When you think of cycling destinations, the city of Innsbruck might not necessarily be at the top of your list, with it renowned for its winter sports rather than the two wheeled variety.
But come summer, once the roads are clear of snow, the city is the perfect place to be based if you want to try your hand at some challenging Alpine climbs without the crowds you’d find in nearby France and Italy.
Don’t just take our word for it though. Innsbruck has real race pedigree. The Tour of Austria often passes through the area during the week-long race, while the city is hosting the UCI Road World Championships this September.
The region features a number of challenging ascents that will really test the legs. Here, we’ve taken a look at five of the best to pit yourself against:
Climb to Igls
This year’s UCI Road World Championship course features three climbs, and the key one will be the ascent from the south of Innsbruck up to Igles. The 448m climb will feature seven times in the Elite Men’s race, and therefore contributes significantly to the route’s 4,670m of climbing.
At 6.9km long and with an average elevation of six per cent, it’s a climb that can be enjoyed (unless your name is Peter Sagan and you’re on the hunt for a fourth consecutive world title). Gently rising out of Innsbruck, a couple of switchbacks after the first kilometre are the first testing parts of the ascent. After these, the road continues up to Aldrans and Lans before summiting just past the Olympia Eiskanal bobsleigh track.
To your right will be views back down into the valley of Innsbruck, and with it a speedy descent to the village of Igls – the perfect spot for a post-climb coffee.
Average gradient: six per cent
Steepest gradient: 11.6 per cent
Head out west along the Inn valley and you’ll soon find yourself faced with Kuhtai. The mountain pass is one of the most famous of the region – featuring heavily in the Tour of Austria and as the first of four climbs in the Otztal Bike Marathon – and is closed to heavy duty vehicles, ensuring a nicer ride.
The road from Oetz up to the summit is 17.45km of pure climbing heaven. The conifer-laden asphalt at the foot makes way for a snow-lined path towards the top, but be sure to take an extra layer with the temperature plummeting as the elevation rises.
Expect switchbacks and punchy peaks along the way, with the average seven per cent gradient belying its hors categorie status. Stop to admire the lakes at the top before continuing east and tackling the white knuckle descent back towards the centre of Innsbruck.
Average gradient: seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 25 per cent
The ascent from the village of Terfens to Mairbach will be the first time the riders in this year's UCI Road World Championships have the chance to properly test their legs uphill.
Although relatively short – at just over 3km in length – the road rises a whopping 275m at an average gradient of nine per cent. After starting relatively steady, the climb gets quite punchy for 1,500m and there’s an eye watering maximum of 22.1 per cent. The road does start to tail off on the approach to Mairbach, where the reward for your efforts is a similarly steep (but ultimately much faster) descent down into the village of Absam.
Although not the toughest on this list, the ascent to Mairbach is a great place to get the lactic acid flowing in the legs and prepare yourself for what else Innsbruck has to offer.
Average gradient: nine per cent
Steepest gradient: 22.1 per cent
Telfs to Buchen
The west of Innsbruck is also home to a number of other shorter, sweeter thigh burners if the previously mentioned Kuhtai looks like a bit of a monster.
Due north of Kuhtai is the climb from the town of Telfs to Buchen. A relatively flat 30km spin out of the city will get the legs nicely warmed up before a turn off of the main drag leaves you confronted with the seven kilometer-long climb. With a gradient of nine per cent, it sure packs a punch, but the consistent elevation will let you settle in to a rhythm and power your way to the top.
A couple of switchbacks halfway up are easily the climb's highlights. It is here – the road carved into the mountainside – where you realise just how steep the climb would be if it took the most direct route to the top. After cornering the second bend, the view opens up to reveal the neighbouring peak of Hohe Munde. The view is postcard perfect, but with momentum your friend, photo ops might be best saved for the descent.
Average gradient: 8.7 per cent
Steepest gradient: 20.7 per cent
It's not just the west that has all the fun though – east of Innsbruck is as much of a hill-laden playground for cyclists. Taking the road along the valley, all you have to do is turn left or right and you'll soon be confronted by a mountain or two.
Almost 50km from the centre of the city is the area of Brandenberg. Close to 1,000m above sea-level at its peak, there is a set of three climbs that will take you from the valley floor to the village that share's the area's name.
The best of the bunch is the last of the trio – a five kilometer category three ascent from Pinegg to Brandenberg. With more than 200m of elevation already under your belt on the Markstein and Stegen climbs, the legs will be grateful for what on paper looks like a sedate-if-long five per cent climb. But with peaks of 22.9 per cent and some teasing descents thrown into the mix, there's nothing straight forward about this climb.
Average gradient: 5.2 per cent
Steepest gradient: 22.9 per cent