Cycling in and around the World

a tale of two wheels

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Froome Fails to Sink The Spanish Armada

Asturian StagesThis was my fifth attendance at the Vuelta since my first trip over there in 2006. Meticulous planning for a long weekend along with convenience of Easyjet’s Manchester to Bilbao flight schedules meant that I could fly out on Friday, ride to, and watch, three stages on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and fly back on Tuesday – what’s the chance of a recurrence of that convenient itinerary? For this particular trip, I took into consideration that, not only are the shops closed in Spain on Sundays, but it was also a regional public holiday in Asturias on the Monday. It was therefore essential on my arrival to acquire enough hi-carb fodder to fuel me through the whole weekend and to take my industrial grade ear plugs to help me sleep through the festivities.


Stage 14: Santander / La Camperona. Valle de Sábero 

Asturias FlagThis stage never actually entered Asturias but was easily accessible as it skirted the Cantabrian border before a mountain top finish in Castilla y Leon. I’d already ridden the section between La Hermida and Riano (90-160km) back in August, including the main difficulty of the day – the category 1 Puerto de San Glorio. To avoid an excessively long car journey, I focussed my attention on the category 2 Collada de la Hoz  just under mid way between Santander and the finish line. I had two options:

  1. A ride from the coast and a 2 hour wait at the Hoz to see the riders fly past.
  2. A longer ride up the CA-184, a popular road for motorcyclists from Potes to Puerto de Piedrasluengas, taking a risk that I might not loop around in time to catch the riders going up the Hoz.


I went for option 2, missing the race but never regretting the decision for one minute. Motorcyclists certainly know their roads – the surface up to Puerto de Piedrasluengas exuded asphaltic perfection. At my modest speed however, there were no requirements for knee-sliders when negotiating the switchbacks in the upper reaches of the climb.

The descent on the CA-281 past the Mirador de el Jabalí and  over the dam at Embalse de la Cohilla was just stunning. A left turn at the bottom, in Puentenansa, took me over the Collado de Ozalba to rejoin the Vuelta route at Sobrelapena and over Collada de la Hoz back to my starting point in La Hermida.

Today, I wanted to ride the Hoz in the same direction as the Vuelta riders but, in hindsight, it would have been much better to do this route clockwise rather than anti-clockwise. This would have given an opportunity to spend more time on the dramatic climbs of the Hoz from La Hermida and past the dam at Embalse de la Cohilla. One could also have taken advantage of the pristine road surface for a fast decent from Puerto de Piedrasluengas – oh well, maybe next time.

Stats of the day:

  • Stage winner: Ryder Hesjedal – he of the motor doping fame
  • Total distance: 69.7 miles
  • Total ascent: 9596 feet (Strava phone app recorded 16,239 feet)


Puerto de Piedrasluengas, Collado de Ozalba and Collada de la Hoz from La Hermida

Puerto de San Glorio on the Ruta Maratoniana (reccy)


Stage 15: Oviedo / Lagos de Covadonga 

Asturias Flag My friend Martin dashed back from his holiday in Navia to join me for this ride as he could not resist the temptation of another attempt on his Los Lagos PR. We’d already done a reccy of the last two climbs on this stage back in June this year. Geoff Kaplan from San Fransico accompanied us on that occasion over the category 2 Puerto del Torno and up to Los Lagos. I persuaded Martin that an out-and-back route from Alto de la Llama, a stone’s throw from my place, would be the best option so we met for coffee at Bar Asturcon and subsequently set off down La Llama for an easy ride to Covadonga where all the fun would commence.


We’ve Done It (Again)

Due to a breakdown in communication, Martin ended up on the main climb ahead of me which meant busting a gut to try and catch up. After the first 2 kilometres, averaging 10-11%, I found Martin casually chatting to a couple of cycling fanatics camped up in front of a huge flag of St. George. He kept us talking there for the next five minutes and I only later realised that this was his cunning plan to prevent me taking King of the Mountains on our mini Los Lagos leader board.

Onwards and upwards, past La Huesera, a 1 kilometre ramp of 12.5% where the stage attacks were likely to kick off, we eventually arrived at the stage finish for the obligatory “we’ve done it” (again in our case) photo-shoot. Within minutes of our arrival the pitter-patter of precipitation turned into a freezing torrential downpour, soaking us to the skin and setting us up nicely for a very uncomfortable descent to our selected viewing position 5 kilometres from the finish at Mirador de la Reina.

