Vuelta Classics, August 2013

Vuelta climbs? Well, if that wasn’t an excuse to go back to Spain!

Having seen some of the Vuelta stages in Northern Spain, I had a need to go there and see them for myself. To take in some of the famous climbs and ride in the Picos Europa, well, that sealed the deal.

A quick flight from Stansted to Asturias and the bike building begins. In Stansted I met a couple, Steve and Carol, who were also on the trip. They were experienced travellers and very interesting company.

We transferred to our hotel in Proaza, got to know each other and tucked in to some local cuisine. There didn’t seem to be much of it, and I did still feel hungry. I wish I had brought some snacks.

We start the day on Spanish time, 09:30 on the road and straight on to the Puerto de Ventana, a climb up to 1500m over 30km. Certainly a good way to start the trip. We rolled over the top and on for a while before lunch, I started to suffer from first day “acclimatisation”, my legs felt dead as I got over the climb and headed for lunch in Cubillas de Arbas.

I was empty by this point and thankful that Steve’s wife, Carol, had come back to ride with me. When I got to lunch I got stuck in to every bit of food I could lay my hands on, then grabbed 15 minutes in the sun, charging the battery.

After lunch we set off and I felt great and before I knew it, I was taking turns on the front into the wind and holding steady all the way to Ronzón. So glad I recovered after lunch, as it was a great ride.

The next morning was very damp, and it was yet another short warm up and then straight in to El Cordal, a 5.5km climb from 300 to 800m, followed by a 20km decent back to 300m. This was a sketchy descent, and I saw a few people lock up their rear wheels trying to scrub off speed, and this was only a 6% incline.

P1010089We stopped for coffee in La Vega, before we attempted Angliru, an out and back climb that reaches 28%+ in places. That is not too bad when you are climbing, but as there is no other way down, and in damp conditions like this, it could be dangerous. Dan made the decision that we should only climb to the halfway point, before it ramps up in percentage. All in all, a very good decision. As we were going up, one of the Cannondale professionals was coming down in the car, with his bike on the roof. He obviously felt the same as we did. Better to stay safe and fight another day. It turned out to be very foggy up there as well, so it was not possible to see the views. Just means I have to go back sometime.

We made the descent, all safe and sound and made our way on the 45km steady incline, which took us up 300m and our destination in Cuengo.

After a big breakfast, it was straight out of the box and up to Puerto de San Isidro, 20km of climbing up to 1500m. It took about 90 minutes, so before you knew it, it was 12:00, and time for a coffee, in a great mountain top refuge. We set off, and swooped down about 500 metres, before climbing Puerto de Tarna, which peaked at about 1650m.

We regrouped at the top and made a further descent on to a plateau at 1100m, and stayed there for about 30km, before we rolled over a couple of small ramps heading in to Camporredondo de Alba.

P1010100The final 15km of today’s ride was amazing, as we rolled past a large reservoir, passing the dam on the right, what a stunning sight.

The hotel in Camporredondo de Alba felt quite special, like something from a Western movie.

The following morning, we were greeted by a great breakfast, made in the hotel by our guides, a resourceful bunch.

The day started along the plateau for around 70km, rolling up and down, but no major climbs. The first 20km was along the other side the reservoir and over the dam, turning and heading West to Ventanilla.

P1010101Shortly after Ventenilla, we pass another body of water on our way to Cervera de Pisuerga, where we stopped for coffee.

Coffee consumed, we continued a very steady climb to a mirador, where the lads had put on a nice spread, with the added delight of stunning views of the Picos, the massive grey mountains.

We climbed up to 1400m after lunch, the peak of the day, then dropped 1000m on a smooth, fast descent into the beautiful town of Potes. The drop just kept getting quicker, like a ski jump, hitting 90kph, before finally coming to rest with a massive grin on our faces at the roundabout. We passed, and talked to, a mountain biker who had lost the drive in his freehub. He too freewheeled all the way to Potes, but not out of choice.

The town was very busy when we arrived, with a temporary zip wire running down the river, under the bridge, on to the other bank. As I arrived they were just strapping in a kid that must have been about 5 or 6 years old. He had a ball, but I can’t imagine that happening back home.

We started the next day with a rude wake up call, San Gloria, 27km and 1300m, ouch! This was followed by a short descent, then Puerto Pandetrave, and Puerto Panderruedas, in quick succession. We found a coffee stop, which had an interesting bit of taxidermy, and a reminder the wildlife in the area.

From the top of Puerto Panderruedas it was a 40km descent to Cangas de Onis, our rest spot for the night, bottoming out at almost sea level. More large grins after the descent.

The final day would see us finish at the coast, but first we had one of the climbs I had been looking forward to all trip, Lagos de Covadonga. Sadly, the day was hanging in a mist, and as we started the climb visibility was only 15m, so we had no idea what was to come, as we just kept climbing in to the grey. That turned out to be a good thing.

P1010139I rode with Steve, who I had met at Stansted. We climbed at about the same pace and that was great on something like this. It was so steep in places that we just churned over the 34 x 28 as best we could, and at that pace your breathing is steady and you can talk quite easily, in fact we were cracking jokes to pass the time. It was not a good idea to dig deep on a climb like this. Not the first time you climb it, as you don’t want to run out if steam before the top, and as you don’t where the top is, well, you get the drift.

Steve and I got to the top first and could not see more than 2m in front of us by this point. In fact, we passed one of the Lagos, and didn’t even see it. However, we did spot a sign for a restaurant, so we dived in for coffee and sandwich. We sat there for ages and no one else turned up. Slightly concerned, we decided to go back to the road, where by chance, we met one of the guides, who led us to a really busy restaurant the other side of the lakes, where the rest of the group were tucking in.

This climb is a dead end, like the Angliru, so as we started to descend, and the fog started to clear, and we started to see what we had climbed. It looked so dramatic, with some really steep sections turning back on each other. We were both glad it was shrouded in fog on the way up, but the damp made the descent tricky.

Once back at the base, the rest of the day was just a series of small ramps over the remaining 70km. We stayed together as a group most of the time, a few putting in some digs with the energy they had left, knowing they would not need it tomorrow. We kept a reasonable pace through to San Vincente de le Barquera, a beautiful town on the edge of an estuary. There was an amazing road bridge over the tributaries to the right. A great way to end the trip.


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