Top 5 climbs in North American racing

We ask the pros about their favourite – and most notorious – ascents

Compiling a list of top five climbs is kind of like asking people what their favourite song is. There are just too many good choices with their own characteristics, attributes and even flaws that make it difficult to stuff them into neat rankings. So we went straight to the experts to get a sense of what the current crop of racers think about some of the best-known ascents they’ve raced up on their way to the WorldTour. We surveyed a small group of riders who have recently found success in North America, asking them to share their lists with us and briefly explain their choices.

Phil Gaimon scored a return contract with Cannondale-Garmin next year after winning the Redlands Bicycle Classic for a second time in 2015. Joe Dombrowski welcomed his move this year from Team Sky to Cannondale-Garmin with a stage win and overall victory in Utah, while Chad Haga raced with Giant-Alpecin in 2014 and 2015 and recently signed on for next year. Carter Jones won the Tour of the Gila last year and just finished his neo-pro year on the WorldTour with Giant-Alpecin. Michael Woods was another big winner in Utah, taking a stage win, wearing yellow for a day and cashing in with a ride at Cannondale-Garmin next year. HIncapie Racing Team's Toms Skujins also signed with Cannondale-Garmin for next season after winning a stage at the Tour of California this year and leading the race for three days.

Gibraltar Road Climb – Tour of California, Santa Barbara County, California

"Not sure if or when it was in a race last, but Gibraltar will be the critical stage for the Tour of California next year. It's a great climb, tactical with a few flat spots and lots of changes in pitch, but a crazy view of the Pacific the whole way up."

Mt. Baldy – Tour of California, San Bernardino County, California

"You could have started the 2015 Tour of California at the base of Baldy and finished at the top, and the top 20 would have been about the same."

Oak Glen – Redlands Bicycle Classic, Oak Glen, California

"Oak Glen was always the deciding factor in Redlands back in the day, and hopefully it continues to be part of the race."

Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird – Tour of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

"This is the deciding climb for the Tour of Utah. The guy who beats his rival here has won the GC every time I can remember."

Manayunk Wall – Philly Cycling Classic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"If we consider that a climb, sure. Kinda short, but it's so legendary it should count."

Phil Gaimon (Optum) crosses the line for the win
Phil Gaimon (Optum) wins atop Oak Glen during the 2015 Redlands Bicycle Classic. (Jonathan Devich)

Mount Washington – Mount Washington Hillclimb, Coos County, New Hampshire

"They have the hillclimb. It's one of the most difficult climbs in the US. The weather can be pretty epic."

Brasstown Bald – Tour of Georgia, Union County, Georgia

"Super steep. It's got race history with Georgia."

Wintergreen – Tour Dupont, Nelson County, Virginia

"OK, maybe a bit of bias, but it's the VA state hill climb, and I still have the record from back in 2011 ;) ... they did use it in Tour Dupont I think back in the day. There's a video of Fignon and co. racing up it kicking around on YouTube."

Flagstaff Mountain – USA Pro Challenge, Boulder, Colorado

"Not a ton of race history. They used it that year in Colorado. It's in probably the most popular cycling mecca in the US. It's European in style. Hugely popular."

Gibraltar Road Climb – Tour of California, Santa Barbara County, California

"Out of Santa Barbara. Reminds me of training back in Nice going out Col de Eze. Not any race history that I know of, but I think I heard somewhere they might use it in Cali next year? Regardless, it's beautiful, and like Flagstaff, hugely popular."

Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) wins stage 6 at the 2015 Tour of Utah.
Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) wins at Snowbird during the 2015 Tour of Utah. (Jonathan Devich)

Mogollon – Tour of the Gila, Catron County, New Mexico

“It's out in the middle of nowhere, so your whole ride is spent thinking about what is to come. Then you get there and it softens your legs just getting to the mesa, at which point the real climb starts and you wish unsuccessfully for even the briefest respite that will never come until you reach the top.”

Mt. DiabloTour of California, Bay Area, California

“A time trialist's climb. It hurts a bit at the start, but quickly settles into a steady gradient that allows you to find your rhythm and ride into your pace. The relief at the half-way point allows you to reconsider your pace if necessary, but then it's back on. In true time-trial fashion, the final 500m are a brutal test of your pacing strategy. Did you get it right?”

Lookout Mountain – US Professional Road Race, Chattanooga, Tennessee

“Just as with Mt. Diablo, this is a time-trialist's climb. Steady gradients that are conducive to finding a good tempo, a brief relief around the halfway point, and a steeper kick to get over the top. Its constant twists and turns make it enjoyable even when suffering.”