We opted to stand next to a deafening diesel generator which was churning away to power the adjacent snack bar, the canopy of which had been besieged by a heard of dripping, dithering spectators trying to avoid the prospect of hypothermia. Regardless of likely damage to our delicate auditory mechanisms, bodily survival was paramount and, as soon as the heavens cleared, we de-robed  and used the generator’s warming exhaust as a makeshift tumble drier.

Soon afterwards, the helicopters, motorcycles and lead car buzzed past and the lens of my phone camera recorded eventual stage winner, Polish rider Przemysław Niemiec, leading the race with Australian rider Cameron Meyer in hot pursuit. Meyer eventually succumbed and finished 16th at 2’01”.

For our descent, the weather held out and the generous selection of wannabe road race breakaway groups meant that we got back to Arriondas in record time. After a little TT practice along the flat to Villamayor we switched to autobus mode and ground our way back up La Llama to Bar Asturcon where the Mahous were on me.

Daylight had expired and on return to my house I settled in to watch the day’s highlights on TDP. A TV camera shot from the rear perfectly framed the beauty of Asturias in the finish line banner.

The Beauty of Asturias on TV

Stats of the day:

  • Stage winner: Przemysław Niemiec
  • Total distance: 72.3 miles
  • Total ascent: 7783 feet (Strava phone app recorded 10,449 feet)


Summit of Los Lagos and back to Mirador de la Reina / Back to Alto de la Llama / Whole ride ©Martin

Puerto del Torno and Los Lagos de Covadonga (reccy)


Stage 16: San Martin de Rey Aurelio / La Farrapona. Lagos de Somiedo 

Asturias Flag Again, Martin and I had already done a reccy of the last two climbs on this stage back in April this year, La Farrapona and Puerto de San Lorenzo. Today was an Asturian bank holiday and Martin had family duties to attend to, albeit a picnic on the upper reaches of the category 2 Alto del Cordal.  I suspect he had realised the difficulty of the ride I had planned and felt that a picnic would be by far the most sensible option after our exertions of the previous day on Los Lagos.


Easiest “Bag” of the Day

In an attempt to avoid the possibility of congestion on a road ascent of La Farrapona, I decided to drive over the Alto de la Cobertoria, park at Barzana and unload my hefty Rockrider 5.2 mountain bike. A very testing route would then take me up Puerto de Trobaniello and over Puerto de Ventana followed by a short descent and a climb up the back entrance of La Farrapona on the track from Torrestio, hopefully in time to see the stage finish.

The climb of the Trobaniello started, in earnest, at the bridge in Ricabo where I met up with three friendly (and much younger) Spanish riders who would handily pace me up and over the forthcoming torturous terrain. Within a short distance, at Bueida, the tarmac transitioned to dirt track and the ramps increased in severity, up to 20% towards the top of the climb. The first 11 miles, from Barzana to the top of the Trobaniello saw my Garmin clock up 4000 feet of ascent – an average gradient of 6.9%!!

After a quick pit stop at Puerto de Ventana to share the contents of a fountain with some wild horses I continued on to Torrestio and up the dirt track to the summit of La Farrapona.

I parked my cumbersome steed 200 metres from the finish line, hoping that soon I would see Chris Froome powering his way to a stage win with Contador in his wake. However, my phone camera recorded the reality as Contador went on to win the stage with Froome trailing by 15 seconds.

Clouds loomed at the top of La Farrapona and the warm summer day took a turn for the worst. The rain began to fall but it was mercifully warm rain unlike the previous day’s storm on Los Lagos. I retraced my tracks, enjoying the effort free 11 mile descent from the Trobaniello and arriving back at the car in Barzana just before dark.

Light Fading on the Flat Between Ventana and Trobaniello

I called in at Martin’s place on the journey back for a debrief on the family picnic and a surplus brie sandwich that just happened to be on offer. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince him that he had made the wrong decision regarding his day’s activities.

Stats of the day:

  • Stage winner: Alberto Contador
  • Total distance: 43.7 miles
  • Total ascent: 6689 feet (Strava phone app recorded 10,239 feet)


La Farrapona by the back entrance on MTB 

La Farrapona and Puerto de San Lorenzo (reccy)