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Beautiful and Brutal cycling in the heart of Asturias – Part 2 – San Lorenzo


Casa Quiros to Riera, via the San Lorenzo pass, and back.

75km at 2,600m climbing

A shorter ride, under 80km, but takes in both sides of the San Lorenzo pass, with both sides deemed an Hors Category climb.

cycling San Lorenzo pass in Asturias

Coming back….

From Casa Qurios, descend down to the main road and take a right, down the valley which is a great warm up. After 5km or so, take a left, signposted Taverga, and follow the steep sided valley. The huge rock faces tower above you as you wind along smooth roads on a steady angle. The prevailing wind is normally behind you here so you should get a nice helping hand on the drag which is slightly steeper than it looks.

Reaching San Martin, take right at the roundabout and continue straight on. After a few kilometres of rolling flat the climb starts proper. And boy does it hit you. The angle just does not relent below 9%, at all, ever. It is a real brute that I underestimated. And the road is psychologically tough – few switch backs, and you can see the road stretch on up the valley as it cuts through the tree covered slopes. It doesn’t relent until the final few metres – even the last few turns are steep. The views at the top are breath-taking. I shared the view with some cows and horses. I didn’t see a single car or bike on the ascent.

Resting with 'support team Jack'

Resting with ‘support team Jack’

Drop down the other side and you’re treated with an aggressively fast descent, dropping like a stone on pristine tarmac and wide sweeping  bends. At the bottom, which comes very quickly, take a left and 50m on the left there is a bar for a coffee, coke and re-fills. I was on a time limit so rather than doing a loop (you can keep going up the valley and take a left much further up) I decided to attack the San Lorenzo from this side. Marginally physically harder (with angles above 17% in places), I found it mentally easier – partly as a sense of knowing how far you’ve got to go, and partly the changes in angle, a few drops and turns give some relief to already tired legs.

IMG_5653

After just under an hour’s climbing (my time for both sides was very similar, 55 minutes each side) you reach the top again. Then hold on for the descent – fast, open roads, no cars – it felt like a closed road race. Incredible, memorable, exhilarating. Then just coast back down the valley, and at the t-junction take a left back up to Casa Quiros. A simple but punishing ride!

 

The summit of La Cobertoria...

Casa Quiros to the Alto d’Angliru via the Gamoniteiro and El Cordal – by Andy Bowie

Andy Bowie, Sheffield cyclist and visitor to Casa Quirós takes us with him on his ‘big day out’ – an ascent of the legendary Alto de Angiliru (with a bit thrown in for good measure).

Casa Quiros to the Alto d’Angliru via the Gamoniteiro and El Cordal - 110km riding and 4,200m climbing – by Andy Bowie (see linked Blog here)

The ride from Casa Quiros starts easily enough. A descent down from the village of Aciera and a left towards Barzana leads you on a gently rising drag on smooth roads ascending up through the valley. Look out for a turning c1km before Barzana on the left, which leads to The Ermita de Alba, the mountain finish for stage 16 of 2015’s Vuelta d’Espana. It is a sustained climb for six kilometres, average is around 11% and the last kilometre is a gift that keeps on giving above 17% by all accounts!

Tapping away on La Cobertoria....

Tapping away on La Cobertoria….easy to see why Asturias is known as green Spain…

The climb up to the Gamoniteiro pass slowly hits you, with the gradient lifting up after about 10km of riding. The climb is about 8km long, averaging 8.5%. Tap out a steady rhythm and take in the views – the green covered mountain scape around you is a stunning backdrop to your suffering. On this climb you start to get a sense of the trick the roads play on you – because they’re wide and smooth, they hide their angle. If it wasn’t for my Garmin telling me it was 9% I wouldn’t have believed it. Well, my legs were telling me, that’s for sure.

 

The summit of La Cobertoria...

The summit of La Cobertoria…

Crest the top after 40 minutes of climbing and you experience one of the best views in Asturias. But a bigger prize awaits –the descent on the other side of the Gamoniteiro pass is one of the best descents of my life. Very fast, big open sweeping descents, few cars – the dial rarely dropped below 70kmph. I was a giggling childlike wreck at the bottom. The only glimmer of concern was the realisation that what comes down must go up.. and the way back will be a brute of a climb at the end of a day’s riding.

Reaching Pola de Lena you follow your nose a bit through the village, dropping down, left and then left at the end of the village, on the AS-231. The road immediately kicks up – and keeps on giving for just under 6km at an average above 9%. It’s short but packs a real punch, with the last few kilometres keeping the dial well above 11%. What follows is a classic technical descent, short sharp turns, a few pot holes, lots of changes in light and shade, damp sections under heavy undergrowth and some rough surface – it focuses the mind.

