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Watch: We rode the World Championships 28% 'Hell' climb

Sam Challis
28 Sep 2018

We climbed Innsbruck’s Höll - known locally as the Hell climb - ahead of the 2018 World Championships. Photos: Juan Trujillo Andrades

The Höll is a little-known road heading north of Innsbruck in Austria. It is only 3km in length yet at its toughest features a long section at 28%. The men's pro peloton will tackle this ascent just once in this year’s World Championship road race, with less than 10km to go of the 258.5km route.

Its slopes are causing such consternation in the WorldTour ranks that big names like Vincenzo Nibali have already paid Innsbruck a visit to recce what gearing, effort and tactics will be required to successfully ascend the Höll.

Over the bridge

After barrelling straight up through the centre of Innsbruck, the peloton will reach the river and bridge the city was named after - Inn Brücke.

The difficulty begins even before the road starts to rise. The bridge has space for four lanes for traffic but the entrance to the Hell climb is barely wide enough for one car, so expect some frantic racing as pros fight to position themselves at the front of the pack for this bottleneck.

Immediately the road tips up to near 10% as the road snakes in between two of Innsbruck’s famous coloured River Houses and the tightly packed buildings beyond.

A crossroads signals a left turn then a right shortly after onto the Dorfgasse road, where the Hell begins proper. The remaining two and a half kilometres start at 15% and get steeper from there.

Dwellings peter out reasonably quickly so before long the road is surrounded by woodland and the sounds of the city quickly diminish.

The road surface deteriorates in the woodland, becoming rutted and broken. The road is never straight and each bend only affords a small glimpse of what is to come.

Rising gradient

The only thing that is certain is that each section is always steeper than the last. The 300m towards the end are at 28%, which seems somewhat manageable if not for the preceding two kilometres, where every few hundred metres the gradient kicks up.

The result is like some sort of ramp test that will strike blows into the peloton long before the steepest part is reached.

Past the 28% section the road levels quickly and opens out into more sparse woodland and fields, where fans of a sadist bent will undoubtedly gather to see the best riders in the world crawl past utterly broken.

From there the road gently weaves up to the town of Hungerburg. It is in this section where any riders with anything left in their legs might attempt a break to gain a gap that they can maintain going into the urban and sinuous descent back into Innsbruck city centre.

Rumour has it that Nibali sees himself as a genuine contender this year, having pulled off a similar move under similar circumstances at the 2018 Milan-San Remo, so he’d be Cyclist’s tip if you fancy a flutter come the big day.

For more information about cycling in the Tirol region go to visittirol.co.uk. For the 2018 World Championships, visit innsbruck-tirol2018.com.

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