Sierra del Gredos

This amazing journey, on which AMR and I had been for seven months, has finally come to an end! Like all good things must!

Some, or most of you, will already know that we are back in Brisbane and it’s good to be back after all. Of course, I do miss the European flair, the long climbs in the high mountains, the courtesy of drivers, the food and wine, the carefree long summer nights, my family and so much more. But I must admit that the company of our amazing, inspiring and passionate friends here in Oz more than compensate for that.

Even though we are back, I won’t be able to jump right back into “daily life”. There are still a few more Spanish rides and climbs that we did in September and that I want to mention, not only because they are worth doing if you ever find yourself in Spain with a bike at hand, but also to preserve our own memories, which are fading all too quickly.

***

West of the Sierra de Guadarrama and the Bola del Mundo is more wide open, burnt, arid Spanish “landscape”. Sierras to the left, sierras to the right, there was this romantic notion of a long road trip.

Barcelona – Madrid – Lisbon

We drove right across the Iberian peninsula but not without stopping in a place we knew was worth exploring by bike: the Sierra del Gredos!

The walled town of Avíla was meant to be our base for an exploratory excursions into the mountain range but, like the old saying goes: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” we no longer could afford to loose ourselves in Europe like we had done so many times successfully. Time was running thin and I felt the pressing need to maximise our experience. We now had to decide what we wanted to see in the remaining three weeks of our trip and so we decided to stay the night and enjoy a Spanish dinner within the medieval walls of this fascinating town but drive a further few kilometers down to Piedrahíta in the morning to start our ride from there.

Piedrahíta turned out to be the perfect starting point. With the help of our 50 Rides Magazine and the nice lady in the Avíla tourist information, we had mapped out a 100km out and back route.

The route took us first up and over the hors category climb of Puerto de Peñanegra. This climb has featured in the Vuelta a Espana in the past and is 14.5 km long. At an average gradient of 5.8%, it wasn’t as tough as many other Spanish climbs we encountered. The mountain side was very open with low vegetation, which allowed round sweeping views back down to the wide open plain. The summit had a take-off place for para gliders and hundreds of colourful dots in the sky added to the visual spectacle. The Puerto links the Corneja valley with the Sierra de Gredos range.

Down we flew the wide sweeping corners from just over 1900m into the valley. A left turn at the T intersection at the bottom of the descend got us on our way towards San Juan de Gredos and Hojos del Espino. There was some talk about stopping for lunch but we weren’t quite hungry, yet, so we ignored the village just off the main road and kept attacking the little rollers. Ten kilometres later we found the turn off to the Plataforma. A statue of an ibex marked the intersection.

The landscape – scenic in the typical Spanish rugged way – continued to be very much the same, a road snaking up between burnt mountains. There were a handful of cars making their way up, otherwise the area seemed deserted.

The climb was 9 km long and the gradient only briefly tipped on ten percent towards the end. There were almost 2 km of downhill about half way, which pushed the average gradient down to 4% – barely more than a false flat. Knowing that it was a dead end road, we were curious what we would find up there.

Anticipation built with every turn, so when we rolled into a car park with an abandoned refuge and overflowing rubbish bins, piles and piles of previous picnicker’s left-overs and wrappings, we didn’t want to accept that this was indeed the end of the road, and it wasn’t! But the road that continued right at the far end of the car park was not suitable for skinny tires.

Somewhat disappointed we turned around. It was mid-afternoon and, hungry now, we stopped in the first best bar of the first best village back down in the valley. 
The bar was pretty much empty. Only three or four people, all starring at a TV above the entrance door, were inside the plain large room with stone tiles, mustard-coloured walls and a U-shaped bar in the middle. Delighted at the realisation that they were watching the Vuelta a Espana, we hang around the centre bar, sipping at our Cokes while waiting for our bocadillos with tortilla. 
We couldn’t help but notice the framed Yellow Jersey underneath the TV on the wall, and pictures of Carlos Sastre, autographed to his amigos del Restaurante JJ con afecto y simpatica. Yes, we had read that Sastre was from this area (El Barraco) and we figured that there was a chance we were riding on his training ground but to accidentally end up in a bar of his friends was a nice touch. We chatted with the girl behind the bar who confirmed that she knew Carlos well and that he had been there a couple of weeks earlier to hand out medals in a local club event. What a motivation for the young and upcoming cyclists of this area to be handed a medal by a former Tour de France champion, I thought to myself.
And not only were they into cycling, they also knew how to make a good lunch, even way pass lunch time. It didn’t bother us at all that it took a long time. The cook possibly ran over to the bakery, where he chatted for a while because he probably had to wait for the bakery to re-open after siesta, and then chatted some more before returning with the still warm baguettes under his arm. I’m making this up and have no idea whether this happened because we happily watched the finish of the Vuelta stage in the meantime. 
We had kept a piker option up our sleeves for the return trip in case the climbing would proof too much for a hot Spanish afternoon. But inspired by the Vuelta and fuelled with a freshly baked barra de pan and enormous amounts of potato and egg, there was no second thought wasted on looping around the Peñanegra. 
Up and over the climb we returned, the same way we had come.
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2 Responses to Sierra del Gredos

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ist ja toll geworden , der neue Blog ! Bist also wieder eingetaucht in das Urlaubsparadies !Ich kann das gut nachvollziehen ! Wünschen Euch eine tolle Zeit in den Erinnerungen und für das nächste Abenteuer Deine Eltern

  2. Dee says:

    Welcome home (storms and all) and thanks for telling us the whole story. looking forward to the rest.

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