On two wheels

Lift your game: my contributions to the community of climbing cyclists

I've learned about many climbs from other cyclists who shared their wisdom. I now have stuff to share myself.

In 1997, Jan Ullrich kind of won the Tour de France. One of his loyal team-mates and best friends allegedly made a big contribution to his victory when he shouted at the struggling Jan that he should lift his game and give it all. He just did it in a slightly less articulated way, as he shouted.

Quäl dich, du Sau!

This literally translates to: Torture yourself, you sod!

Friendship in Germany. Cyclists are strangely much focused on making themselves suffer by going uphill. It pretty much seems to be the essence of the sport.


Meanwhile, those words got a proverbial statement of support among German cyclists. Though I’m not sure that the younger generation still knows about the origin. The quote lives on also because some guys started a website in the early 2000s that would collect information about famous climbs: Quäldich.de. That website was a hit and the same guys went on to use it as a launchpad for a road bike-oriented travel agency.

I’ve extensively used that website for route planning. There’s no other platform that as elegantly lets you identify noteworthy climbs on a map. There used to be no other with as much detailed information on them. Though that has changed as I started to learn some other languages. I now prefer to identify climbs with Quäldich.de, and then look up the more readable elevation profiles from Salite.ch or Climbbybike.com. For Lombardy, I often find information on lesser known climbs over at the folks at Zanibike.net (which is linked with Salite.ch) and Grimpeur.it.

All these websites are largely community-driven. As they exist for a long time, most climbs have been added already. Quäldich.de for instance does not accept anymore submissions of small hills. For Dutch people those might constitute a climb, but unless they have significance and fame in professional cycling, they wouldn’t qualify. So you might think that all substantial climbs in the Alps must have been cycled many times over the past 20 years. And at least someone would have entered them into the database.

I recently figured that this is not always the case for that German website. Here’s how it goes: I’m not the only guy that knows just enough English and Italian to google for climbs in other languages. The perceived necessity to add information (that could be found elsewhere) decreased. Also, cyclists have a huge drive to take on the really famous climbs. Stelvio, Mortirolo, the Sella Ronda, Alpe d’Huez, Galibier, Tourmalet, you name it. There’s still a big drive to take on the mountain roads that link valleys on important routes across the Alps. Many feel a drive to follow what on Google Maps looks like a major street. (As I  explained just recently, this also improves your chances to score a Strava KOM on minor streets.) Almost nobody gets the drive to have a deeper look at maps and find the small streets between minor places in secondary valleys.

Unless you live in a paradise for climbing-addicted cyclists for several years, and you’ve done the famous ones already, and you enjoy going to new places on every ride.

Lately, I came to notice that some pretty significant climbs were missing in Quäldich.de. For instance, Bozen is a super popular destination for German road cylists. From the city, you can take on a number of super tough climbs. There are only few easier climbs, just because they don’t exist. I recently discovered one a stone-throw away from the city. Previously, we knew this climb was a dead-end street and for that reason it was not very popular. It turns out that it leads down the mountain on tarmac on the other side on a small forest street.


The biggest omission that I spotted was the climb to Selvino, close to Bergamo. Lombardian diamonds originate from there. It was home and recovery to 800 Jewish orphans who had survived the holocaust. Today, Selvino is a dying skiing village. It used to be one of the easiest accessible skiing locations; nowadays it’s too low in altitude to compete anymore with the big skiing areas that are maybe just 30min farther away.

That doesn’t take away from its appeal to cyclists. Selvino is actually a whole family of climbs. The village has direct accesses from North and South. The approach from the North is not too far from San Pellegrino. (Yes, it’s that San Pellegrino.) An indirect access comes from the East (it crosses another little known pass before it descends 100m to Selvino), one from the West (again crossing an even less known, but rather tricky and steep pass), and one from the Northeast via a panorama road.



More importantly, it regularly features as one of the main climbs in Il Lombardia, which is one of the most important one-day races in professional cycling. In 2017, it also played a prominent role in the Giro d’Italia. That day, I made my first visit and fell in love with the climb.

Its a key climb in the Granfondo Felice Gimondi, which in itself is one of the most important Granfondo events for amateur cyclists in the Alps. Plus, the Southern approach to Selvino comes with everything that cyclists adore: a street in good condition, gentle slopes and a big number of switchbacks. There are 19 hairpin turns on only 12km. To no surprise, it’s always populated with many riders. The Strava segment ranks more than 8,000 cyclists.


Well, missing from the climbing directory it is no more. Today, it also features on the front page of Quäldich.de. And I hope it will bring some more German cyclists into this beautiful area. To be honest: for all those that are spending all their training camps in Mallorca, Lombardy is a worthy alternative.

I’ve made a few more contributions and I still have a few more contributions to make. Just last week, I went uphill on a street at the Western side of Lago d’Iseo that few in Germany know about. It might be one of the most stunning climbs at that lake. Then I came home, looked at the map, and I identified the next hidden gem. There’s just always one more street to try. So, lift your game and explore them.

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