After 40km of riding you reach La Vega, the village at the bottom of the ascent to the Angliru. There is a café on the right next to the turning to the Angliru (which is well sign posted). Great coffee and pinchos here if required. Re-fill your water bottles, psych yourself up and prepare for 13km of suffering.

After 40km and class 1 and class 2 ascents guess what's next....

After 40km and class 1 and class 2 ascents guess what’s next….

The first 5km or so of riding up the Angliru lull you into a false sense of security. Steady away 7-8% up a quiet road, the only thing that makes you aware that you’re on something different is the kilometre markers, telling you the average gradient, the highest gradient and how many you have left to go. There is also the looming sense of a bloody big mountain ahead of you, with no discernable way up. Not discernable until you reach the 8km to go marker, when you see the road kicking up at a crazy angle and keeps on going.

 

Stunning views and reasonable riding, Angiliru reels you in...

Stunning views and reasonable riding, Angiliru reels you in…

The final 8km are a real test of mental strength and physical capacity. There really is no rest bite from the relentless attrition. As well as the kilometre markers, there are additional signs which mark out the particularly steep sections of suffering. I wasn’t sure whether to look or not – they give an almost perverse satisfaction to letting you know how much you’re going to hurt.

Bowie 1 Angiliru IMG_6081

Do you really want to be reminded of how steep it is and how far there is to go..?

Riding in the clouds with only 20m of visibility or so I was at least able to avoid seeing what was coming ahead. The darkest moments were with about 3km to go. A viciously steep and sustained section above 20%, for what seemed like half a kilometre. My dial reached my lowest speed I think I’ve hit on a bike, 6kmph and still moving! It wasn’t just my legs screaming, my arms were in tatters from wrenching and pulling on the bars. A proper deep all over body-pump. Another few steep sections and the angle finally relents, with a rolling flat and a bit of descent before you reach the finish line. It was a finish to remember, as I crested not only did the clouds clear, leaving the incredible views of a rock amphitheatre, but a lone piper was playing the bagpipes. Surreal, brilliant, relief.

 

Victory, and blessed relief!

Victory, and blessed relief!

There are only two climbs I’ve done that come close to the Angliru. Hard Knott Pass in the Lake District in England, which is steeper in parts but much shorter. And Tre Cime de Laverendo in the Dolomites. Very sustained and at high altitude, but again shorter, and very busy.

After gathering my senses, re-fuelling and tackling the steep descent down the Angliru, the route back to Casa Quiros follows the same route. But it doesn’t feel it – the climbs back have a different feel. El Cordal is a much steadier 8km at 7%, a quiet road with stunning views back over the valley. Take care on the descent back to Pola de Lena, the steep angle and tight bends require concentration with tired legs.

The sting in the tail on the ride is the ascent back up the Gamoniteiro from Pola de Lena. This will be the second to last climb on stage 16 of the Vuelta this year. I hate to think of the speeds they will attack this. It is a savage climb – made all the harder by the ascent already in your legs. 9km at 9.7%, this is steeper and harder than famous climbs such as the Passo Giau in the Dolomites. Signs taunt you on the side of the road, with 700m at 12% a particular pleasure. Keep grinding away and eventually, after much panting, you crest the pass.

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If you have the time, and the legs, then you can take a right about 300m before the top of the pass, which takes you up to the Alto d’Gamoniteiro. This continues on for another 7km, and the overall climb to the top is a monstrous 16km at 9%.

The descent back to Barzana is a lovely end to the ride. Steep at first it turns into a gentle roll back down. All that remains is the 700m at 9% to get back to Casa Quiros, and a well earned beer…

Here’s Andy’s Strava for the route…read it and weep…or cheer!

The awesome 16th stage of the vuelta

Vuelta 2015 – Stage 16 Sept 7th finishes 5km from Casa Quiros

Stage 16 of the Vuelta de Espana will finish on the brutal climb of the Ermita de Alba, only 5km from Casa Quiros.

The stage 16 course take La Cobertoria, like last year but then finishes by tackling the short, 6km, but very very steep hill of the Alto de Ermita de Alba…The awesome 16th stage of the vuelta

The recently resurfaced climb – we weren’t allowed to the top only a week ago as they finished tarmaccing the final bends – is one of the steepest around, and although not as long as the more famous Angiliru, the fial km with gradients of up to 25% will be punishing.

Like many of the local climbs there are new signs telling you what to expect and how the climb pans out…although I’m personally not sure whether this is information or a warning!!

Warning or information...? You decide...

Anyway, whatever happens we’ll be there cheering on Froome et al in a vuelta that contains all the ‘big boys’ for the first time in a while!

 

 

Andy starting to suffer on Angiliru...more details to follow

Beautiful and brutal cycling in the heart of Asturias

Sheffield cyclist, Andy Bowie writes about his week at Casa Quiros and the cycling nearby in the first of three blog posts…

“Nestled in the heart of some of Europe’s best and toughest cycling, Casa Quiros is the ideal base to explore – and suffer – in a cyclist’s playground. Make no mistake Asturias is right up there as a cycling destination with the Dolomites or the Pyrenees. And the best thing about it? It’s only you and a few other people that know about it.

