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Cyclosport's Quick Guide To Legendary Sportive Climbs

by Tom Copeland

When an organiser sits down to plan a sportive, you could be forgiven to think that they pull out a map, find the longest, hardest hill in the area, and then plan a loop around this. Actually, looking at most events on the calendar, I think this is what most of those torturous people do.

There are tens of dozens of legendary, lung bursting climbs in the UK but the following are some of what we regard as the toughest tackled year-in-year-out by sportive riders willing to give it a go.

The Hardknott Pass


This is often spoken of as one of the hardest climbs in the country to tackle on a bike, and looking at the figures you can see why. At 2.25km in length, this Cumbrian climb has some serious sections of up to 33% with a total of 298m height gained from start to finish. The climb is used in the 180km, 'ultra-hilly' Fred Whitton Challenge in May taking riders on a scenic route around the Lake District.

The route also features the climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, and the Hardknott and Wrynose passes so you're not exactly arriving at the bottom of the climb fresh as a daisy either.

The Horse Shoe Pass


Buried away in the hills of north Wales is the 6.1km Horse Shoe Pass, which features in September's Wiggle Etape Cymru closed road sportive.

Rarely in the UK do you have road climbs that consistently go upward for over 5km so this is a real gem. At 317m in height and with a gradient of up to 20% this is definitely up there with the toughest and worthy of our shortlist. During the event, the climb is timed so you can attempt to beat the 14:22 set by Team Sky's Geraint Thomas MBE, while cheered on by enthusiastic supporters like if you were on an alpine pass in the Tour. Just make sure that you make the most of the views from the top, as there is still a long way to go from here.

Mow Cop


Also known at the killer mile, the Mow Cop climb has an average gradient of 11.3% with sections of up to 25%. This definitely falls in the short, sharp category, with 165m height gained in just 1.45km.

The ascent can be found in Moreton, Cheshire and is used in the Wiggle Cheshire Cat sportive, as part of the 160km route. However, with the climb falling just 24km into the route don't go too hard, as you have still got a long way to go before you are home and dry.

Fleet Moss


Yorkshire, now known as the starting point of the 2014 Tour de France, is generally speaking pretty lumpy. Its highest road is Fleet Moss and is climbed in both the King of the Pennines and the White Rose Classic.

This 5km climb ramps up steadily before the mid section, which averages 10% for 2km before with steeper sections, before easing off to a more reasonable 4% average to crest over the top.

It may be painful but once you're at the top the views on offer are definitely worth the hard graft to get there.

Winnats Pass


A new event for 2013 is the Peak Epic sportive, which has been touted as the toughest Peak District sportive challenge ever. The main climb on the route is Winnats Pass at Castleton, a short but steep ramp out of the Hope Valley. The road goes up for 1.6km with an average gradient of 11.7%, topping out at 20% at its steepest. This climb is also used on the tough Wiggle Tour Of The Peak Sportive from KiloToGo

This, along with the other major climbs on the 162km route, takes the riders total ascent for the route to an impressive 4000m - the equivalent of three times up Ben Nevis! Don't worry though, the route will be clear of snow come event day in June.

The Bwlch


This climb is just one of several that could have made the shortlist from the Wiggle Dragon Ride that explores the Brecon Beacons of south Wales. If the route went up and over the Heol Senni from the other side then that would definitely be high on our list but the organiser let's you off with a slightly more genteel pedal up the less relenting way.

The Bwlch can be climbed any one of three ways, and the side used in the Wiggle Dragon Ride is seen as many as not the hardest, but still plenty tough enough to produce a serious grimace and reduce many to walking pace, especially with everything else that you have covered throughout the day.

The epic 206km 'Gran Fondo' route sees the Bwlch fall at about 25km to go, giving you, the conqueror, a downhill run from the top to the finish in Port Talbot. 'It's all downhill from here' - a phrase that you hear all too often.

Want to look for an event? Search on our Events Page.

Think we missed a legendary climb? Leave a comment below.

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22nd February 2013 11:45am skippa76 wrote:

I think you have the wrong picture for the Bwlch climb. The image is of Bwlch Y Groes which is in mid/north Wales near Bala.

24th February 2013 11:08pm Stuart Wilkinson wrote:

Yep. Appropriate though ... The Dinas Mawddwy side of the Bwlch y Groes is way harder than the Bwlch on the Dragon Ride. There are so many other climbs that would make the grade on this list. 2 climbs that get votes from me: Bwlch Penbarras from Ruthin, and the Burway from Church Stretton.

28th February 2013 9:14am theDavemeister wrote:

Can't believe you didn't include the big daddy of them all- the Bealach Na Ba. 10k of pure torture or ecstasy depending on your level of fitness. It's tougher still into a headwind which in this part of the world can vary from breezy to typhoon. Oh, and it can snow almost any month of the year!

28th February 2013 5:08pm wrote:

how about the South West Climbs, Cheddar Gorge, and Porlock Toll road as used in stages one and three of the Tour of Wessex and used in the Tour of Britain. Happy to supply details and photos if required!