'Highway to Holl' the jewel in the crown of 2018 Road World Championships

Innsbruck aiming to outshine Bergen with steep final climb

Austria will host the UCI Road World Championships for the third time in September 2018, with cycling's biggest championships taking place in Innsbruck after Vallach in 1987 and Salzburg in 2006.

The courses have been designed for climbers, with the men's road race featuring close to 5000 metres in elevation, with the 'Highway to Höll' set to be decisive final steep climb of the race.

Thomas Pupp, founder of the Tirol Continental cycling team, was a key figure in the successful Worlds bid and believes the two-kilometre climb to Gramartboden, dubbed the 'Highway to Höll', can become an icon of the sport.

The 'Highway to Höll' comes eight kilometres from the finish of the long lap around Innsbruck with a technical descent through Hungerburg and Hotting before the finish line. The climb is likely to attract large numbers of spectators, with the section of road that reaches 25 per cent likely to be the most popular destination.

"The locals call this steep road the 'Höll' so it was quite obvious for us to call us this 'Highway to Höll'," Pupp told Cyclingnews of the climb and his plans for the Worlds. 

"It would be a big pleasure for us if Angus Young and his guys move to Innsbruck and give a free unplugged concert at the top of the climb and play Highway to Hell. Maybe they can also play all the major songs as well. I think it will be iconic. 

"The climb starts downtown in Innsbruck and you have to cross a very lovely bridge over the main river then the climb starts. You have also a very narrow, steep road of around 12 per cent so you need a good position, then the 'Highway to Höll' begins. There is one section of 25 per cent for 300 metres and it is very narrow. I am sure that more or less the final decision of the race will be made there.

"My goal is that the 'Highway to Höll' becomes an iconic climb like the Koppenberg or Muur de Geraardsbergen."

Although the Tour of the Alps will visit Innsbruck, with the final stage of the April race to finish there, the 'Highway to Höll' won't feature.

Formerly known as the Giro del Trentino, there is a strong Austrian feel to the Tour of the Alps, with the race showcasing the regions of Tyrol, Südtirol and Trentino. Professional cycling in Austria also includes the national tour in July, the one-day PRO Ötztaler 5500 and, in the future, bids will be made for Giro d'Italia stages. The 'Highway to Höll' could therefore be included in such events, adding to its prestige.

Initially, the plan was for a Tour de France Grand Départ but in discussions with race organiser ASO, Pupp explained it became clear the mid-2020s was the next open slot - too far into the future for Pupp to consider given that the project started to come together earlier in the decade. Instead, the Worlds became the focus and, with the UCI looking to host a climbing-friendly event, Tyrol emerged as a popular choice.

"From 2012 on, we started this project with negotiations with the UCI. We had this guy who was in charge of the 2006 Worlds and we put a lot of pressure on the responsible groups in our country - government, tourism - to persuade them that this would be the perfect event to promote our cycling target," Pupp explained.

"For the UCI, it was not difficult to give us the open window because they were thinking of a very tough and hard World Championships to give the climbers a chance to win the rainbow jersey. For this, we have the perfect profile for a very tough World Championships."

With his Tirol squad, Pupp explained that "the team is in a big ambassadorial role to promote Tyrol cycling when we travel and race". Having witnessed the successful Bergen Worlds in September, widely considered one of the better editions of the event, Pupp believes next year Austria will again raise the bar.

"I agree Bergen was a very nice World Championships with a very nice atmosphere, like most of the sporting events in the Scandinavian countries," he said. "I think the advantage of Innsbruck is that we are situated in the middle of Europe. Bergen didn't have a lot of tourism outside of Norway so most of the audience came from Norway. We expect a lot of Italians, German, Swiss, French, Belgians, Dutch… these are the target markets of Tyrol."

With tourism a key economic driver for the Tyrol region, Pupp adds that he doesn't believe Innsbruck will be left with a hefty bill like Bergen.

"I think we are in a much better position to have a good return on this investment," he said. "We have a very small budget. It is smaller than Bergen but we are very positive that we will have a very good return on tourism and cycling in our region."

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