This thread grabbed my attention, so I'm jumping in for a first post and will try and steer it back on topic. As far as emotion is concerned, I have a couple of experiences to share.
I'm a relative newbie to cycling. I got into it 4 1/2 years ago when my knees and shins couldn't hack distance running any more. In early 2005 I bought a new bike and signed up for a cycling trip to follow the Giro. I had never climbed anything higher than 250m. I knew I was out of my depth, but thought I could probably get through a few of the flatter rides and pass on the tougher rides and watch the race instead. The first day in the Dolomites I set myself a modest challenge to ride from Ortisei (1236m) to Passo Gardena (2136m). I started slow because I've always been a fairly ordinary cyclist, consistently getting dropped on the flat bunch rides around Melbourne. I did not appreciate that my light weight (60kg dripping wet), which had made it hard to hang on when it's flat and windy, gave me a serious advantage in the hills, especially the really big ones. I comfortably got to the pass and felt exhilarated. The brilliant scenery and my first glimpse of a pro race up close no doubt helped.
I've been back to Europe each year since then and have ridden quite a few of the biggies including Alpe d'Huez, Courchevel, Col de la Croix de Fer, Telegraphe/Galibier, Col de la Machine (in the Vercours), Mont Ventoux, Solour/Aubisque, Aspin/Tourmalet, Peyresourde, Passo Stelvio (from Prato and from Bormio), Passo Gavia, Sestriere and the circuit around Gruppo di Sella (including Passo Pordoi and Passo Campolongo). Each of them made me feel more or less the same happiness that I got from the Gardena Pass.
A few years ago on TV I saw the Giro stage finish at Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Ricco won the stage). I thought it looked awesome, so a mate and I decided to give it a go a few months later. The road was still covered with the paint the tifosi had left behind, including indicators of the gradient at various noteworthy places (18% featured a bit and 21% once or twice). The last 4 kilometres average about 15% I think, so it was pretty slow going (6 or 7k/h at points). As we limped into the car park at the top, each of the 15 or 20 cyclists up there seemed to make a point of catching our eyes and nodding or smiling in a way that said "I've know how you've struggled, because I did too, and you have my respect for getting here.". I really enjoyed that moment.
Sorry, that was a long first post, but I had to get it off my chest. I'll aim to be more succinct in future.