to Tannheim across Engetal Valley.

  • Starts from: Tannheim
  • Distance: 95 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,090 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum Grade: 10%

Kaunertal Glacier Road

“It’s the whole experience that makes it special. A behemoth of a mountain. The difficulty, the switchbacks, the pristine wilderness. The 41-kilometer long climb lets you experience the moving meditation that is the essence of road cycling.” (Thomas Pupp)

©Tirol Werbung / Bauer Frank

This ride takes cyclists up to the world of “eternal ice” at an elevation of 2,750 meters: Enter rarefied air as you climb up to the foot of Weißseeferner Glacier along the Kaunertal Glacier Road, one of the most spectacular road biking routes in the Alps. From the village of Prutz start switchbacking to the foot of Weißseespitze Peak—this ride is a challenge with nearly 2,260 meters of climbing! With its several rigorous climbs and 29 hairpin turns, this scenic route is so ripe for riding that the Tour of Austria often traversed it and that the annual Kaunertal Gletscherkaiser road race, literally “Emperor of the Glacier,” uses it each year in June.

  • Starts from: Prutz
  • Distance: 77 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2,260 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 18%

Ötztal Glacier Road

“The red-white-red climax at 2,830 meters above sea level. Jan Ulrich called this climb ‘cruelty to animals’ and Jens Voigt wanted ‘to call the mountain rescue and release an avalanche warning.’ Questions anyone??” (Thomas Pupp)

The highest, paved point that can be reached by road bike in the Alps (elev. 2,830m) gets cyclists’ pulses racing in the mountains of Ötztal Valley. This difficult 14.5-kilometer climb at 10.5 percent average grade along the Ötztal Glacier Road is not an easy task. Built in 1972, this road heads west from Sölden across spectacular Rettenbachtal Valley before crossing Rosi-Mittermeier Tunnel, the highest-lying road tunnel of the Alps, on its way up to Rettenbach and Tiefenbach Glaciers.

  • Starts from: Sölden
  • Distance: 31 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,550 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 16%

Innsbruck-Kühtai

“Climbing gradually through shady forest for most parts, the ride up to Kühtai is a welcome respite from summer’s heat. This looped road bike adventure boasts a downhill plunge into Innsbruck that gets your adrenaline up.” (Martin Weiss)

Considered a classic Tirolean road bike ride, this round-trip takes cyclists from Innsbruck across Outer Ötztal Valley up to Kühtai, with the loop bringing them back to Tirol’s capital via scenic Sellraintal Valley. The long and winding 110-kilometer ride gains a nasty 1,720 vertical meters and loops through beautiful mountain scenery. The stupendous views of the rugged Ötztal and Stubai Alps are most definitely worth the work, to be sure (we promise). Moreover, you will pass through charming neighbourhoods where you can refuel at lovely local eateries.

  • Starts from: Innsbruck
  • Distance: 110 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,720 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 18%

Olympia Express (Innsbruck Village-to-Village Route)

“The Olympia Express route is my favourite in the environs of Innsbruck. It’s a fun ride that can end in various locations to make it shorter or longer. A perfect option for days with variable weather conditions.” (Martin Weiss)

©Tirol Werbung / Bauer Frank

Tirol’s capital Innsbruck was venue of the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Winter Games, which gave this adorable road bike ride its name, “Olympia Express.” Tracing the area’s Olympic heritage, this long and tough route departs from Innsbruck and goes through all venues of the 1976 Olympic Winter Games—including several climbs that can seem relentlessly steep. However, this charming route can be as long or as short as a rider chooses to make it, as there are various pit stops along the way (which also makes it a great beginner friendly option). The bulk of the course takes cyclists through breathtaking scenery, picturesque villages and places rich in Olympic legacy.

  • Starts from: Innsbruck
  • Distance: 172 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2,800 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 16%

Zillertal High Elevation Road

“They are all strong riders, those cyclists from Zillertal Valley, Georg and Harald Totschnig along with Clemens Fankhauser. Which comes as no surprise since this is their training ground: Up, up, always upward! After kilometers of steep climbing, you’re rewarded with the most scenic ridge road in Tirol.” (Thomas Pupp)

With a 20 percent max grade, this route is sure to take your breath away, literally. The lung-busting climb along the Zillertal High Elevation Road is not easy, but it is beautiful. The rewards are great—outstanding views of the Tux, Kitzbühel and Zillertal Alps—but they come at a substantial price in lung and leg pain. Be prepared to work for every view you get. Noted for being one of Tirol’s best road bike routes, the Zillertal High Elevation Road starts at the village of Hippach and hugs the west side of the valley for diverse riding and incredible scenery. After the gruelling climb, you can stop by Melchboden snack bar for a bite to eat. The scenic route is perfect for those up for a challenging ride—and those stunning views!

