You’re a cyclist who takes their performance seriously. You love the sport, so much so that you’re planning your next holiday to combine the two.
Training at altitude boosts performance, temporarily at least. A big event is coming up and you want to ride well, push your limits, see what you can do.
The pros train at elevation before the Grand Tours, so it must be beneficial.
You know you need to be at 2,000m at least, but where should you go?
Read on to discover 10 cycling destinations perfect for some high-altitude training. You might even see a pro or two.
- Elevation : 2,330m / 7,645ft
- Best Time : All year round
The Spanish island of Tenerife is located off the coast of West Africa. It’s the largest of the Canary Islands and home to Mt. Teide, a dormant volcano that is the tallest peak in Spanish territory. While the island is best known for its sandy beaches and the Carnaval de Santa Cruz, it’s also a cycling paradise.
It’s a high-altitude training destination that regularly welcomes pro teams such as Ineos, Astana, Movistar, and Jumbo-Visma to its long, twisty, uphill roads under fantastic azure blue skies. The average temperature ranges from 15° to 30° all year round, and the smooth, bike-friendly roads are virtually empty.
There are over 20 climbs that equal the toughest the Alps and Pyrenees have to offer. Tenerife sees the value of cycling tourism and provides fantastic infrastructures to support it.
Taking a rest day? Come down the mountain for a relaxing day at the beach.
- Elevation : 2,503m / 8,212ft
- Best Time : June to September
With the Stelvio only 3km away, it’s only natural to add the Umbrail Pass to your itinerary, but this time you’ll be on the Swiss side of things. This HC climb has its own switchbacks, 35 to be exact, and an average gradient of 8% for 13 km, so no small feat.
The Umbrail is the highest paved road in Switzerland but lives forever in the shadows of its more famous Stelvio neighbor. It connects the villages of Santa Maria in Val Müstair, Switzerland with Bormio, Italy. If you’re looking for a challenge, complete both in one day.
The road has been entirely paved since 2015 and was featured in the 2017 Giro. There are no roadside barriers, so take extra care when climbing and descending. Like the Stelvio, June to September is best, check the forecast before you go and bring ample clothing.
Stilsfer Joch (Passo Stelvio), Italy
- Elevation : 2,758m / 9,000ft
- Best Time : June to September
The Passo dello Stelvio is a regular stop for pros and a stage of the Giro d’Italia. It’s mythic in its own right thanks to its 48 switchbacks over 20km at a whopping 2,757m above the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. On the Swiss border in northern Italy, about 200 km northeast of Milan, it’s the highest paved col in the Eastern Alps.
It’s the second highest paved mountain pass in the Alps, behind the Col de l’Iseran (France). The village of Livigno is at 1,816m, while Bormio is lower at 1,225m. The Stelvio and surrounding areas are accessible by both.
Snow remains possible through the beginning of May, and the pass closes in November. Check the weather forecast before you travel, or plan on visiting between June and September. Always bring extra clothes as the mountain weather is fickle. The descent is brutal and dangerous if you’re cold.
Col de L'Iseran, France
- Elevation : 2,764m / 9,000ft
- Best Time : Mid June to Mid September
The Col de l’Iseran is the longest climb in France, 48 km in total, and the highest in Europe. If you start at Bourg Saint Maurice, it’s only 820m above sea level, so if high altitude is your quest, plan to stay at the Val d’Isère ski resort that starts at 1,850m or Tigne at 2,100m.
Count on 17km from Val d’Isère to the summit, and this is the most beautiful part of the ride and you’ll avoid a lot of unappealing tunnels. The start of the climb is gentle but increases in gradient as you ascend with averages reaching 10%. The Iseran has been featured in the Tour de France seven times and is part of the Route des Grandes Alpes too.
There’s a basic restaurant at the top if you need to fuel up. If you plan on riding from Bourg Saint Maurice, take front and rear lights for the tunnels. Check the weather first and bring extra clothing. The closest major airport is Lyon, France, or grab a TGV out of Paris. Visiting mid-June to mid-September is ideal.
Mammoth Lakes, California
- Elevation : 2,400m / 7,890ft
- Best Time : May to September
Whether you prefer dirt or asphalt, Mammoth Lakes, California is the perfect location for high-altitude training in the United States. Fat-tire and gravel fans should head to the Inyo National Forest for its extensive network of trails and unpaved roads.
A cycling mecca in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, the area puts on a variety of two-wheeled events for elite athletes and families alike. A ski resort in the winter, the slopes become a mtb park in the summer with bike lift service to the top. Roadies navigate hundreds of wide roadways with a generous shoulder such as US 395 or Minaret Road to the Mammoth Mountain Lodge.
