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.
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.
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.
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.