  • Starts from: Hippach
  • Distance: 34 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,590 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 20%

Giro Region 31: Rattenberg Circuit

“The Kerschbaumsattel Loop is my personal training ground. The tough climb from Brugg to the top of the saddle is perfect for time trials (try beating my time of 19 minutes and 21 seconds). However, you are strongly recommended to turn your focus from the time trial to the gorgeous scenery of Alpbachtal Valley.” (Thomas Rohregger)

This circuit sets off from Rattenberg, a town that will be featured during the Elite Men’s Individual Time Trial at the 2018 Worlds. The tough ride follows low-trafficked backroads and takes in the undulating topography in three loops. Beautiful backcountry roads, open fields and forests make for miles and miles of great riding—you’ll be rewarded with a diversity of landscapes that’s hard to find elsewhere. The first loop crosses Kerschbaumsattel Saddle into Zillertal Valley and the second loop follows the crystal clear waters of Brandenberger Ache into Brandenbergtal Valley. The third loop winds past picturesque Reintaler Seen Lakes, a great place to take a break and refuel.

  • Starts from: Rattenberg
  • Distance: 117 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 18%

Chiemgau Loop via Wildbichl

“The gently rolling foothills of Kufstein and the climb up to Niederndorferberg make this loop a must-ride through diverse and incredible scenery. By the way, Kufstein will be featured during the Elite Road Races at the Worlds.” (Thomas Rohregger)

©Tirol Werbung / Bauer Frank

The rolling 127-kilometer ride around Chiemgau parades past the foothills of the Alps and is one of the area’s top destination rides. From Kufstein, this ride takes you past Aschau in Germany’s Chiemgau and Siegsdorf to Ruhpolding. Go as easy or as hard as you like on the rolling terrain that gains 1,350 meters of elevation on moderate climbs and catch your breath at one of the many roadside eateries. The scenic route weaves you amid historic sights and beautiful landscapes, such as the Chiemgau castles between Kufstein and Aschau and the gorgeous lakes and mountain scenery between Ruhpolding and Niederndorf.

  • Starts from: Kufstein, Lower Town Square
  • Distance: 127 km
  • Elevation Gain: 1,350 meters
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Maximum Grade: 14%

Kitzbühel Horn

“The mountain in my backyard! What is considered the most difficult climb to be tackled on a road bike takes you to the top of Kitzbühel Horn Peak. Save some kick for the steepest climb at “Knödelfleischgraben”, which ramps up to 22 percent. My course record of 28 minutes and 24 seconds is still unbeaten.” (Thomas Rohregger)

Ride the ridiculous 21-kilometer Queen Stage of the Tour of Austria over the relentlessly steep ascent of the towering 1,996-meter Kitzbühel Horn Peak that dominates this region of Tirol. You may have heard Kitzbühel Horn mentioned in slightly hushed tones, the kind reserved for stories about a legendary mountain or some tremendous achievement. What inspires such reverence? Well, the route climbs at 10 percent minimum grade and 22 percent at its steepest part. At the end of the challenge, should you succeed, refill the tank and down a recovery drink or two at Alpenhaus Restaurant high above Kitzbühel, trailhead and end of this gruelling ride.

  • Starts from: Kitzbühel, Hornbahn Gondola Base
  • Distance: 21 km
  • Elevation Gain: 990 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 22%

Lienz Dolomites Loop

“One of my favourite loop rides! This route includes a few steep and challenging climbs and traverses Lesachtal Valley before ascending Kartitscher Sattel. Lesachtal Valley is an area of awesome natural beauty. Catch your breath and take some quiet time listening to nature and absorbing this amazing scenery.” (Thomas Rohregger)

This scenic 122-kilometer loop route gains 2,300 meters of elevation and climbs over three mountain passes, closely following the route of the annual Dolomites Cycling Marathon. Ride like the pros and feel the burn as you ascend from Lienz to the summit of Gailbergsattel. The cruise down to Kötschach provides only partial relief on this tough tour before you tackle another gruelling climb up Kartitscher Sattel. Several long, difficult climbs are relentlessly steep here. The final—and steepest—climb on this demanding ride takes you along the Pustertal High Elevation Road, a thigh burner going up with a maximum grade of 17 percent.

  • Starts from: Lienz
  • Distance: 122 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2,300 meters
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Maximum Grade: 17%

To learn more about the ten “Great Rides,” visit www.tirol.at/greatrides

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