Empire Pass – Tour of Utah, Park City, Utah

“I actually hate this climb, which is why I love it. Throw on a mountain bike cassette and start pedaling. It feels interminable and makes you wonder if this level of masochism is healthy.”

Manayunk Wall – Philly Cycling Classic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“Proof that you don't need a mountain to be in pain. If you just start sprinting after you go under the bridge, and keep sprinting...and keep sprinting...it's over [relatively] quickly.”

Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin) in a breakaway earlier this year
Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin) in a breakaway in Europe earlier this year. (Tim de Waele/TDW Sport)

Flagstaff Mountain – USA Pro Challenge, Boulder, Colorado

"Home favorite, Colorado only finished there once due to the flood, but I will never forget the crowds that day."

Independence Pass – USA Pro Challenge, Aspen, Colorado

"Unfortunately a staple climb in the Tour of Colorado. Nobody feels good at the top of that thing, but man are the views good."

Gila Monster – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, New Mexico

"Probably the most iconic climb of the domestic racing scene. Lots of history, always been in the race since I have done it. Also, a good place to find out if you are fit for California. Mt Megantic at Beauce would be another contender."

Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird – Tour of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

"Staple climb of the Tour of Utah, Empire was a later addition and is not a mountaintop finish."

Mt. Diablo – Tour of California, Bay Area, California

"Probably the most used climb of the Tour of California?"

Carter Jones (Bissell) in the KoM leader's jersey
Carter Jones (Bissell) in the KoM leader's jersey at the 2013 Tour of California. (Jonathan Devich)

Mont Megantic – Tour de Beauce, Quebec, Canada

"I'm a Canadian, so this one has to make my list. It's super steep, but what makes this one hard is the 50 punchy hills, and crosswinds, that come before it."

Mt. Baldy – Tour of California, San Bernardino County, California

"This one may be the toughest on the list; you get a bit of altitude, and, at least when I have done it (in Tour of California), it comes after already doing Glendora Mountain Road. With around a kilometre to go, you have a long-ass, steep and straight section, and every time I have hit that point in the climb, I have questioned why I took up cycling."

Gila Monster – Tour of the Gila, Silver City, New Mexico

"I have only done it once, but I won on it, so, I like it. Also, the fact that it is called the monster is pretty sweet."

Manayunk Wall – Philly Cycling Classic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"This one is a little guy, but he packs a lot of punch. From a fan perspective, this one has to be my favourite. Because it is so steep, you go so damn slow up the thing, you can here every person yelling, and if you are on a bad day, you have plenty of opportunities to grab a beer from some frat dude screaming at the top of his lungs."

Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird – Tour of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

"As far as climbs go, this one is not that steep, and it is just basically one long drag to the top. For this reason, it is mentally, a killer. You have plenty of opportunity to see how far you have to go, and, if your legs are cooked, it can be devastating."

Michael Woods (Optum) wins the final stage of the Tour of the Gila
Michael Woods (Optum) wins the final Gila Monster stage of the 2015 Tour of the Gila. (Jonathan Devich)

Mt. Baldy – Tour of California, San Bernardino County, California

"Everyone around the world has heard about this climb. It's just as simple as that. Plenty of battles have been won and lost on it, so that makes it even more special."

Manayunk Wall – Philly Cycling Classic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"A must-have for sure. So much history especially for the Americans is on this climb. It has featured in races so many times you have to count it in, cause remember, every time you race on it, you do it more then once, so even every year, it features more than any other."

Independence Pass – USA Pro Challenge, Aspen, Colorado

"Another one that deserves to be in the top 5. Not only because it's a really long climb that features and makes the race into Aspen super exciting, but also because it's one of the highest points in cycling world wide. Maybe even the highest if you don't count some China races. It's a tough one to finish, but mostly because it's at such a high altitude, because the grade is not as steep, so actually anyone could still make it to the top."

Mont Megantic – Tour de Beauce, Quebec, Canada

"Mont Megantic has a lot of history in Canadian racing and Tour de Beauce has been around for so long, that most of the guys that have raced in the states have done it and done the climb. Not an easy one to climb and both times I've done it it's come after a tough day of racing, so the legs are pretty sore already."

Paris Mountain, US Pro Road Race, Greeneville, South Carolina

"Because it’s been featured so many times in the US nats."

 Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing Team) solos in for the win
Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing) wins stage 3 of the 2015 Tour of California. (Jonathan Devich)

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