Mount Ventoux, Col de Tourmalet, Passo Giau, Stelvio. Big names, each a must visit for cycling enthusiasts.
I’m not a natural climber. Not by a long way. Nairo Quintana, Egan Bernal, Jonas Vingegaard, they’re in a different league. With my 95 kg and rugby player build, I pale in comparison.
I used to hate cycling uphill. Grinding up in the lowest gear, wishing you had just one more to relieve the pain. Treading slowly until your burning quads force you to stop at the side of the road. Gasping for breath until the cramps ease up.
These days however, with over 3 years and 20,000km in my legs, things are a lot different. I recently got a personal best on a local climb, beating my last best by 50 seconds, and overtaking 3 cyclists in the process. Over the last few months, I have noticed that I have developed a love (yes, love) for climbing. Which leads me to…
My favourite local climb
Hadersfeld. It’s name doesn’t command a sense of drama like the Stelvio. It’s not famous and it never featured on the Tour de France. Nevertheless, its a tiny 3km jewel in the Austrian Wienerwald.
Over its 3km length, you ascend 240m. Small, no? Do it 7 times however, and you’ll get the same length and elevation as Mount Ventoux.
The Hadersfeld climb starts off in the tiny town of Greifenstein-Altenberg at a set of traffic lights. You’ll turn off the main road and up a steep ramp. The narrow road will take you up through the tiny village, with houses and gardens left and right. Things stay spicy with a 12-15% gradient as you leave the village and into the forest. In autumn it is particularly beautiful, as you are embraced by a wonderful orange/brown colour.
The climb profile on my bike computer shows the road flattening out a bit after leaving the village until the first hairpin (or “Kehre”) which lies straight ahead. It is a tight left-hand bend, with a memorial to Emperor Franz Josef. This offers you an opportunity to shift up and rest the legs a little before the slope continues.
You put more pressure on the pedals as the road rises upwards, and then into a blind 90 degree right hand turn. No rest here, and as you crawl up in your low gears, hearing the whirring of the chain and your heavy breathing, you slowly see the next few corners appear out of the mass of tree and leaves.
You look around for any cars which may be taking the hill a little faster than expected. The road curves lazily to the left, followed by another hairpin. It’s a right hander this time – no time to rest as the inner curve is always steeper than the outer curve. The climb is a constant balance between low and high cadence (pedal rotations), moving between muscular and cardiovascular stress. Ride in one until you feel uncomfortable, then shift up / down and carry on in the other. Repeat until you get to the top (and keep an eye out for attacking cyclists).
You’re now on the left side of the above photo. From here, the gradient is fairly mild, balancing at around 8% and snaking through the trees. This sector is particularly beautiful, and I recall recently as the sun shone through the trees, casting warming rays of light around me. You look around, and on the right you see the forest floor steeply fall downhill away from you. Keep the front wheel on the road, you don’t want to end up down there!
A few hundred meters to go, and your legs are burning again. The asphalt ribbon lazily curves to the right, and finally you arrive at the last hairpin. A few cars are parked there, left there by people out for a hike. Around the bend, there are only a few more meters for your last push, and finally you’re in the tiny town of Hadersfeld. It’s nothing too exciting, but you made it to the top! You can either carry on straight to the next village, or turn around for a thrilling descent.
Each climb, a unique personality
The more I ride the Hadersfeld climb, the more I can identify its unique personality. The subtleties of the changing road surface, how the village transitions to the forest, how the road carves its way into the hill, the camber of the road, the parts of the slope where I can put down power, and where I can take a momentary rest on the pedals.
In my position today, I now think about other climbs I tried before (and hated), and now I can only think about the positives. Points where I struggled (and where I wished I had a few more gears) and unique details (such as a small herd of cattle which watched me from behind a fence, a tunnel, or the babbling of a small river).
I want to try these climbs again, knowing that now I should be faster than I used to be and – even if not – once I’ve done them, I will certainly be fitter than I used to be.
It’s bizarre how, with some fitness and the right frame of mind, a climb can be a pleasure – albeit a painful one at the time. With this and the significant fitness benefits in mind, show some love to your favourite local climb.
As soon as I have seen “Love your local climb” I thought – it should be Hadersfeld!
I discovered this climb a year ago, and I fell in love too. Steep, but just right form my 36/28, steady, and very quiet (mostly cyclist here), not so far away from Vienna.
And freshly paved!
But also don’t forget about Dopplerhütte (Königstetten). Some cars and motorcycles doesn’t ruin the breathtaking view from the top of this serpentine!
Kahlenbergerstrasse is another one, but it is more suitable for MTB gearing. 20 minutes pure pain and burning lungs with finish on Kahlenberg with amazing Vienna panorama!
Cobenzl with finish on the “Himmel” “Life Tree Circle” is for some easy days and gravel bikes (paving stones are not for everyone…)
For Sophienalpen I have mixed feelings – too much cars, but very nice views.
And my last but not least finding – Jubiläumswarte. Steep, curvy climb with 30 meters-high viewing tower on top.
Some really good climbs listed there – I love this variety in the area, we’re spoilt for choice. It’s like a nice short story rather than a large novel – you get a similar amount of fun in a much shorter time!
Love your paean to Haddersfeld. It’s a gen!
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