Casa Quiros sits just 5km from the last mountain climb finish of stage 16 of 2015’s Vuelta d’Espana. It is less than 40km to arguably the toughest climb in pro cycling, the Alto d’Angliru. It is a few easy kilometres ride to the San Lorenzo pass, a fabled and brutish climb that takes no prisons as you ride up sustained sections of 11-12% for kilometre after kilometre. These climbs make the Dolomites feel like a warm up in comparison.

Andy and partner setting off from Casa Quiros

Andy and partner setting off from Casa Quiros

It is some of the little things that make riding in Asturias such a singular experience. The most noticeable is how quiet the roads are. Cycling in the first week in August and you are passed by three or four cars an hour, and there are only a few cyclists to share a quick ‘hola’ with. On Strava, the number of total ascents on the big climbs are measured in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands.

The second thing that strikes you as you top out on a pass is the lack of fanfare. There are no cafés, no hordes of motorbikers, and no cars clogging up the view. Just you, the sign that says you’ve made it and the relief in your legs and lungs as the suffering is relinquished, momentarily.

Andy summits on La Cobertoria, another 1st class summit and only 13 steep km from Casa Quiros

Andy summits on La Cobertoria, another 1st class summit and only 13 steep km from Casa Quiros

The scenery is a lush verdant green (the Costa Verde is aptly named), with steep sided, tree and shrub covered mountain rolling on in to the distance. And because the altitude is relatively low, with the main passes between 1,100 and 1,500m high, the temperatures are pretty consistent in the valleys and the tops. You just don’t get the significant temperature changes, which means less stuff to pack your pockets with.

The riding itself is typified by smooth roads on gradual inclines in each of the main valleys, with steep and sustained climbs to make the journey from one pass to another. Numerous short, steep lung and leg breaking climbs kick up to the left and right, ascending to tiny villages and hamlets, more suited to horses than cars and certainly bikes.

On the main climbs, it is worth recalibrating your senses so that 9-11% becomes the new normal, with 7% approaching a rest. It is all about pacing – the climbs really don’t relent until you crest the top. I rode with a Compact chainset with an 11-28 cassette on the back. If you’re not used to climbing at this level of intensity I’d recommend a 29 or 30 on the back to help lift the cadence, or a triple if you’re just starting out.

There are bars in every village I came across, providing very good coffee, water bottle re-fill and pinchos (most bars to sandwiches). There are also [Fuentes] (water fountains) in most villages. Fill up your water bottles in the valleys and take essential spares with you – a couple of inner tubes at least – as the lack of traffic and no cafes at the tops may mean you’re waiting a while for a rescue.

Oh, and pack the suncream. The first ride I did over the San Lorenzo pass was very hot, 30 degrees plus, with limited shade on route. The second ride, to the Angliru, started in brilliant sunshine and clouded over, but was still very much shorts and jersey weather.

Shots and T shirt weather...

Before I arrived I was forced to write out a hundred lines that ‘this is not a cycling holiday, this is not a cycling holiday..’ so I managed to squeeze in two proper rides over a six day visit. Whilst there and back routes rather than circular, they enable you to experience some of Asturias’ best and hardest climbs.

There are multiple options if you want to make them circular routes. In fact, that’s one of the other benefits of riding in Asturias – it is quite a compact area, with multiple loop options depending on your time commitments and legs. It is worth spending a few minutes exploring routes detailed in www.wikiloc.com, which seems to be the resource preferred by local riders to map their routes.

See part two of Andy’s cycling Blog here

The Vuelta 2014

On Monday the Vuelta de España passed within a few hundred metres of Casa Quirós, so naturally we walked down the hill to watch the peleton fly by. It would be rude not to, right?

To put the local road-biking terrain into perspective for you, this stage of the Vuelta was the ‘reina etapa’; or ‘queen stage’. That is to say, the potentially decisive one; the hardest and hilliest of the entire tour (not one where the riders dress in drag ;-) ) By the time they passed the bottom of our road the riders had already completed 3 mountain passes and still had 2 more to go.

They certainly deserved some cheering on and our neighbours were in fine voice to do so. However, as they urged on the mid-field stragglers, some 5 minutes behind the leaders at this point, with cries of ‘You’re right with them, keep it going,’ our 4 year-old son piped up in equally loud voice: ‘No you’re not. You’re miles behind!’ Ah, the honesty of small children…..

If you want to see the whole stage you can watch it here:

http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/vuelta-ciclista-a-espana/vuelta-ciclista-espana-2014-16-etapa-san-martin-rey-aurelio-farrapone-lsomiedo/2745889/