Lagos de Covadonga – Picos de Europa

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The day after L’Angliru we climbed the road to the lakes of Covadonga. I was more keen than ever to climb steep roads. I was hoping, Lago the Covadonga would be as steep as L’Angliru.

The pain was forgotten. The images of the Vuelta a Espana battle between Rodriguez and Contador from a couple of weeks earlier were still vivid in my mind. I knew it would be a beautiful, scenic ride. I had seen it on TV.

And I wasn’t disappointed on that part.

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We parked our motorhome just outside of Cangas de Onis at the very large and free motorhome car park that even had free servicing facilities. From there it was a short ride to the start of the climb, not more than five to eight kilometres, which I doubled by returning to the motorhome to pack my rain jacket, just in case the dark towering clouds above the picos would drop some rain on us. They didn’t.

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Once past the village of Covadonga with the impressive church, and once past the forest, the climb opened up to a karst landscape. The higher we got, the more glaring the white of the limestone rocks became. It contrasted so beautifully with the green of the grass and the blue of the sky and I found it hard to take my eyes off the surrounding. The road was climbing gently so I had plenty of energy to admire the views.

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And I was feeling so strong, so fit and still so proud of my El Angliru achievement the previous day that I was really looking forward to the steeper part that surely was waiting for me further up. In the TV footage of the Vuelta it had looked vicious.

And surely, the road did steepen to maybe 11, maybe 15%. Somehow it left me wanting for more of a challenge. Amazing how, at the beginning of our trip, I would have perceived this climb as really tough.

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And while I was still wondering when the challenge would start, we turned around a corner, a rock face and a crest and, there it was, the first of the two glacial lakes, Lago de Enol. The view was breathtaking, the clear air, the sparkling surface of the water, the green grass around the lake dotted with caramel coloured cows holding siesta.

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We raced the motorbikes down the short descent before climbing the last couple of kilometers up the opposite side of the lake, over the ridge and across to the second lake, Lago de Ercina. We didn’t stay long because the car park was packed with day trippers. There were people everywhere, kids screaming, hiking out to the edge of the lake or into the mountains, some just enjoying the sunshine and the views.

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I was really sad that we had to press on. Once again, and you are probably sick of me saying it, I would have loved to linger on. Asturias and the Picos de Europa, of all the areas of Spain that we have visited, was definitely the area I liked best, and if I will ever have the chance to return to Spain with my bike, I will make sure I schedule a whole week or two in Asturias for the cycling, and also for the food. It’s the best of Spain in my view.

Now, I’m almost at the end of my travel tales from 2012. There is only the Basque Country left to tell you about… it’s the heart of Spanish cycling culture so stay tuned for the final chapter.

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O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park

O’Reilly’s and Lamington National Park.

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Queen of El Angliru

It was one of our last cycling highlights on our 2012 Europe Tour of Highlights. We were on the home stretch, bee-lining the over 2600km back towards my hometown of Senftenberg near Dresden, after our mechanical delay in Porto, Portugal. We had two weeks left before we had to catch our plane from Berlin back to Australia but the ever increasing time pressure didn’t stop us from stopping in Asturias up on the Bay of Biscay.

Alto de L’Angliru is was added to the Vuelta a España in 1999 as Spain’s answer to Mortirolo and Zoncolan. It holds a similar mythical status as the famous Italian climbs.

Our plan had been to park the motorhome in Miéres and ride out to the start of the climb from there but after a quick lunch and a brief chat with the lady in the local tourist information office, we were worried that the route would take us along a major busy road so we drove to the little village of La Foz just before Riojas, the start of the climb. While the road turned out far less busy and dangerous as we had anticipated, and a ride from Miéres would have been well worth a nice 15 km warm-up, we ended up climbing the moderate road up to the villages of Llamos as a warm up to the steep climb.

And what a beautiful warm up this ride was! After weeks of rugged, dry, arid Spanish desert, the colourful villages and lush greenness of Asturias was pleasing to the eye.

P1110385 Only for El Angliru a climb can be a warm-up to the climb!

P1110397 Beautiful views from the road to Llamos

P1110403 Llamos, a sleepy village up in the mountains.

At the dead-end road of Llamos we turned around, back down to Riosa and the start to the Alto de L’Angliru, more curious than “ready” for “El Olimpo del Ciclismo”.

The sign promised a tough afternoon in the saddle. 12.5 km at over 11% average gradient with maximum gradients hitting 23.5%. My advise to Alberto was to keep going and not wait for me in case I wouldn’t make it. After the equally steep but much shorter Bola del Mundo my goal was to make it to the top, no matter how long it would take.