Weather here can be unpredictable, but with a high-desert floor and snow-peaked upper elevations, riding is possible throughout the year.
Remember to check local forecasts to see when and where you can ride under the California sun in Mammoth Lakes, but May to September is best.
- Elevation : 2,926m / 9,600ft
- Best Time : June to September
Denver is known as the Mile-High City and Breckenridge is roughly another two-hour drive to the west into the Rocky Mountains, climbing to 2,926m. Cool fact, you’ll cross the Continental Divide along the way. It’s a massive ski resort that becomes an amazing cycling destination in the warmer months.
With five peaks to its name, it’s bursting with a variety of choices for any type of cyclist. They have over 160km of single-track, green mountain slopes to explore in the summer, and endless paved and gravel roads and bike paths if the family is in tow. Breckenridge has once hosted a stage of Colorado’s Pro Cycling Challenge.
Riders of all levels will find something to their tastes. Fat biking is even on the to-do list in winter and spring. With all cycling destinations at elevation, check the weather before you go, but June to September are sure to please.
- Elevation : 4,910m / 16,000ft
- Best Time : April to September
Chivay-Arequipa in Colca Valley, Peru is an extreme, high-altitude playground for road and dirt riders where you might be lucky enough to see condors flying overhead. 149km of paved roads connect Chivay to Arequipa, passing by the Abra Patapama on your way to 4,910m.
There is little vegetation, but the volcanic landscapes are home to vicunas, llamas, alpacas, and Andean ducks which may wander by the road as you ride. The road is open year-round but may be closed periodically in winter due to harsh weather conditions.
Because of the severe altitude, this destination, about a one-hour flight from Lima, is best avoided for anyone with respiratory or heart conditions. Many options for multi-day camping and bikepacking exist, with increased red blood cell count guaranteed.
Crystal Springs, South Africa
- Elevation : 1,778m / 5,833ft
- Best Time : November to February
The Crystal Springs Mountain Lodge is located a hair below the 2,000m considered the gold standard for altitude training, but 1,788m is at its base with plenty of opportunities to ride above the 2k mark. The lodge serves as a superb home base for altitude training with something for every cyclist, and the family too.
Crystal Springs is an old friend to pros and teams from the lower hemisphere such as Chris Froome and Team Bike Exchange, but more northern folk head there too, such as Ian Boswell and Geraint Thomas. It’s in the country’s northeastern region of Mpumalanga, near the modest town of Pilgrim’s Rest.
Kruger National Park isn’t far away, and you’ll get in plenty of time at altitude while seeing wildlife along the way, elephants, monkeys, kudu, and maybe even a zebra or two, which gives it a completely different vibe than any training you could do in Europe. Crystal Springs is approximately a four-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Alto de Letras, Columbia
- Elevation : 3,220m / 10,500ft
- Best Time : November to March
The Alto de Letras is in the Department of Caldas, Columbia, and a climb on the bucket list of any serious rider looking to fill their dance card. The 78.9km ascent comprises portions where you can recover and a few downhills before climbing again. The first five km are tough and considered a Cat 1 climb all by itself.
The overall average is 3.9%, but don’t let that number fool you. This climb is a pure challenge and has been described as a trip to your inner self. If you start in Mariquita (495m), you’ll complete this massive ascent with an impressive gain of 3,220m. The weather and scenery will change constantly as you go.
Carry sufficient clothing for all four seasons and possible rain, saving an extra jacket or two just for the descent. Water and fuel will be vital, but there are villages along the climb where you can eat and stock up. There’s no sign when you reach the top, but it’s just after the tiny town of Letras.
Serra da Estrela Mountains, Portugal
- Elevation : 1,993 m/ 6,539ft
- Best Time : June to August
Set your GPS for some of the famous hors-category (HC) climbs in the region such as the Col de Zezere, Col de Santo Antonio, Col de Manteigas, and the Col de Sabugueiro among others. The star of the mountain range is the Col de Cabeca, which leads to the remote stone village of Torres.
You’ll see beautiful, quaint traditional villages along the way and maybe a potential sighting of Portuguese pros Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) and Ruben Guerreiro (Education First) depending on the time of the year. June through August is preferred as temps are warmer, yet comfortable, with little rain.
The Serra de Estrela mountain range is the highest in Portugal, rich in flora and fauna that create fantastic landscapes. The region offers a grueling Granfondo Premium Serra da Estrela if you want to mix in a challenging event to push your limits as part of your training.