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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!