But the pain of defeat on the Mortirolo a few months earlier was still fresh in my mind and I wasn’t confident at all whether I could make it or not.

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It started out easy. Too easy! The 7%, 8%, 9% made me nervous of what was to come. The first six kilometres were not much harder than your average mid-week training climb.

But with six kilometres to go, coming around the bend and over a little open ridge, and the view opened to the steep slopes of El Angliru. From here on it became relentless.

Alberto was out of the saddle, cranking on his pedals. I was out of the saddle, pushing and pulling so hard on my pedals that lactic acid soon started coming out of my ears.

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The sturdy mountain horses didn’t seem to mind the steepness, nor our presence. They also didn’t care that we had to weave around their giant droppings all over the road.

A grassy patch gave a first good opportunity for a quick rest. The views were magnificent. The switchback allowed me to get back on my bike after a banana snack.

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Each kilometre was marked by a sign, counting down the distance and indicating the average gradient for the next kilometre. Every next sign became my goal. Sign by sign I climbed my way closer to the summit. I tried not to pay attention to the gradient on the sign, nor the road ahead. I kept my gaze steadily two to three meters ahead of my front wheel, carefully avoiding the piles of shit.

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I honestly don’t recall how many times I stopped, Strava could tell.

I don’t deny walking a few meters up to the next switchback that allowed me to get back on my bike after loosing momentum completely at that 23.5% section.

And when Alberto and I stood at the top, exhausted and happy, I wondered whether now, at the end of our trip, after climbing almost 160,000m all over Europe, I would also be able to climb the Mortirolo.

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After a little chat with some local riders from Ovieto we slowly descended back to La Foz and our Motorhome but not without stopping frequently to savour the amazing views.

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Cycling in Portugal – Climb to Senhora da Graça

Never before had I seen a climb like this one. After what Martin had told us, I was curious about the climb to Senhora da Graça. And when I, with the rare fortune of good, fast, free wifi, checked out the Strava segment on my iPhone, I knew I had to go hard and enjoy the views later on the way down.

Imagine an almost perfectly shaped cone, a mountain sticking out in an otherwise moderately hilly landscape. Its peak with the Senhora da Graça sanctuary, which lends this climb it’s name, is visible from afar.

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For the first six kilometres the road climbs up the side of the mountain like any other climb, switchback after switchback. But then, and if you click on the Strava link above you see what I mean, the road just goes around and around the tip of the cone like a kid’s drawing of a mountain road. 360 degree views for those who have the energy to look up at that point because the gradient moves between 8 to 11 % at that part of the climb.

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I stirred up Alberto to go as hard as possible by rattling down the key data: KOM time, average speed for KOM, distance, gradient; while we rode from Modim de Basto through vineyards and villages in the opposite direction to warm up before turning towards Sobreira and the start of the official chronometer segment.

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And we both treated it like a time trial, a late season indicator whether our form had improved in any way during all these kilometres of cycling through Europe over the past six months.

To be upfront: it hadn’t for me, and I was really disappointed at the top! Maybe my goal and expectations had been too high? Since I knew that I’d be Queen Of (this) Mountain by the time I reached the little church because I was the only woman on this Strava segment, I had to make up my own goal and somehow put it in my head that I should be able to climb 8.2 km at an average gradient of 7.4 % in 35 minutes.

Never been so glad to see public toilets.

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But the disappointment didn’t last long; no longer than the blood taste in my mouth and the cramping in my stomach. Yes, I had gone all out, as hard as I could, and had blown up on those last two kilometres of road that coiled around the top.

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The little chapel is beautiful, and the views from the top were the best I had seen in Portugal. And we descended so slowly that I even spotted a little Saint, no taller than a cat, perched on top of a boulder.

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Cycling in Portugal – Serra da Lousã and Schist villages

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Should I first tell you about our amazing rides in the Serra da Lousã, or about the Aldeias do Xisto? Language barrier aside, I had heard about Schist villages many years ago, probably in school. But it took me a … Continue reading

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Cycling in Portugal – Cascais to Sintra via Cabo da Roca

This gallery contains 16 photos.

In Portugal our focus was not on cycling. We anticipated beach, food and Fado – a holiday at the end of our travels. Any cycling was considered a bonus. The great fatigue at the end of a long season, and … Continue reading

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La Covatilla

This gallery contains 20 photos.

I hadn’t heard of La Covatilla prior to coming to Spain despite this climb featuring in the 2011 Vuelta a España. Bejar and the Sierra de Bejar is only a short drive from Avíla and Piedrahíta, where we had ridden … Continue reading

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